Monday, 24 January 2011

Houseplants for Clean Air

by Chiot's Run

Many of us spend a lot of time indoors, particularly this time of year here in the northern climates. We can't open windows and the air inside can get a little stale. You've probably hear that the air in our homes can often be more polluted than the air outside, due to cleaning products, chemicals released into the air by furniture and building materials. Formaldehyde is found in just about all indoor areas. It is used in just about everything now, especially pressed wood and particle board but also comes from things like: carpet, clothing, fire retardants, etc. Other sources come from our heating systems and cigarette smoke. This formaldehyde can cause eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, as well as headaches, dermatitis and allergy problems. It is also linked to a rare type of lung cancer. The scary thing is that formaldehyde is only one type of indoor pollution we also have to worry about: benzene, xylene and toluene and I'm sure more we don't know about yet.
My Indoor Garden
Of course you could get a pricey air cleaner that uses electric and that's most likely made out of plastic, which ironically will probably offgas chemicals into your home while it cleans the air. Houseplants do a much better job and do it for free (after purchase of course, but you can get them free often if you know someone that has a few, most are quite easy to propagate). One potted plant will clean roughly a 100 square foot space in the average home or office. I live in a 1000 sq foot home and I have a plant in each room, 15 in the living room, 7 in the kitchen/dining and about 15 in the basement to help clean the air down there.
Houseplants and Clean Air
Certain plants work better than other things at cleaning the air in our homes. Different plants help clean different chemicals out of the air, so it's beneficial to have a variety of plants. You can even have plants that are edible so you get food as they clean the air.
Houseplant and Clean Air
Here's a list of a few plants and the chemicals they each clean out of the air.

Boston fern, golden pothos, philodendron, and spider plants reduce levels of formaldehyde.

Areca palm, moth orchid, and the dwarf date palm can remove xylene and toluene.

Gerbera daisy, chrysanthemum, spider plants and peace lily can remove benzene.

Other beneficial houseplants include: bamboo palm, Chinese evergreen, English ivy, indoor dracaena species and the snake plant (also known as mother-in-law's tongue).
Houseplants and Clean Air
I have always had houseplants (probably because I grew up in a jungle of houseplants). The pothos in the first photo was on the stage at our wedding, and it's been cleaning the air in our various homes for the past 13 years. I also have a dwarf citrus, a few other pothos that I've propagated from this mother plant, baby tears, mother-in-law's tongue, dumb cane, a few ivy plants, aloe, a few succulents, and a collection of herbs including: lemon thyme, seasoning celery, parsley, rosemary, lemongrass, lemon geranium, lemon verbena, and a few more. We have houseplants not just to clean the air, they also provide some much needed green in the our home during the dark snowy winters in Ohio which is good for the soul!

Do you have houseplants? Are they for cleaning the air or for enjoyment?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.


Tree Huggin Momma said...

I too grew up with an indoor jungle. I however have a black thumb. Which isn't entirely true, I just tend to forget to water them.
I have however made it over a year with a spider plant. It gets pretty scragly in the winter (cold and lack of light) but I can bring it back (and possibly propagate it) in the summer. My question is what do you grow in the basement and how? My basement is pretty dark, but I would love to grow some plants down there to clean the air. Also I have cats and the major cleaners according to the NASA study are also supposedly highly toxic to cats. So I am limited, but I didn't think of indoor herbs and dwarf trees as cleaners.

Michelle J said...

I only have about half a dozen houseplants at this time because I tend to kill them pretty easily. Luckily I usually fare better with the garden. ;)

I stick with succulents mostly. I have an aloe that came from my mother's plant and a Christmas cactus that comes from my husband's great grandmother. They have been to edge and back with us and are still green and happy. :)

Chiot's Run said...

I overwinter tons of potted plants that live outside in the summer: figs, lantanas, and other tropicals that I don't have room for upstairs in front of the windows. We live in a fairly small house with few windows. They're all covered with plants.

In one corner if my basement I have a long florescent grow light hanging from the ceiling about half way to the floor. I figure the electric used by a fluorescent grow light isn't much compared to what I would spend on an air cleaner (and it's healthier) Under this light I keep potted plants and tons of culinary herbs, some of them live outside in the summer, some of them stay inside to clean the basement air all year long. I also use this area for propagating cuttings and other gardening things I do in the winter.

I do have 2 very tiny north facing windows in the basement and they have ivy that can take low light in them. My plants thrive down there all winter long.

I also have my seed starting area in the basement so this time of year I have a few extra grow lights going and lots of tiny seedlings lying in wait for the weather to warm.

I think Pothos have to be the best houseplant of all, they seem to thrive on neglect.

Rosa said...

Plants generally haven't done well in our house in winter - most houseplants like it warm, and our house is 60 degrees, colder by the windows.

But we do grow wheatgrass, barley, and dandelion indoors for our animals, and start some bulbs for color, so I have a table full of pots of greens of various heights at all times - I've been wondering lately how much oxygen they're adding, since they grow so fast but aren't ever very big.

Rae said...

My mom had plants all over the house when I was growing up, and they flourished. I, on the other hand, spent years with "disposable greenery" meaning I had them for a bit, killed them, and bought new... Always with the intention that I'd do better next time. Only in the last year or so have I finally figured it out, and now have happy plants. We've got numerous philodendrons, a couple violets, a cactus, air plants, and a large Areca palm. Planning on adding a spider plant soon. A few years ago I gave a start to my mother in law from a spider plant I had (and killed). We'll see how well I do with the grandbaby of that original that she's starting for me. I never thought about house plants cleaning the air. Gives me another excuse to add more!

Chiot's Run said...

Some houseplants love the cold indoor temps, we keep our house at 60 in the day and 55 at night. Citrus trees especially LOVE this temp.

louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife said...

Due to many years of cats knocking things off window sills, the only house plants we have are a couple dracaena and about half a dozen spider plants.

I bought a spider plant in about 2003 for £1 and it's been mother, grandmother and now great-grandmother to about 60 new plants (each made up of around 3 plantlets). Everyone in my universe has enough now so I've resorted to giving them away on my doorstep -- a great way to make friends in the neighbourhood :)

jules said...

I try to have houseplants, but the cats just eat them and then I have THOSE remains to clean up. There are very few houseplants that I can keep inside, and alive in my house. Dernit.

Any ideas?

Rosa said...

Chiot's run - really? I always thought citrus had to be warm. Does it need a lot of light?

The very cold temperatures are right up against the windows, and I think it's worse because the radiators are also there so they get really hot at the roots and then grow toward the sun & freeze their leaves.

Akemi S. said...

I have two Areca palms in the bedroom because I saw in a TED video that they're good for cleaning the air, plus they're listed on the ASPCA's site as being safe for pets. When I go into that corner of the room, the air does seem more humid and fresh. Thinking about getting more or maybe some other plants from your list.

Chiot's Run said...

Yep, citrus actually likes it warm during the summer and cooler in the winter (at least that's what I read in a citrus book once). We too have some cold next to the windows, especially where the citrus is, there is regularly ice on the inside of the window and they seem to love it. It's also a West facing window so they don't get any direct sunlight.

The radiators do pose a problem. I keep the plants away from those as the warm air cold air can be tough on them.

Chiot's Run said...

Jules: I'd recommend going with plants they won't eat, putting the plants on stand where they can't get to them, and sticking to plants the cats can eat without issues.

I have 3 cats here. They don't bother the citrus at all, don't know if it's the taste or the prickers. They also don't bother the mother-in-law's tongue except for every now and then chewing on the very tips of the leaves, but that doesn't cause any puking.

The cats do really well with baby tears, they keep it pruned from chewing on it, and the plant seems to love it. It's not toxic and seems to be the one plant they can eat and not throw up. They can't even eat the cat grass as that causes puking in our cats.

In my basement area where I have plants on the floor I surround them with box walls and it keeps the cats out of those herbs.

Anke said...

We have a lot of plants in the house, pretty much at least one in every room. Even our girls went and picked some plants for their rooms! I think they are all beautiful to look at and they do a great job improving the air quality. There are lots more plants indoors in the colder month, since we bring several inside.

Deb said...

I do have houseplants! Not anywhere the amount I want though. I won't be satisfied until a person coming into my house feels like they time-warped into the 60s or 70s and ended up in a hippie's house, LOL!

I may or may not make macrame plant hangers to complete the effect...

claudia said...

I did pretty good when I was in my twenties and single, with no children. I always had lots of plants in my apartments. Then for some reason when the husband and eventually kids came along, my house plants went by the wayside. I had gone to a homeshow last year and a cactus club had some of their cactus for! I bought three. Recently a friend moved halfway across the country. She couldn't take her rather large plants with her, so I have adopted them. (A ficus and a fiddle leaf, and a vase of bamboo stalks.)
I think I am getting back into the plant growing phase of my life, my girls are grown, I need new babies to take care of.

Hela said...

I grew up in Finland and our house was always full of indoor plants (as the outdoors was too cold most of the year to grow nice looking plants)- in fact many of the plants mentioned in your post. I always thought it was jsut for the "atmosphere", but I'm sure my "green savvy" mom knew better...
Since moving to Australia I never thought of indoor plants, until your post... Thank you!

Rosa said...

Thanks for the info, Chiot's Run - I may ask for a little citrus tree for Mother's Day, I've always wanted one and figured they'd just die on me (all my longterm plant success has been with cacti, so far. And this one zombie pepper).

canttalkdyeing said...

Put me in the "Cats are too chaotic to have houseplants" category (ha! No pun intended). I have an African violet in my studio, because the kitties are locked out of that room, but that's all, at least until I can afford one of those pretty mini greenhouses.

Hmm, I should put something in my empty fish tank ...

emilysincerely said...

Spider plants. Love them. But they are outside in the summer. I didn't know different plants cleaned the air of different things. Good to know, thanks! I would love more plants,but our house i really dark. on day I will work it out. Oh, the cats love eating the spider plants too!