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3 ways you didn’t know indoor plants could improve your health

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Having plants in your immediate environment (home/work) has great benefits. In 1989 NASA published their Clean Air Study (Wolverton, Johnson, & Bounds, 1989). This study was conceived because it became apparent that enclosed structures contain high amounts of toxic substances. The same was true for astronauts when aboard spacecraft or the space station.  These substances often come from building materials, cleaning products, electronic devices, printer ink, plastic bags, and more.

Something known as “Sick Building Syndrome” began to be diagnosed in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It was determined that extended exposure to certain chemicals found in the air inside homes and buildings was the cause of the sickness. It gave people headaches, reduced fertility and increased cold and flu like symptoms. Ultimately this study gave great insight to things we are exposed to daily as well as the benefits of having plants in your home.

So, what plants are doing for you?

1. Plants remove harmful contaminates from the air

Plants help purify the air and remove harmful, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). This is especially important for anyone living in a relatively new building as many building materials used in new builds are manufactured with toxic chemicals (referring to synthetic materials such as particle board, plywood, etc. many of these contain formaldehyde and other substances). These toxins can release into the air inside your home. This is known as off-gassing. You know that “new home smell”? These substances are exactly what you are smelling and there are more you can’t smell.

The Clean Air Study found plants transpire or “sweat”, moisture into their environment which increases the humidity of the room. This water vapor being emitted continuously creates a pumping action that pulls contaminated air down around the roots of the plant where it is then converted into food for the plant and soil organisms.

2. Plants take CO2 out of the air making it easier to breathe

Your thinking, duh! We’ve all heard this in science class. Well, let’s get more in depth on it. The process plants use to remove CO2 is photosynthesis. This is a chemical process where plants use C02 and sunlight to produce energy for themselves and a byproduct is, conveniently for us, oxygen.

It is interesting to note that plants clean CO2 from the air only during the day. At night, when there is no light, some plants actually release small amounts of CO2. Certain plants like orchids, succulents, and some bromeliads do the opposite and absorb CO2 at night and release oxygen. Placing these types in your bedroom will help to provide fresher air while your sleeping!

3. Plants help fight colds and improve overall health

Plants release as much as 97% of the water they absorb through their roots into the air. Putting a few plants in a room can greatly increase the humidity. The same number of plants grouped together in a room will even further increase the humidity. This additional humidity helps reduce respiratory illness by decreasing the amount of dust and allergens floating around in the air. It can also help reduce dry skin, sore throat and dry cough. Additionally, humidity helps plants improve their growth rates, and it prevents cracking in wood furniture and hard wood floors.

4. Plants just make you feel good

We just had to this one to our list. We need to put a disclaimer here; we have no scientific evidence to back this up! However, I think may of us can agree that we feel better when plants are around. Being able to see something green and living especially in the winter months definitely brightens our spirits. Of course, you can also talk to them and then you never feel alone!

How to apply this to your life

To clean and purify the air in your home as well as alleviate stress, fatigue and improve respiratory health it is recommended that you have approximately 1 large plant (8” – 10” diameter pot) for every 100sqft. You can use two smaller plants to make up for one larger one.

It has been found that all plants purify the air to some extent. However, some do the job better than others.

When it comes to CO2 removal, it is based largely on the leaf surface area of the plant. This is how plants “breathe” therefore more breathing space equals more CO2 removed and more oxygen added.

When it comes to removing harmful toxins, it comes down to the plant species itself as well as the soils open surface area. It should be noted that the soil needs to have living plant roots in it to be effective at removing contaminates.

Here are some of our favorites that are easy to care for and readily available for purchase.

Image of Spider Plant, Chlorophytum comosum

Spider Plant

Chlorophytum comosum

Benefits

  • Purifies air rapidly of both chemicals and C02.
  • Removes formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene.

Additional Notes

  • Very easy to care for.
  • Grows in almost any indoor conditions.
  • Tolerates dry air.
  • Non-toxic.
Image of Snake Plant, Sansevieria

Snake Plant / Mother-in-Laws-Tongue

Sansevieria trifasciata

Benefits

  • Removes large amounts of toxins from the air.
  • Removes formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, toluene and trichloroethylene.

Additional Notes

  • Very easy to care for.
  • Grows in low-light.
  • Very drought tolerant.
  • Toxic to animals & people if ingested.
Image of Boston Fern, Nephrolepis exaltata

Boston Fern

Nephrolepis exaltata

Benefits

  • Removes formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene.

Additional Notes

  • Requires more watering, should be checked almost daily.
  • Requires bright spaces, indirect light.
  • Non-toxic.
Image of weeping fig, ficus benjamina

Weeping Fig / Benjamin Tree

Ficus benjamina

Benefits

  • Removes formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene.

Additional Notes

  • Don’t place near open windows or doorways, they don’t like drafts or sudden shifts in temperature.
  • Toxic to animals & people if ingested.
Image of Dragon Tree, Dracena marginata

Dragon Tree

Dracaena marginata

Benefits

  • Easy to care for.
  • Removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene.

Additional Notes

  • Grows pretty much anywhere.
  • Tolerates low-light conditions.
  • Toxic to animals & people if ingested.
Image of Corn Plant, Dracena fragrans

Corn Plant

Dracena fragrans

Benefits

  • Easy to care for.
  • Removes benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.

Additional Notes

  • Tolerates low-light conditions.
  • Toxic to animals & people if ingested.
Image of peace lily, spathiphyllum

Peace Lily

Spathiphyllum

Benefits

  • Easy to care for.
  • One of the best for cleaning everything from the air.
  • Removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and ammonia.

Additional Notes

  • Best in shady or low-light conditions. Does not do well in sunlight.
  • Toxic to animals & people if eaten (irritant).
Image of Green Ivy, Hedera helix

Green Ivy & English Ivy

Hedera

Benefits

  • Purifies the air rapidly of both chemicals and C02.
  • Removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene.

Additional Notes

  • Grows just about anywhere!
  • Keep out of direct sunlight.
  • Toxic to animals & people if ingested.
Image of Devils Ivy, Epipremnum aureum

Golden Pothos / Devil’s Ivy

Epipremnum aureum

Benefits

  • So easy to care for!
  • Removes benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene.

Additional Notes

  • Will grow just about anywhere.
  • Prefers bright rooms, indirect sunlight.
  • Very tough plant.
  • Toxic to animals & people if ingested.

Citation for plant data above: (Wikimedia Foundation, 2017)

Toxic Plants?

You may be looking at some of these thinking, why would I put a toxic plant in my house? To answer this, most plants are inedible. Even many fruit bearing plants we eat have inedible foliage. In many cases a person or animal needs to eat a large quantity of any one of these plants to have a serious effect. Many of them produce unpleasant irritation symptoms only and do not have fatal potential. The ASPCA has a great resource on their website that outlines in more detail, toxic plants and their effects.

Additional Resources

If you want to read more on this topic or check out NASA’s Clean Air Study have a look at the links below:

References:

Wikimedia Foundation. (2017, November 13). NASA Clean Air Study. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Clean_Air_Study

Wolverton, B. C., Johnson, A., & Bounds, K. (1989). Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement. Hancock County, Mississippi: NASA. Retrieved from https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930073077.pdf

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