Houseplants for clean air

October 25, 2005 lawanda Newspaper Columns

      Are any of these things in your house:  adhesives, carpeting, chlorinated tap water, cleaning products, computer, draperies, fabrics, facial tissues, grocery bags, nail polish, paint, paper towels, plywood, pre-printed paper forms, or upholstery?  If they are, your indoor air is polluted with things like formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, benzene, chloroform, ammonia, alcohols and acetone.  All of these substances can cause allergies, asthma, eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nervous system disorders, sinus congestion, cancer and reproductive problems.

      Back when NASA was planning for people to live on the moon, they began studies on treating and recycling air.  They realized that the earth produces and sustains clean air through the living processes of plants.  They began testing many different plants to determine how this was done and which plants do it best.

      Basically, this is what happens.  Pollutants in the air are absorbed though microscopic openings in plant leaves called stomata.  The gaseous organic substances are then digested or translocated to the roots where they serve as food for microbes.  Another way that plants have of moving air polluting substances to their roots is by emitting water vapor into the atmosphere from plant leaves through a process called transpiration.  This transpiration sets up convection currents where water is pulled rapidly up from the roots through the plants.  Then air is pulled down into the soil around the plants where root microbes biodegrade the pollutants into structures that can be used as a source of food for the plants.

      The three best plants for removing indoor pollutants are the areca palm, also called yellow or butterfly palm, the lady palm and bamboo palm.  They all rated high for removal of chemical vapors, are easy to grow and maintain, are resistant to insect infestation and have a high transpiration rate. 

      The book How to Grow Fresh Air by Dr. B.C. Wolverton lists 50 common houseplants and rates them according to their ability to remove chemical vapors, ease of growth, insect resistance and transpiration rate.  There are two photos of each plants and detailed growing information. 

      Not all the plants listed in the book are as big as the palms.  Some of the smaller ones include English ivy, Boston fern, peace lily, golden pothos, florist’s mum, wax begonia and gerbera daisy.

      The book also discusses personal breathing zones, an area of about six to eight cubic feet surrounding an individual.  It refers to an area where a person remains for several hours, such as a desk or computer, watching TV or sleeping.  Plants located within a personal breathing zone can add humidity, remove chemical toxins and suppress airborne microbes.  Those benefits are in addition to their aesthetic and psychological values. 

      Look at where you spend your time indoors and try to place a pollution eliminating houseplant within your own personal breathing zone.


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