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9 indestructible houseplants that purify the air

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9 Indestructible houseplants that purify the air, even if you neglect them.

indestructible houseplants that purify the air
Houseplants that purify the air. Image by Clickmanis @ stock.adobe.com

It can be hard to believe that the air inside our home is often more toxic than the air outside. We tend to think of our homes as safe and clean.

Instead, the air in our homes can be a toxic cocktail of chemicals: the cleaners we use to make sure our house is clean, the insect sprays we use to keep the vermin away and the air ‘fresheners’ we use for that clean smell…all contribute to our home’s toxicity.

Then there are the chemicals in our homewares, plastics, furniture, furnishings and building materials and electronics. Even if you use natural cleaners and avoid chemicals as much as possible, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and other chemical compounds are shed or ‘off-gassed’ from electronics, particleboard furniture, paint, carpet, foam products, insulation, clothing bedding, plastics, personal care products…the list goes on.

You can see how the chemicals in our home can quickly add up and make the air quality deteriorate, which can lead to a very real problem called sick building syndrome.

Poor indoor air quality can cause symptoms like coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and upper respiratory congestion, and in more serious cases asthma, wheezing, lung disease, rashes and nausea and vomiting.

The first step and most important step to improving the air quality in your home is to reduce your use of chemicals. Natural cleaning is a good place to start. Other steps include ventilating your home well and cleaning it regularly. Often, second-hand furniture is healthier than new because it has already ‘off-gassed’ making it a cheap way to avoid chemicals. And of course, furnishings made from natural materials will also help indoor air quality.

The final step is to invest in some houseplants.

How houseplants help purify the air in your home

Way back in the early 90s, NASA did a study testing the air purifying nature of common houseplants. While the study was to protect astronauts in the confined space of a rocket, the findings also apply a little closer to home.

NASA tested a variety of household plants against 6 common chemicals: benzene, trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, xylene and toluene and ammonia.

Here’s why the tests are relevant to our homes:

  • Sources of benzene include car exhaust (particularly if your garage is attached to your house), building materials (paint and adhesive), cigarette smoke and un-flued oil heating, inks, furniture wax, detergents, thinners. Benzene is a known carcinogenic substance but acute side effects can include dizziness and headaches.
  • Sources of trichloroethylene in the home include typewriter correction fluid, paint, spot removers, carpet-cleaning fluids, metal cleaners, and varnishes. It can sometimes be found in drinking water supply. Trichloroethylene is another carcinogenic and also produces acute side effects like dizziness and headaches.
  • Formaldehyde, a VOC, is found in particle board (think your lounge, bookshelves and kitchen cupboards), plywood, MDF, glues, paints, curtains, permanent press fabrics / wrinkle-free fabrics, paper coating products (like paper towel),  nail polish, hair products, air fresheners, melamine plastic, bedding. Another cancer causing chemical, formaldehyde can cause asthma and respiratory issues, rashes, headaches, burning eyes and nose amongst other side effects.
  • Sources of xylene include artificial fragrances and paints. Sources of toluene include car exhaust, paints, adhesives, some personal care products, and tobacco smoke. Acute side effects of both are similar to those above. Ammonia is found in cleaning products, window cleaners and floor waxes.

This is just a very short list of potential chemicals in the home. A little disturbing, right?

The good news is that NASA put a variety of common household plants to the test and got positive results! They concluded that household plants (along with activated carbon plant filters, check out the link to the study at the end of the article for more details), is one of the most promising means of alleviating sick building syndrome.

Bring on the Peace Lilly!

If man is to move into closed environments, on Earth or in space, he must take along nature’s life support system.” [source]

9 Indestructible Houseplants that purify the air

NASA tested some of the more popular indoor plants. Among the top air purifiers were the Florist’s Chrysanthemum and the Gerbera.

While these plants may be great air cleaners, they aren’t necessarily the easiest to grow.

I have good intentions when it comes to growing plants, but those intentions usually droop and die off due to lack of care and watering.

Which is why I turn to the indestructible plant.

Indestructible plants are ones that can take a whole lot of neglect and stay alive. For those who are busy or brown thumbs like me, you can still benefit from the air purifying action of houseplants without filling your house with babies that need a lot of nurturing.

Tovah Martin tested the indestructibility of plants and came up with 200 tried and true hardy plants. She shares these plants in her book The Indestructible Houseplant, which I managed to check out of our local library.

No doubt all plants help purify the air. If cactus and aloes are your forte, they improve air quality too. But if you’re looking for those that are NASA tested and will survive a little (or a lot) of neglect – here is the master list.

9 indestructible houseplants that purify the air

*Please note that some plants are toxic to pets and children if ingested. If you have older children who don’t put everything in their mouths, and well-trained pets who won’t chew your plants, don’t be put off by the warning.

You can view NASA’s research methodology and interim findings here and their final report here (PDF).

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