Wednesday, February 17, 2010

5 Plants That Clean Your Home Air

We spend up to 90 per cent of our time indoors, sealed tightly into our homes, trying to prevent costly energy loss and escape the chill of winter. But there’s a big looming cloud over the cozy picture. It’s inside air pollution.

The U.S. Environmental Agency labels indoor air one of the top five environmental health risks. Pollutants known as volatile organic compounds or VOCs are especially irritating to people with asthma or chemical sensitivities. And these gases are everywhere: they’re given off by new furniture, adhesives used in carpeting and cupboards, paint, drywall, a wide variety of personal-care products and dry cleaning.

But a whiff of good news on the home front: a study conducted by a University of Georgia team shows that at least five common houseplants cleanse the air of some nasty VOCs.

“I’m really excited,” said Dr. Stanley Kays, a professor in the department of horticulture and the lead author of the study. “I see a real potential positive health impact if we learn how to utilize plants to create a healthier environment,” he told Allergic Living.

The research team tested 28 common indoor plants for their ability to remove five toxic indoor pollutants: benzene (particularly found in drywall in Georgia), toluene, octane, trichloroethene (TCE) and alpha-pinene. “The VOCs tested in this study have a potential to seriously compromise the health of exposed individuals,” Kays said.

What floored him was the sheer volume of these compounds in the households. “When we started checking the air quality in some of the houses, it was shocking, unbelievable. We identified 179 VOCs in just two homes. It reiterated that we have a real problem here and most people have no idea about it.”

The Top 5
Of 28 plant species tested, five emerged as the best VOC eliminators.
Purple Waffle Plant (Hemigraphis alternata) This attractive plant has puckered, slightly curled leaves that show off a red underside. It’s professor Stanley Kays personal favourite, a VOC-eliminating powerhouse.

English Ivy (Hedera helix) The lush, fast-growing foliage makes for a nice hanging or climbing plant as ivy sucks up the UGA’s quintuplet of VOCs. Do keep out of reach of toddlers and pets, as the leaves are toxic if eaten.

Variegated Wax Plant (Hoya carnosa) This tropical develops beautiful blooms in the summer, and its exquisite two-tone foliage inhales your household pollutants all year long.

Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus) The plant’s abundant greenery scrubs toxins right out of the air. Meantime, the elegant spikes will perk up a room in the dead of winter. Don’t eat the berries, which can irritate the intestines; the plant can be toxic to pets.

Purple Heart Plant (Tradescantia pallida) A favourite from the spiderwort family, this plant with its elongated, purple leaves out fills out to a full, beautiful hanging pot. Researchers rated it as superior for its ability to remove four of five VOCs – benzene, toluene, TCE and alpha-pinene.

On the Horizon
While this study is preliminary research, Kays is optimistic about being able to offer plant “prescriptions” in future. “I think we can really increase the health of people by the precise use of plants in interior spaces,” he says. A few pretty plants for much better breathing? Sounds like an idea that will blossom.

By Erin Stevenson for


Engineeredgarden said...

In my Master Gardener training last year, we learned about this, and also that houseplants make people happier, too. Thanks for revealing those varieties, because I had no idea they had such great benefits.

Stefaneener said...

Good information. We've discovered zero-VOC paint, and that's a treat. Also living in a completely leaky Victorian has its advantages. . . at least allergy-wise.

Momma_S said...

I grew up in a home filled with plants, then my own home. Then I had to freecycle over 30 plants before moving to CA (that was painful), and haven't replaced them... I've saved this info for when I do get around to that. I always called the "Purple Heart" plant "Wandering Jew" since that's what the person who gave it to me called it. Glad there's a different name for it! Thanks for sharing this, Jenn.

Just Jenn said...

EG: I thought it was worth while info to have handy somewhere. We have terrible light in our house so there's no real place for them but someday when we move....

STEF: I've seen the zero-VOC paint. Have you tried it out? I always want to but then they never seem to have the color I'm looking for. And those Victorians sure did prize their copious amounts of fresh air!

MOMMA: You're welcome. I hope you get a chance to replace your plants this year.

Shannon said...

Just Jenn:

Zero-VOC paint can actually be mixed to any color you want!

I just painted my living room with no-VOC paint from Benjamin Moore, and I just picked a swatch from their regular paint samples and they made me a gallon of it in their no-VOC paint.

Happy safe painting! :)