Can Plants Improve the Air Pollution in Your Home?

There is an increase of indoor pollution in our homes, which can lead to allergies and lung problems. Are the air-tight, insulated, clean homes we live in harmful to our health? Could the humble houseplant be our saviour? As certain common plants have been shown to remove toxic agents naturally from the air.

Indoor air pollution is linked to the risk of pneumonia, COPD and lung cancer. Pollution in your home can also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. If you have asthma, your symptoms might get worse if you have an allergic reaction to a pollutant in the air. The quality of the air we breathe indoors is affected by many things: how a building is ventilated, room temperature, damp, condensation, dust mites, cleaning products, heating, cooking, building materials used in construction, modern furnishings, pets, scented candles and cigarette smoke.

We use a wide range of household chemicals every day to clean and decorate our homes which are then released into the air inside our homes. Some of these can contain chemicals called VOCs, (volatile organic compounds) which are found in furniture polish, air fresheners, oven cleaners, glues and detergents. Although more research is needed before we can be fully certain about the effects of breathing in these chemicals in our homes, existing studies do suggest that being exposed to these can increase your risk of developing an allergy. ( As an asthmatic all of these have in the past caused me breathing problems and increased coughing) So, look for products that are labelled allergy friendly, as they have lower levels of volatile chemicals. Natural cleaners like hydrogen peroxide and vinegar are easy to use and cheaper than most commercial chemical cleaners. Use solid or liquid cleaning products rather than sprays that go into the air. Using toxic, chemical cleaning products can makes your home unhealthy.

In the UK, we use a lot of air fresheners, plug-ins, wipes and cleaning products. The characteristic lemon-fresh or pine so familiar in bleaches and washing up liquids comes from fragranced chemicals like limonene and alpha pinene chemicals, not harmful, but it’s what they turn into once released into the air that’s the concern. One of the known secondary products of all fragrance chemicals once they react in the air is formaledehyde ( VOC) with has carcinogenic and breathing-irritant properties. Everyday exposure to indoor chemicals such as formaldehyde may contribute to increasing cancers and other illnesses. The levels of formaldehyde in the air and water are strictly regulated by law in the UK. In small concentrations, they are a normal part of our environment. However, exposure to high levels of VOCs indoors is a source of concern among health professionals, particularly their effect on the delicate airways of children.

In NASA experiment published in 1989, it found that indoor plants can scrub the air of cancer-causing VOCS like formaldehyde and benzene. However, in 2018, Michael Waring, an associate professor of architectural and environmental engineering stated that Houseplants, though charming, do little to purify the air in a room, scientists who study the air we breathe appear to be divided in their oppinons. As one study found that within just two days, the plant removed up to 90% of the toxins found in indoor air. Through photosynthesis, they convert the carbon dioxide we exhale into fresh oxygen and can also remove toxins from the air.

Dr Tijana Blanusa, principal horticultural scientist at the Royal Horticultural Society, explained that research into the impact of houseplants on indoor air quality has intensified over the past few years, particularly the ability of plants to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) and other volatile organic compounds, such as those emitted from paints and furnishings. When CO2 builds up, it results in drowsiness, dizziness and headaches and creates a stuffy, unhealthy home. All leafy green plants will remove some CO2 during the daytime, which they use for photosynthesis. The RHS stresses that plants remove VOCs at a slower pace and not quickly enough to have much effect on the air quality of your home. But that houseplants can enhance our lives in a number of ways like improving moods and reducing stress. Adding plants into the areas you are working in, (if home-working) is said to increase productivity, improve attention span and creativity. Which is another great reason for having a few plants, scattered about.

So, no clear-cut answers for now, but it’s an area of ongoing and exciting research, which I will keep following closely. I think that adding plants to your home can look lovely in a room, making you feel energised by the space around you. Some plants are better at improving the quality of air such as Palms, Ferns, Ivy, Chrysanthemums and Spider Plants.

Spider plants, known as air plants, grow quickly and look great in hanging baskets.

Golden pothos, known as devil’s ivy, flourishes in a variety of conditions and can grow up to 8 feet One of the most effective indoor air purifiers for removing common toxins.

Chrysanthemums are ranked the highest for air purification. They’re shown to eliminate common toxins as well as ammonia.

English ivy (Hedera helix) is an evergreen climbing plant well adapted to indoor conditions. Different varieties prefer different light situations from indirect light to low-light spaces.

Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum) Remove common household toxins like ammonia.

Bamboo palms add a healthy dose of moisture into the air, making it a welcome addition in dry winter months.

Rubber plants are evergreen trees and these plants love bright, light and a little attention occasionally.

If you have pets such as cats and dogs, you may want to reconsider air-purifying plants as many of these plants can be toxic to them. Ask the staff at your local garden centre about pet-safe options.

Also, an increase in plants can also affect humidity and promote mould growth, to prevent this, let the water drain into a pan or a tray and remove the excess water regularly.

One final point about home air pollution, open your windows every day to let the fresh air enter your home. Even for a few precious minutes a day even when it’s a bit cold outside and especially if you’re cooking or using the shower. Your home will feel better for it and you feel good too.

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