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GardenSMART :: Clean Air Naturally With Houseplants

Clean Air Naturally With Houseplants

By Justin Hancock, Costa Farms
Photographs courtesy of Costa Farms

When you think about air pollution, outdoor air pollution and smog usually come to mind. But our indoor air can also be polluted and have a negative impact on our health. Happily, there's a quick and easy remedy: Houseplants.

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Effects of Indoor Air Pollution

Poor-quality air can impact your health. It can make you more tired and inhibit your concentration, focus, and memory. It can bring headaches, dizziness, coughing, and wheezing – especially if you have allergies, asthma, or other respiratory difficulties. You may also notice irritation of your eyes, nose, or throat. And the more time you spend in environments with bad air, the more pronounced these symptoms are.

VOCs (volatile organic compounds), including acetone, benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene cause some of these symptoms. A variety of common products and chemicals release VOCs into the air. For example, many types of furniture polish and fingernail polish remover contain acetone. With each use, you add more of this chemical to the air. Paint, glues, fabrics, and carpeting release benzene and toluene. While the biggest blast of benzene comes the first week after you add new carpet, it releases small amounts of the chemical for years. Several types of plastics release formaldehyde into the air. Even cleaning your house can impact indoor air quality. Many brands of indoor cleaning products (including laundry detergents) contain VOCs called terpenes. Almost any product you use indoors that causes the air to have a smell does so by releasing VOCs.

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How Houseplants Help

We all know plants breathe by taking in carbon dioxide, then releasing oxygen. But plants take in other gases and compounds, too – including these potentially harmful VOCs.

Scientific studies from NASA recommend you grow at least one medium-sized houseplant per 100 square feet of space in your home. So if you have a 1,500-square-foot house, enjoy 15 or so medium-size plants (plants in 6-inch-wide pots or bigger).

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Here are some of the best air-purifying houseplants:

Bromeliads (Guzmania)

Bromeliads show off strappy leaves and long-lasting, decidedly flamboyant tropical-looking flowers. Most varieties bloom in festive shades of red, orange, pink, purple, or white. Some have variegated foliage, too. Research from the State University of New York showed plants removed nearly 80 percent of six different VOCs.

Care: Bromeliads do best in medium to bright light. Water when the top inch or so of the potting mix dries to the touch. They prefer average to high humidity, making them ideal for bathrooms and kitchens. This is perfect as these are rooms where we tend to use a lot of VOC-releasing cleaning products.

Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)

Loved as one of the easiest of all houseplants to grow, Chinese evergreen is also delightfully stylish. Most varieties feature dark green foliage elegantly variegated with silver. Newer varieties, often marketed as Colorful Aglaonemas, feature green leaves splashed, speckled, or marked in shades of red, pink, white, gold, or chartreuse.

Care: Suitable in low-light spots, they do even better in medium and bright spots. They're adaptable to different watering styles – as long as they don't stay too wet.

Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata)

Lush and exotic, Madagascar dragon tree features lance-like leaves that radiate out from a central stalk. It adds a tropical touch to any room. When young, it often looks like a pot of grass. As it matures, it develops a trunk and looks much more dramatic. Many varieties feature burgundy-purple, pink, white, or gold variegation.

Care: Grow this plant in a medium or bright spot and water as the top inch or so of the potting mix begins to dry. It is somewhat drought tolerant, so it will forgive you if you forget to water it from time to time.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

One of the most common houseplants around, peace lily provides lush tropical leaves. When happy, it also bears elegant white calla-lily-like blooms. It was considered one of the best air-cleaning houseplants in the NASA study because of the many different types of VOCs it was able to remove.

Care: It thrives in high or medium light but tolerates low light like a champ. In low light, it doesn't usually bloom well. Water peace lily regularly – when the top inch or so of the potting mix dries to the touch. The plant is known for wilting when it dries out, but recovering quickly when moisture is added.

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Pothos (Epipremnum)

Pothos is one of the most versatile houseplants around. It's an attractive vine you can grow up a totem or trellis, trailing from a hanging basket, or along a mantle or tabletop. Pothos features heart-shaped leaves variegated in gold, cream, and white. One newer variety is 'Manjula', which features large leaves heavily marked in creamy-white.

Care: Loved for its adaptability, you can grow pothos in low, medium, or high light. Water it regularly as the top of the potting mix dries out.

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum)

Spider plant is an old-school houseplant that's still popular today because it's so easy to grow. It features grassy-looking leaves, often variegated with cream or white. Baby plants develop at the ends of long, arching stems, giving it its name.

Care: Spider plant grows fastest in bright light, but doesn't mind low- or medium-light conditions. It has thick, tuberous roots, so it can store water and survive if moisture isn't added to the soil regularly. That said, it does best when it's watered once the top inch or so of the potting mix is dry.


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