Energy efficient homes are important in our efforts to live in a more sustainable way. Homes designed in such a way to be airtight along with the materials used during the building process can cause various health problems such as:
- Itchy eyes
- Skin rashes
- Respiratory and sinus congestion
- and other allergy related symptoms
Synthetic building materials are know to emit various organic compounds and also linked to health complaints. This is know as sick building syndrome, where humans spend extended periods of time in closed, poorly ventilated buildings, it is comparable to being on a Long haul flight.
Energy efficient homes and buildings contain modern furnishings and high-tech equipment, just think of all the different digital devices you have in your home, and don't forget fridges, washing machines, dishwashers, tumble dryers, TV's and computers - the list goes on. All electronic equipment off-glass hundreds of volatile organics which potentially interact with each other causing air pollution.
How do Air Purifying plants work?
Plants absorb gases through pores on the surface of their leaves (along with their roots), the same mechanism that facilitates photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light energy and carbon dioxide into chemical energy to fuel growth.
Scientists studying the air-purification capacities of indoor plants have found that plants can absorb many other gases in addition to carbon dioxide, including a long list of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
An indoor plant's ability to remove these harmful compounds from the air is known as phytoremediation, which is how all plant whether indoors or out mitigate pollution in air, soil or water. The microorganisms that live in the soil of potted plants also play an important role in neutralising VOCs and other pollutants.
NASA Discovered indoor air pollution issues due to astronauts being in a seal space habitats for long periods of time. NASA experiments with the use of plants and their associated soil microorganism's as a way of filtering and purifying air via reducing indoor air pollutants. This two year Clean Air Study was conducted in association with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) and identified which plants are the most effective at removing pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde and ammonia from the air. These chemicals which have been linked to health effects such as headaches, irritations and allergies.
Benzene // Very commonly used solvent and is also present in many basic items including gasoline, inks, oils, paints plastics, and rubber. Often used in the manufacture of detergents, explosives, pharmaceuticals, and dyes.
Known to // Irritate the skin and eyes.
Xylene // Found in printing, rubber, leather and paint industries, tobacco smoke and vehicle exhausts.
Known to // Cause irritation to the mouth and throat, dizziness, headache, confusion, heart problems, liver and kidney damage and coma.
Formaldehyde // This chemical found in virtually all indoor environments. The major sources, which have been reported and publicized, include urea formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) and particle board or pressed-wood products. Consumer paper products, including grocery bags, waxed papers, facial tissues, and paper towels, are treated with ureaformaldehyde (UF) resins. Many common household cleaning agents contain formaldehyde. UF resins are used as stiffeners, wrinkle resisters, water repellants, fire retardants, and adhesive binders in floor covering, carpet backing, and permanent-press clothes. Other sources of formaldehyde include cigarette smoke and heating and cooking fuels such as natural gas and kerosene.
Known to // Irritate the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat. It is a highly reactive chemical
Trichloroethylene // Over 90% of the TCE produced is used in the metal degreasing and dry-cleaning industries, but it is also used in printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, and adhesives.
Known as // A potent liver carcinogen.
Ammonia // Found in window cleaners, floor waxes, smelling salts and fertilisers.
Known to // Cause eye irritation, coughing and sore throat.
NASA's Top 10 Air Purifying Plants
- Bamboo Palm // Filters Xylene and formaldehyde from the air as well as transpiring a litre of water a day adding humidity to the environment. Best Suited // In a hanging basket, moderate, indirect sunlight, high humidity.
Boston Fern // (Nephrolepis exaltata) Filter out the irritating chemicals, Xylene and formaldehyde. Best Suited // Ideal plant for the bathroom.
- Chinese Evergreen // (Aglaonema modestum) Filter out a variety of air pollutants and begins to remove more toxins as time and exposure continues. Best Suited // Thrives in low indirect light.
- Devil's Ivy // Also known as golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum) Filters toxins like xylene, benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Best Suited // Will grow in low or high light situations, including direct sunlight, as long as there is sufficient water. Safety Altert // Toxic to pets.
- Flamingo Lily // Effective in removing formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, and ammonia from the air. Best Suited // Loves bright light, they do not appreciate direct sunlight at all and burn easily, kitchen or bathroom as it has a preference for high humidity.
- Peace Lily // (Spathiphyllum Mauna Loa) Filters pollutants acetone – a carcinogen commonly found in nail polish and paint. Best Suited // They don't need direct sun, preferring bright, indirect light from a nearby window. Great as floor plants, growing about 3 feet tall and wide with big, bold leaves about 10 inches long. Safety Altert // Toxic to pets.
- Pineapple Plant // Plant produces more oxygen than most, according to NASA, adding a pineapple plant to your bedroom will greatly improve the air quality, which in turn creates a better environment for restful, (potentially) snore-free sleeping. Best Suited // Requires bright light or full sun for most of the day. It can tolerate a little bit of shade as long as there’s plenty of light.
- Snake Plant // (Sansevieria rifasciata) Known as mother-in-law's tongue, filters out formaldehyde, absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen. Best Suited // Thrives in moderate to low indirect light.
- Spider Plant // (Chlorophytum comosum) Reduce indoor air pollution in the form of formaldehyde and xylene. Best Suited // Thrives in moderate, indirect sunlight, cooler temperatures.
- Weeping Fig // (Ficus) Filtering formaldehyde, xylene and toluene. Best Suited // Likes consistency and looks its best when grown in bright, indirect light. Safety Altert // Toxic to pets.
Plants with Benefits
Plants which help to purify the air help reduce our toxin body load, this means our body doesn’t have to work as hard to detox, Improper detoxification can lead to dull, dry, and ageing skin. Indoor plants can provide stress relief, increase oxygen levels, reduce carbon dioxide, increase humidity, reduce airborne dust levels, and lower indoor air temperatures.
How many plants do you need?
NASA recommends 15 to 18 plants in 6 to 8-inch diameter pots to clean the air in an average 1,800 square foot house. That’s roughly one plant per 100 square feet of floor space. Aim for one in each room and keep adding as your collection grows!
Until next time..
Be human, be kind, be you.
NASA - Interior landscape Plants For Indoor Air Pollution Abatement
Do Indoor Plants Really Clean the Air?