While many of us prefer to spend time in the great outdoors, it seems society today is spending more time indoors due to work and family commitments and other schedule constraints. Because we’re seeing more indoor time, it’s natural to want to make our living and work spaces more pleasant and attractive.
One quick and easy way to do that is with the addition of plants. However, indoor plants are pulling double duty by not only beautifying the space, but acting as air filters and purifying the air 24 hours a day.
There are many chemicals in the air around us. While we can’t even see them, they may be affecting our health. These chemicals come from every day products such as carpeting, paint, upholstery, finishes or glues, furniture and plastic. Many of these products contain chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Unfortunately, many of these products we can’t easily avoid.
You might ask yourself what NASA researchers have to do with plants and clean air. When working on the best ways to clean air in space stations, NASA’s Clean Air study found house plants are an effective and natural way of removing pollutants and toxic chemicals in the air.
NASA researches have tested many indoor plants for their air purifying abilities. The researchers have discovered many houseplants actually absorb these chemicals from the air, which in turn makes the air cleaner for us to breathe. So, it boils down to the fact that not only do living plants make an indoor environment more attractive, they’re really good for us. All it takes is about eight to 15 plants in an average size home.
Researchers at NASA also discovered some plants are better air filters than others. They have compiled a list of what they consider to be the top 10 plants most effective in removing formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia and carbon monoxide from the air, all of which have been linked to health issues. The list includes bamboo palm; Chinese evergreen; English ivy; Gerbera daisy; Dracaena fragrans (corn plant); varieties of ‘Janet Craig’, ‘Massangeana’ and ‘Warneckei’; mother-in-law’s tongue; pot mum; and peace lily .
So how does it work? Plants absorb some of the particulates from the air at the same time they’re taking in carbon dioxide, which is then processed into oxygen through photosynthesis. In addition, microorganisms associated with the plants are present in the potting soil, and these microbes also are responsible for some of the cleaning effect.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a green thumb. Many of the plants on NASA’s list are easy to care for. Keep in mind, however, the plants do contribute some pollen and floral scents to the air.
David Hillock is a consumer horiculturist with Oklahoma State University cooperative extension.