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Indoor Plants for Clean Air

Posted: May 11, 2011

The three major indoor air pollutants are benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. Research by NASA in creating a healthy environment in space habitats indicates that a number of common house plants are effective in removing or reducing these pollutants.

Prepared by Patricia M. Webb, Master Gardener Class

Jan. 16, 2008

Indoor Plants for Clean Air 

Home owners today are concerned about energy efficiency in their homes. Ways to keep energy losses down means lots of insulation in the outside walls, energy saving windows, carpeting, tightly fitting doors, and attic insulation.  However, this also means that there is little fresh air entering the home; especially in the winter months which, in turn, can lead to a buildup of air pollution.

What causes air pollution in the home? There are a surprising number of sources. Cigarette smoke, items that have been dry cleaned, newly installed carpets, freshly painted surfaces, detergents, and synthetic fibers and plastics are all sources of pollutants. Paper products, furniture, and household cleaners are also culprits which produce air pollution.

The three major indoor air pollutants are benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. Research by NASA in creating a healthy environment in space habitats indicates that a number of common house plants are effective in removing or reducing these pollutants.

Plants use a process called photosynthesis to produce their food. The plants take carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen as a byproduct. This allows them to grow and produce flowers, fruits, and seeds. Research now shows that many common houseplants also absorb pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene.

The most common house plants that have been proven to remove a large percentage of these pollutants are spider plants, numerous varieties of philodendron, peace lily, golden pothos, and snake plants. It is likely that most house plants are able to absorb some pollutants although only a few such as those listed above have been tested. For instance, studies have shown that the spider plant is quite effective in cleaning indoor air by absorbing chemicals including formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, and carbon monoxide in homes or offices.

Other plants that help remove these toxic chemicals from the air are English Ivy, Bamboo Palm, Corn Plant (Ribbon Plant), Mother-in-Law’s tongue, Gerbera Daisy, Chrysanthemum, and a number of varieties of Dracaena. Most flowering plants such as the Gerbera Daisy require sunlight and are difficult to grow inside.

The greatest benefit from these plants occurs when there are 15 to 18 plants used in a house with an area of 1800 to 2000 square feet or 1 plant for each 100 square feet. The expense of buying this many plants may seem prohibitive for some home owners. However, most of these plants can be easily propagated.

Spider plants are extremely easy to propagate by planting the “spiders” or plantlets that succeed the flowers that are produced on long stems in their own pots. Set the plantlet, still attached to the mother plant, on the surface of a pot filled with soilless potting medium and allow it to root before severing the stem connecting it to the mother plant. Cuttings from the stems of philodendron plants can be rooted in water and then moved to pots containing potting soil.

Maintenance of these plants is very easy. Most of the plants will thrive in a low to bright light setting. In fact, most of them can’t tolerate bright sunlight. Soil should be kept moist but not soggy. Do not over water.

Plants can provide an attractive environment as well as removing pollutants and increasing the oxygen content of the air in our homes. Removing these pollutants from the air we breathe is just one more way to help in maintaining good health and improving the environment

References for:

Indoor Plants for Clean Air

NASA Report 9/26/89  Study Shows Common Plants Help Reduce Indoor Air Pollution Release: 89-149

Dr. Bill Wolverton

John C. Stennis Space Center, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Plants “Clean Air” Inside Our Homes

Laura Pottoroff, Cooperative Extension Agent, horticulture, plant pathology

www.colostate.edu/Depts/CoopExt

HOUSEPLANTS HELP CLEAN INDOOR AIR

Deborah L. Brown, Extension Horticulturist

www.extension.umn.edu/projects