We spend much more time indoors compared to previous generations, and while enjoying the comforts of a climate-controlled, plugged-in life has some perks, there can also be a number of health hazards lurking in indoor environments.
Paints can release various volatile organic compounds (VOCs); ceiling tiles, wood and adhesives can eke formaldehyde over time; and carpets release particulate matter into the air. Fungi and bacteria that are pathogenic to humans also abound in climate and humidity-controlled spaces, and can be circulated in the air as bioaerosols.
In buildings where the indoor air quality is particularly bad, occupants experiencing adverse effects can be given a blanket diagnosis of sick building syndrome (SBS). While not a catch-all solution or a replacement for building with non-toxic materials, plants can provide an immense improvement in indoor air quality. Broadly, this process is called “phytoremediation.”
NASA famously published a clean air study in 1989, the intent of which was to assess plants for use on space stations; nonetheless the study yields data about seemingly ordinary tropical houseplants that can also clean the air in a dwelling or office.
According to the study, the following houseplants will remove benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene from the air, and the latter two plants will also remove ammonia:
- English ivy (Hedera helix)
- variegated snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)
- red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
- florist’s chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
- peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
Sufficiently clean air only takes a single plant per 100 square feet of indoor space.
A showed that particulate matter (dust, irritants) also does not accumulate as quickly in indoor spaces with houseplants.
It makes sense, really. Our ancestors were sleeping outdoors, in caves or in mud dwellings, and were constantly surrounded by a vast biome in which plants, fungi and animals interacted. We’re a little more removed from that, behind layers of paint and sealed-off tiles.
Better air quality can come from bringing just a little bit of that biological factor back into the places we live, work, sleep and breathe.