Fresh air is not something we get enough of in modern life, especially as most of us seem to be increasingly stuck inside with our great British weather and modern double glazing and central heating add to the fug. When you add various troublesome household chemicals, air freshener sprays and plugins, then a lack of clean air in the home can be a serious health issue. Chemicals include:
- Benzene – Glues, paints, furniture wax and detergents
- Formaldehyde – Engine emissions, disinfectants, fixatives, preservatives in consumer products (carpets etc)
- Trichloroethylene – In homes undergoing renovation
- Xylene and Toluene – In a variety of household sprays
- Ammonia – Aerosols and sprays used in the home.
Of course opening windows will always be the answer but that brings a trade off between having windows open to allow fresh air in, and freezing between September and April, or having them closed and suffering the problems of stale air choc full of allergens.
So how do I combat this?
My friend Misha recently drew my attention to living air filters and how the humble house plant can make all the difference – cleaner-plants work hard at sweeping our air of these toxins and releasing humidity back into the atmosphere. Misha then presented me with a pot of Chlorophytum (Spider Plant). I duly repotted the clump into three separate containers; one for the kitchen, one for the dining room and one for the sitting room (though may relocate one to the bathroom).
Studies by NASA prove certain plants help keep the air in your house cleaner and increase oxygen levels. More general studies over time have shown that plants help us to:
- Reduce frequency of headaches and allergy symptoms.
- Reduce fatigue and stress and aid recovery from simple viral complaints such as a common cold.
- And best of all they are said to promote productivity and creativity!
Given that list – for myself as sufferer of ME and Fibromyalgia, and also as a writer working from home – the potential benefits are substantial.
A little basic research told me that there are several key plants tested as potential air-scrubbers, including:
Aloe Vera – This emits oxygen at night time whilst simultaneously taking in carbon dioxide. All this leads to a purer quality of air and a better night’s sleep.
Nephrolepis Exaltata (Boston or Sword Fern) – the lush foliage will help scrub the air of toxins in a room and improve humidity. With a bit of regular misting and watering it should thrive anywhere but loves a bathroom!
Chlorophytum (Spider Plant) – NASA tests showed this plant removed up to 90% of the potential lethal formaldehyde from the air – which is found in common household products like adhesives, grout and fillers. Keep these plants around your kitchen and bathrooms. It is also considered the safest of house plants if you have pets your house
Dracena Marginata (Dragon Tree) – useful for removing xylene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde found in lacquers such as hairspray or furniture polish or furniture varnish.
Ficus Elastica (Rubber Plant) – bred for toughness as it doesn’t need a lot of natural light. Especially good at removing formaldehyde, one of the most common toxins found in our indoor air.
Ficus Benjamin (Weeping Fig) – perfect for filtering pollutants typically found in carpeting and furniture, inc. formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene.
Sanseveria (Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue) – excellent for filtering out formaldehyde in cleaning products, hygiene, and personal care products.
Scindapsus (Devil’s Ivy) – another powerful plant fighting formaldehyde – grows well in an indoor hanging basket. Good choice if you live near a busy road as it is especially helpful in eliminating car exhaust fumes
Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily) – helps to filter out harmful benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde toxins. The moisture given off by these striking flowers can boost a room’s humidity by up to 5% which helps with dry noses and aids sleep. WARNING – toxic to cats and dogs.
There are many more plants that can make your home both beautiful and fresh but these are the best for keeping you and your family healthy by providing natural air filters and increasing the oxygen levels. NASA recommended between 15 and 18 plants in your home to purify the air you breathe but even a mere five can make a difference.
General care of plants – this obviously varies from plant to plant but a general guide is to water (and mist) them weekly but don’t over do it. Over watering is the single biggest killer of houseplants. Feed them during the growing season and repot them every second or third year.
Most houseplants like a well-lit, draught-free spot with an even temperature and reasonably high humidity. However those with variegated foliage need more light than plants with plain green foliage, while ferns like a darker position. If growth is poor and spindly, flowering plants are shy to flower or variegated plants revert to plain green, improve the light conditions but avoid south-facing windows during a hot summer as they may scorch.