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A Guide to Plants That Clean the Air
Written by: Greg Wiszniewski
Without plants, humanity could not survive indefinitely on earth. That’s because plants are critical in making the oxygen that people and animals rely on to breathe. Plants are helpful and important in many additional ways as well. Not only do plants make oxygen, but certain types can also be beneficial in terms of the air that people breathe when indoors. Indoor environments are plagued with harmful types of chemicals and gases that come from household products, building materials, combustion byproducts, and more. Toxic substances that are commonly released in homes and other buildings include formaldehyde, benzene, carbon monoxide, and trichloroethylene, to name a few. These gases and toxins are released indoors, and because of the closed-off nature of buildings and homes, they can build up, creating indoor pollution. Pollution trapped indoors can threaten the health of people who live and work within. Research by groups like NASA since the 1980s has shown that certain house plants can be of benefit and can actually help filter these gases from the air to some degree. Not all houseplants will remove all pollutants, so it is important that people understand which plants filter what. In addition, it is often necessary to purchase more than one plant for effectiveness. Some researchers suggest one plant for every 100 square feet in a building, for example roughly 18 house plants in an 1,800-square-foot home. When choosing a plant, it is also important to select one that can thrive under a particular room’s lighting and temperature conditions.
English ivy is a climbing plant that is also suitable and attractive in hanging baskets. The plant has three-to-five-lobed leaves that are dark in color, and it has the ability to remove a wide range of contaminants from the air. It is effective at removing xylene, formaldehyde, and benzene. Additionally, English ivy can can remove airborne fecal matter and mold. This type of plant does well in nearly any space; however, rooms that have recently been carpeted or painted are a good choice for hanging English ivy. Office settings where there are computers, ink, etc., are also good locations for this plant. Whether at home or in the office, place English ivy in an area that is semi-shaded and is not prone to high temperatures.
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The golden pothos is a very fast-growing and popular vine plant that is attractive in homes and is often found in office settings as well. It is characterized by dark and glossy green leaves that are similar in shape to a heart. The leaves also have mottled patterns or streaks of gold. These types of plants are trainable so that they can climb up a trellis or other surfaces. The golden pothos may also be kept in a hanging basket. It has a large leaf surface and is good at efficiently removing formaldehyde and carbon monoxide from the air. People using golden pothos in their homes should do so carefully, as they are poisonous and may prove particularly dangerous in dwellings with children and pets. When caring for the plant, place it in a location that receives bright, indirect light, and care should be taken not to over-water. Kitchens and doorways are good locations to place the golden pothos.
- Using Houseplants to Clean Indoor Air (PDF)
- Plants and Indoor Air Quality
- Choosing Air-Purifying Plants: A Room-by-Room Guide
As one of the flowering plants that filter contaminants from the air, chrysanthemums are also one of the most effective and attractive choices for indoor environments. Chrysanthemums clean trichloroethylene, benzene, and formaldehyde from indoor air. It is, in fact, one of the most effective plants at removing benzene. To care for chrysanthemums, the soil should be kept moist and the plant placed in an area that receives bright yet indirect light.
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Spider plants have a spider-like appearance with leaves that are long and somewhat slender and produce small, white flowers. The plant is one of the easier ones to care for, and it is safe in homes with pets. They do well in rooms that have bright but indirect lighting. Additionally, they do best in homes with average temperatures and when their soil is kept on the drier side. This type of plant is one of the top plants for removing indoor air pollutants. Spider plants remove formaldehyde, xylene, and benzene from the air. When tested by NASA, the spider plant was able to remove as much as 99 percent of nitrogen oxide and 96 percent of carbon monoxide. Examples of areas to place spider plants are in rooms with fireplaces or in kitchens.
- Ten Clean-Air Plants for Your Home
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- House Plants to Fight Pollution (PDF)
The peace lily is a plant that has many facets. Not only is it an attractive flowering plant, but it is also an air purifier. The plant’s white flowers bloom year-round, making it an attractive addition to bedrooms, living areas, and nearly any room in the home. When it comes to cleaning the air, peace lilies are excellent at removing benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and also acetone. This plant is poisonous, however, and care is necessary in homes with children and/or pets that may chew on any part of it. Peace lilies must be watered weekly and do well in shaded areas or rooms that receive low light.