With fall and winter fast upon us, our time spent outdoors is going to diminish from what it’s been during these nice last days of summer. Our windows will close up, and the heater and fireplace will turn on. Now while I absolutely adore sitting by a roaring fire, cozied up on the couch with my little loves, I also realize that the health impact from those seemingly benign luxuries are not what I’d like them to be. When I think of air pollution, I often think of the Southern California sky where I grew up. On the vast majority of days throughout the year, we weren’t able to see the large mountains that were a mere 20 miles from my home because the smog was so thick and dense. What’s alarming, is that indoor air pollution has been ranked as one of the worlds greatest public health risks, meaning that what our families breathe in day and night can takes it’s toll our health. Fortunately, unlike the smog that pollutes the skies where I grew up, we have quite a bit of control over the quality of air in our homes.
One of the easiest and most inexpensive steps to take is to place houseplants known to clear the air of various volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) throughout your home. Back in the 1980’s NASA, in conjunction with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, conducted a study to determine which houseplants were able to purify the air of various VOC’s, as they were looking for a way to ensure safe indoor air quality in their space facilities. Below is a list of the houseplants that have found to be effective at ridding the 3 most concerning VOC’s: Benzene, Formaldehyde, and Trichloroethylene. All 3 of these are found in common items that we all likely have in and around our homes such as: paint, cleaning supplies, furniture, ink, printers, glue, permanent markers, dry cleaning, toilet paper, personal care products, plastics, car exhaust and more. For the best results, have one 10-12 inch plant per 100 square feet.
Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) – This easy to grow succulent is well known for it’s ability to heal burns, but it is also able to clear the air of formaldehyde and benzene. Aloe needs exposure to direct sunlight and frequent watering in well drained soil (allow to dry between waterings).
Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) - Dubbed “the most efficient air humidifier” by MetaEfficien, the Areca palm is a powerhouse of a plant when it comes to removing VOC’s. This slow grower makes a beautiful addition to almost any room, however, it does require a bit more care than the other plants on the list. It will thrive in bright indirect light and consistent waterings. While you don’t want to let the soil dry out completely between waterings, it is equally important to make sure that the plant doesn’t sit in waterlogged soil that can lead to root rot. The Areca palm is sensitive to salts and minerals, so if your home has a soft water system, be sure to use water from a source other than your tap for this plant. It is common for the tips to turn brown, but be sure not to cut them when they do as doing so will stop the growth of that frond. Instead, wait until the whole frond turns brown and then cut it off entirely.
Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii) – A great plant for bright or shady indoor spaces, the Bamboo Palm is one of the best plants for ridding the air of benzene and trichloroethylene, two of the toxins often off-gassed by new furniture. Make sure to water frequently, but do not allow to sit in water. Cleaning the fronds regularly with a soapy solution will help to abate any spider mite issues.
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema Crispum) – This durable, dramatic plant is easy to care for and filters out a variety of air pollutants. They are slow growing, but will have a long life (think in the decades!) in low to moderate light with moderate waterings, meaning that you don’t want the soil to get soggy, but you also don’t want to let it dry out between waterings. It needs relatively warm temperatures of at least 60 degrees. When those conditions are met, the Chinese Evergreen will be happy to accompany you throughout your life’s journey.
Chrysanthemum or Pot Mum (chrysanthemum morifdium) - This light loving flowering plant will remove formaldehyde, xylene, benzene and ammonia. It likes to be kept near a window with indirect sunlight, regular watering, and moderate humidity. Trimming in the late winter or early spring will encourage flowering. It will do it’s best with the following soil composition: 2 parts humus/peat, 1 part coarse sand, 2 parts garden soil, 1 part charcoal chips.
English Ivy (Hedera helix) – Often found in hanging plants, english ivy is a vigorous grower that likes cool, moist air, and evenly moist soil. Protect it from drafts and mist it often to keep the leaves from drying out, and this lovely plant will rid your air formaldehyde and airborne fecal matter particles. With bright light, its variegated leaves will keep their color.
* Caution with this plant: the leaves of this plant are poisonous if eaten and may cause skin irritation. Keep out of reach of children and pets.
Gerber Daisy (Gerbera jamesoni) - While not one that you’ll have for the long haul, this lovely flowering plant will make its cheery presence known while it lasts (typically about 6 weeks indoors). Removing trichloroethylene and benzene, this happy plant likes lots of light, and needs to be kept evenly moist while it’s blooming. They do their best in cooler temperatures (above 70 and they may stop blooming). To extend their life and blooming duration, daisies should be fed every other week or so.
Golden Pothos (Scindapsus aures) – Even those of you who consider your thumb to be black can keep this durable plant alive! It’s one of the easiest plants to care for and can be kept virtually anywhere in the home, purifying the air of carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. If there is enough light to read by, this plant can grow. You usually only need to water this plant once a week and when doing so, water evenly and allow the water to run through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
Heart Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum var. oxycardium) – This is one of the most easy to care for plants that enjoys low light. Water regularly and don’t allow to dry out between waterings. If the leaves begin to turn yellow, you have probably overwatered. Other than that, all you have to do to keep this plant working hard at removing all kinds of VOC’s is to trim it to keep it looking full. It will last a long time and can trail many feet.
* Caution with pets, as this plant can be toxic if eaten.
Janet Craig or Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis) – This glossy leaved plant removes formaldehyde from the air, while adding a touch of elegance to any space. They are tolerant in low light and prefer their soil to be slightly dry. Too dry however, and the leaves will begin to lose their gloss and become cupped; too wet, and brown and yellow spots may appear on the inner new growth.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) – One of the most popular house plants, the Peace Lily topped NASA’s list for removing all 3 of the common VOC’s (benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene), while also combatting toulene and xylene in the air. It prefers medium, indirect sunlight, but will also do well under florescent lights. Yellow leaves indicate that it is getting too much light, while brown spots and streaks indicate direct sun rays have reached the plant and have burned it. It likes comfortable temperatures betwen 65-80 degrees, and needs to be kept away from cold drafts. In general, you’ll want to water this plant about once a week and spritz the leaves during the summer. If the leaves begin to droop slightly, the plant is telling you that it’s thirsty. Fertilizing in the spring and summer will help ensure blooms.
*Caution with this plant as it is toxic to cats and humans if ingested.
Snake Plant (sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii”) - One of the best plants for removing formaldehyde, this plant is a great option for bathrooms, as it thrives in low light and humidity. It is super durable, likes to be watered once every 7-10 days or so with the soil being allowed to dry in between.
* Caution with this plant as it is toxic when eaten.
Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) – Great at removing formaldehyde, this plant will thrive in medium to low light, so keeping it within 5 to 8 feet of a window is best ideals. The rubber plant requires heavy watering, typically 1-2x/week, making sure that the soils stays moist at all times.
* Caution with this plant as it is toxic to animals and humans when eaten
About Amy Paolinelli
Amy is a mom of 3 lively kiddos, a wife, and an advocate for natural living. Prior to having children, she worked as a Marriage and Family Therapist with high-risk youth. After having her first daughter, she found her passion in pregnancy, childbirth, babies, and natural living. She is now an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in private practice, a student of Herbal Medicine for Women, and cofounder of 3Girls Holistic – a truly pure herbal skin care line. She loves getting her hands dirty in the garden and spending time near the water. You can find more of her writings at www.3girlsholistic.com