We bet you haven’t heard of the study results that suggest certain common indoor plants may provide a natural way of removing toxic agents such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air, helping neutralize the effects of sick building syndrome.
The NASA Clean Air Study, conducted in 1989 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in association with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA), concluded there is enough evidence to identify 18 common household plants that are the most helpful in filtering toxins and pollutants present in the air we breathe. We have that list below the graphic, and below the fold there’s an infographic that really makes all the science easy to understand.
What is Sick Building Syndrome?
We are accustomed to thinking that harmful, polluted air is present only outdoors, but you’ll be shocked at just how many toxic chemicals are present in our everyday household items. Because we also spend so much time indoors, urban dwellers especially, it is essential we find ways to keep the air we breathe clean. Without adequate indoor ventilation, the risk of sick building syndrome increases, a condition that causes headaches and respiratory problems among office workers. While you probably can’t match what your HVAC vendor is selling by buying out the local greenhouse, the NASA study indicates there is real benefit to going green.
Five Scary Toxins You Probably Have in Your Home and Office
These dangerous substances are prevalent in our homes and offices. The effects of being around them range from annoying to distressing.
- Ammonia – Present in fertilizers, scented salts, floor wax, and window cleaners. Symptoms of exposure include eye and throat irritation.
- Benzene – Found in plastic, synthetic fibers, detergents, dyes, furniture wax, pesticides, rubber lubricants, drugs, tobacco smoke, vehicle exhaust, glue, and paint. Can cause eye irritation, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, increase in heart rate, and in extreme cases, unconsciousness.
- Formaldehyde – Found in synthetic fibers, waxed papers, paper bags, tissues, napkins, paper towels, and plywood paneling. May cause nose, mouth, and throat irritation, and can lead to lung and larynx swelling in worst cases.
- Trichloroethylene – Present in inks, lacquers, varnishes, paints, paint removers, and adhesives. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and can lead to coma in serious cases.
- Xylene – Found in printed materials, leather, paint, tobacco smoke and vehicle exhaust. Provokes mouth and throat irritation, dizziness, headache, heart complications, and in dire cases leads to kidney and liver damage and coma.
Please keep in mind that the listed symptoms can be caused by only short term exposure to any of these toxins.
Mother Nature to the Rescue: Filtering Plants
NASA studied the ways common household plants can filtrate the air of such harmful compounds. Match the above pollutants to one or more of the 18 air-filtering plants you see below. Keep the plants nearby (and alive – but that’s a whole ‘nother article that even I would be interested in reading) and the pollutants will be regularly cleaned out. The best method of detoxifying your environment is to remove the toxins from your environment, whenever possible. That isn’t always possible, especially at work where sick building syndrome occurs.
We’re almost there, I promise. Only two things to keep in mind when considering adding these plants to your life:
- If you are allergic, do not buy the plant. If you are not sure you’re allergic, get tested by a doctor or lab, or consult your doctor about visiting a greenhouse to gauge your reaction to the plants. It may or may not be recommended.
- Some of the plants are toxic to pets, whether from exposure or if eaten. You can easily search the web for “plant name” + “pets” or more specifically, “dogs” and “cats”. Your vet will also be happy to give you very specific answers about what your pet can and cannot be around.
18 Plants NASA Says Help Clean the Air
- Bamboo palm – formaldehyde and xylene
- Barberton daisy – formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene
- Boston fern – formaldehyde and xylene
- Broadleaf lady palm – ammonia, formaldehyde, and xylene
- Chinese evergreen – benzene and formaldehyde
- Cornstalk dracaena – benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene
- Devil’s ivy – benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene
- Dwarf date palm – formaldehyde and xylene
- English ivy – benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene
- Flamingo lily – ammonia, formaldehyde, and xylene
- Florist’s chrysanthemum – filters all five pollutants.
- Kimberly queen fern – formaldehyde and xylene
- Lilyturf – ammonia, trichloroethylene, and xylene
- Peace lily – filters all five pollutants
- Red-edged dracaena – benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene
- Spider plant – formaldehyde and xylene
- Variegated snake plant – benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene
- Weeping fig – formaldehyde and xylene
And here is that Air-filtering Houseplants infographic: