Home & Garden

The great indoors: Clean the air with houseplants

If the weather is too stormy to be outside, give some attention to indoor houseplants not only to keep your green thumb in shape, but also to clean the air of impurities. Many of the furnishings in our homes (floor covering, drapes, insulation, and furniture), as well as the chemical solvents used to clean, give off gas and pollutants into our living spaces.

The most common VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are formaldehyde, a chemical commonly used in manufacturing various products such as melamine, carpet adhesives, glues, chemical-based cleaners, paints, plywood, foam insulation, lacquers, varnishes, gasoline, and more; benzene, an odorless pollutant and a known carcinogen used in the production of styrene, resins, and adhesives and is found in inks, paints, plastic, dyes, detergents, gasoline, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and more; trichloroethylene, a solvent found in dry cleaning fluid, adhesives, paint removers, typewriter correction fluids, and spot removers; and another solvent, xylene, which is used in the printing, rubber, paint, and leather industries.

NASA scientists have found that indoor houseplants can greatly purify and renew stale indoor air by filtering out toxins while at the same time adding the humidity needed to combat respiratory and allergic conditions. Just 15 houseplants can provide better air quality in an 1,800-square-foot home. Because plants absorb air pollutants and harmful gases through their leaves, which then get sucked down to the roots, keep indoor plants free from dust by wiping gently with a damp cloth.

Here are some common houseplants that are relatively easy to care for that will purify the air from these pollutants. As an added bonus, some are blooming or have variegated leaves, which will help to add color to your home and brighten the dark winter days.

Aloe: This sun-loving succulent helps combat formaldehyde and benzene. Beyond its air-clearing abilities, the gel inside its leaves can help heal cuts and burns.

Azalea: This beautiful flowering shrub combats formaldehyde and needs a bright, but cool area in your home with a temperature of 60 to 65 degrees.

Bamboo palm: This small palm thrives in indoor spaces without sun and often produces flowers and small berries. It’s high on the list of plants that best filter benzene and trichloroethylene, but it also filters formaldehyde, commonly found in furniture and upholstery, so it’s a good choice to place around furniture.

Chrysanthemum: These flowers are available year round, do well in pots, and their colorful blooms last about six weeks. Like all blooming plants, it needs bright light, and for the buds to open, sunlight. The blooms help filter benzene.

Dracaena: There are several varieties of this plant, some with red or white stripes that form clusters atop a thin stem. Dracaenas are easy to grow, reaching 12 feet in height in a properly sized pot, and do not require sunlight. These plants remove trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, and xylene.

English ivy: A popular groundcover in some areas, an English ivy plant also looks lovely indoors, with its vines daintily cascading over the edge of a shelf or mantel. It is also an air-cleaning plant that will absorb benzene as well as formaldehyde and reduce airborne fecal-matter particles. This plant prefers moist soil and medium light.

Gerbera daisy: This cheerful, flowering plant is effective at removing trichloroethylene as well as benzene. Gerberas also emit oxygen constantly, (most plants decrease their output at night), so they’re a good choice for a well-lighted bedroom for those with sleep apnea or breathing disorders.

Peace lily: Peace lilies boast elegant white blooms and dark curving leaves. They do well in low, indirect light, and the soil should be kept moist throughout. This plant topped NASA’s list for removing formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene, and can also combat toulene (found in paint thinners) and xylene.

Pothos: This fast-growing impervious vine will grow even in the dark (although it will lose its yellow leaf variegation) as it tackles formaldehyde. Let the soil dry before drenching.

Philodendron: With pretty heart-shaped leaves, this sweet plant helps rid formaldehyde from the air. It can do well in low light, and soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings.

Snake plant: This hardy plant is one of the best for filtering out formaldehyde, which is also common in cleaning products, toilet paper, tissues, and personal care products, so is a good choice for a bathroom. Indirect sunlight is best, but it will also grow in minimal light and doesn’t require much water.

Spider plant: Almost impossible to kill, this plant multiplies by developing plantlets at the ends of its arching stems. These new growths root readily in water to start new plants. Place it in a spot that gets medium light and keep the soil steadily moist. The spider plant battles benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and xylene.

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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator at Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].