Breathing Easy? Thank a Houseplant!
With much of the world in the firm grasp of winter, today we take a minute to shine a light on three of the most common indoor air pollutants—and how you can avoid them.
Ozone is one of the main components of outdoor air pollution, but it can also sneak its way into homes and offices (where people spend the majority of their time, especially in winter).
Sources of indoor ozone pollution include copy machines, laser printers, UV lights and (ironically) electrostatic air purification systems. According to the EPA, ozone is “good up high, but bad nearby.” In other words, stratospheric ozone is protective, since it helps filter the sun’s damaging UV radiation. But ozone in the atmosphere—the air we breathe—can be harmful to the respiratory system, causing or aggravating asthma, throat irritation, coughing, chest pain and more.
There’s good news, though. The American Society of Horticultural Science says that three common houseplants—snake plant, spider plant and golden pothos—are all effective in reducing ozone. And they add a nice touch of “natural” to your surroundings, too. But there’s more. In addition to removing ozone:
Spider plant is also known to help reduce carbon monoxide, as well as volatile organic compounds like benzene, formaldehyde and xylene, a solvent used in the leather, rubber and printing industries.
Snake plant (aka mother-in-law’s tongue) also helps filter out formaldehyde, an ingredient in in some cleaning products as well as tissues, toilet paper and personal care products.
Golden pothos is another powerful plant for fighting formaldehyde, and since it’s fast-growing it can green up your home in a flash!
This odorless, invisible gas prevents your body from properly using oxygen. It can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, confusion and a rapid heart rate. If it’s concentrated enough, it can even be lethal.
To reduce your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, make sure your heating system has been installed correctly and have it checked annually. Avoid heating your home with a gas stove, and consider buying a CO detector. Just remember, carbon monoxide is lighter than air so it rises. Make sure your detector is placed up high on the wall or even on the ceiling.
Formaldehyde and Other VOCs
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are compounds released when fuels like gasoline, diesel, coal, natural gas or wood are burned. VOCs are also released from paints, glues, solvents and other products used and/or stored indoors. Examples of VOCs include such compounds as benzene, diesel exhaust particulates, formaldehyde, perchloroethylene, styrene and xylene, among others.
The known health effects of VOCs on humans vary from highly toxic to none at all. Benzene and formaldehyde are listed as human carcinogens by the National Toxicology Program. Others, such as diesel exhaust particulates, perchloroethylene and styrene are listed as “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.” Inhaling VOCs can cause nausea and breathing difficulty, and they can also irritate the eyes, nose and throat and cause damage to the central nervous system and other organs.
To protect yourself and your family from VOCs, look for “low VOC” on paint and building supply product labels. Keep all indoor areas well ventilated, and allow new carpet and/or building products to off-gas outside first before installing them.
And, in addition to the plants mentioned above, the following are also helpful for purifying the air in your home: Aloe vera helps filter out formaldehyde and benzene. And bromeliad, Caribbean tree cactus, dracaena and jade plant are also known to remove VOCs from indoor air, as shown in this video highlighting research by the State University of New York.
- Science Daily: Houseplants Cut Indoor Ozone
- LiveScience: Houseplants Make Air Healthier
- PHYS.org: Clearing the air: The hidden wonders of indoor plants
- SpringerLink: The Potted-Plant Microcosm Substantially Reduces Indoor Air VOC Pollution: I. Office Field-Study
- EPA: Ozone Generators that are Sold as Air Cleaners
- ASHS Press: Common plants could prove cost-effective alternatives for reducing ozone in offices, homes
- US Green Technology: 7 Common Indoor Air Pollutants
- Tox Town: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
- Report on Carcinogens, Fourteenth Edition [PDF Download]
- American Lung Association: Volatile Organic Compounds
- YouTube: Reducing Indoor Air Pollution With Houseplants – Headline Science