In recent decades, in the interest of energy efficiency, our homes have become increasingly airtight. Unfortunately, that also means that toxic chemicals commonly used in building materials, home furnishings and household cleaners off-gas and build up within our interiors with the potential of making us sick. The good news is that NASA research found that many commonly grown houseplants not only produce fresh oxygen, they also clean the air of indoor pollutants.
Formaldehyde, found in virtually all indoor environments, irritates the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat and is linked to asthma. Sources include urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI), particleboard and pressed wood furniture. UF resins treat paper products (grocery bags, waxed papers, facial tissues and paper towels) and are used as stiffeners, wrinkle resisters, water repellents, fire retardants and adhesive binders in floor coverings, carpet backings and permanent-press clothes.
Trichloroethylene (TCE), a commercial product, is used in metal degreasing and dry cleaning industries. It is also used in printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, and adhesives. It is linked to hepatocellular carcinomas and is a potent liver carcinogen.
Benzene, a commonly used solvent, is also present in many items including gasoline, inks, oils, paints, plastics, and rubber.
In addition, it is used in the manufacture of detergents, explosives, pharmaceuticals, and dyes. A skin and eye irritant, benzene has been linked to chromosomal aberrations and leukemia in humans. Chronic exposure to even relatively low levels causes headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, nervousness, psychological disturbances and diseases of the blood system.
Most homes do not have air filters that can eliminate these toxins from the atmosphere. Enter the Green Rescuers! Plant leaves, roots and soil bacteria are all important in removing trace levels of toxic vapors. Combining activated carbon in the soil and a small fan around potted plants can enhance these living air cleaners.
The top-performing plants in NASA’s study were Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea), Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema), English Ivy (Hedera), Snake Plant (Sansevieria), Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum), Dracaena, Gerbera, Chrysanthemum, Golden Pothos (Epipremnum), Spider Plant (Chlorophytum) and Philodendron.
On average, for every 100 s.f. of living space, one 6-8 inch potted plant improves air quality. Adding these easy-care plants to your home won’t take much of your time and will reward you many times over. Pick up a few and start breathing easier!