Why houseplants are good for your family’s health

Make your living space more healthy and breathable with these seven easy-care houseplants

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Houseplants have long been attractive design elements in the home and at the center of long-lived and recurring trends. They are thought to elevate and help calm our moods, boost concentration and productivity, and alleviate stress. But most importantly, plants in the home really benefit us with the removal of dangerous toxins from the air we breathe. They represent an inexpensive yet effective way to create a healthier environment for the whole family.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that air pollution can be up to five times greater indoors than outdoors, posing serious risks to our health and well-being. This is particularly concerning given that on average people spend up to ninety percent of their time indoors. In many buildings the air is often trapped and not well ventilated, especially in the cooler months. Contributors to indoor air pollution include building materials, paints, plastics, carpets, cleaning supplies, disinfectants and even scented candles. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene are a specific and dangerous type of pollutant that are emitted as gases from hundreds of household products. Most of the research has focused on exposure to one of these VOCs and little is known about their combined effects.

Short-term health effects of indoor pollution include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, asthma and fatigue. Long-term health effects that may not arise until years later include respiratory diseases, decreased cognitive function, high blood pressure, damage to the kidneys, liver or central nervous system, heart disease and cancer. You can reduce the level of indoor pollution by monitoring what you bring into your home and avoiding harmful chemicals in the products you buy. Good ventilation also helps. You will still need assistance, however, with combating persistent emissions from your furniture, electronic devices or rugs, for example. And plants will do just that.

NASA demonstrated the effectiveness of common houseplants in removing pollutants when they researched how to create healthy environments for space habitats. These plants absorb toxins from the air with their leaves and roots, and even with microorganisms living in the soil. Certain plants have been shown to filter out larger quantities of pollutants than others and not all plants remove the same pollutants. If you’re concerned about a specific chemical in your home then be sure to select a plant that absorbs that chemical, as not all plants will.

There are dozens of potentially suitable houseplants you can consider, but here is a selection of the most productive plants that purify your home, office or schoolroom from the most serious VOCs:

  1. Spider plant: Removes formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, xylene and toluene
  2. Snake Plant: Removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene. Absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen at night (while most plants do this during the day), making it a good one for the bedroom.
  3. English Ivy: Removes formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene. Removes airborne mold spores. Removes airborne fecal matter (making it a good option for placing in the bathroom or near a change table). Cleanses the air for asthma sufferers.
  4. Golden Pothos: Removes formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene.
  5. Red-Edged Draceana: Removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene
  6. Peace Lily: Removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene and ammonia – removes electromagnetic radiation from digital devices
  7. Bamboo Palm: Removes formaldehyde, xylene and toluene

The suggested number of plants for optimal benefit is one plant for every one hundred square feet of enclosed living space. Maintenance of the plants listed above is simple and most of them thrive in a low light setting. Most of them can be easily propagated. When selecting your plants, do make sure you check which are toxic (i.e. Snake plant, English Ivy, Golden Pothos, Red-Edged Draceana and Peace Lily) and keep them out of reach of children and pets that may ingest them. The area of the plant that is most effective for removing pollutants is the “root-soil zone,” so maximize the air exposed to this area by trimming off bottom leaves on any thick foliage and keep the soil bare. With these well-performing and resilient houseplants, you don’t need to have a green thumb to green up your space and purify the air inside your home!