House plants that purify

There should be a “take a plant to work” day. And while you’re at it, you should keep one on your desk. Or, better yet, have two or more in your office and for every room in your home for cleaner, fresher air.

Most people spend 90 percent of their lives inside, where the indoor air they breathe contains at least 10 times more pollutants than the outdoors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Instead of wearing a mask to work or around your home, there’s a natural solution: indoor houseplants. Plants filter the very air you breathe round the clock from common pollutants and continuously release oxygen and moisture in homes and offices.

“Plants act as the ‘lungs of the earth’ by giving off oxygen and taking in carbon dioxide,” says former NASA research scientist Dr. B.C. Wolverton, author of “How to Grow Fresh Air” and co-author with Kozaburo Takenaka of “Plants, Why You Can’t Live Without Them.”

After decades of research, Wolverton asserts that beside aesthetics, research reveals that the mere presence of plants has been proven to “lessen environmental pollution, increase labour productivity and reduce the cost of health care.”

What’s in the air?

Modern life depends on technology, but ordinary products like paints, tobacco smoke, printer inks and even carpets hold hidden dangers that plants can help reduce.

Today, there are over 80,000 synthetic chemicals that emit off-gases. Formaldehyde is one of the leading chemical compounds found in indoor air emissions and is a component in paper products, paints, upholstery, drapes and pressed wood products, Wolverton notes.

A recent study published in the British Medical Association’s journal, Thorax, found that “children exposed to higher levels of VOCs were four times more likely to suffer from asthma than children who were not.”

Plant magic

Plants improve air quality through their natural “filtering” ability. Wolverton found that indoor houseplants absorb up to 87 percent of VOCs like ammonia, formaldehyde and benzene found in many homes and offices.

And certain indoor houseplants ‘clean’ the air every 24 hours. How? They absorb toxins into the leaves and root zone where they’re turned into nutrients. Some tropical plants actually suppress airborne mold.

Researchers at Washington State University studied the impact of indoor houseplants on dust reduction in office spaces. When indoor houseplants were present, dust particulates were reduced by 20 percent compared to rooms without plants.

Working day and night

Some of the hardest working plants are the peace lilies, ferns, palms and spider plants.

Mike Rimland of Costa Farms, the largest indoor houseplant producer in North America, recommends epiphytic bromeliads and orchids, particularly in your bedroom. These natural botanical air purifiers make perfect bedroom buddies to refresh and beautify your room for a truly healthy, restful night’s sleep.

Rimland’s favourites are anthuriums. “They come in an array of colours, with stunning blooms that last up to 13 weeks, are easy to grow, freshen the air and add exotic beauty to your bedroom,” he says.

Bring a plant to work

Put a plant on your desk and feel happier, enjoy better health and be more productive. Wolverton recommends office workers should have at least one plant in their “personal breathing space” where most of the work is done to effectively remove indoor pollutants. Wolverton suggests two areca palms or lady palms should remove sufficient VOCs to significantly improve the indoor air quality in a room.

Snake plants, broad sword ferns and rubber plants are among the top 10 air purifiers recommended by experts. They’re easy to grow, are natural humidifiers and remove airborne chemicals. Other green heroes are chrysanthemums, Gerbera daisies and spider plants.

Location, location, location

“Which plant you choose, and where you place your plants is important to reap optimum benefits,” says Rimland.

Consider the light, humidity, and temperature of your indoor spaces to determine the best choices for your home. Put a Majesty Palm in your living room, fern in the family room and peace lilies in the kitchen. Add golden pothos or heart leaf philodendron for beauty and maximum air cleansing benefits.

In your fast-paced life, plant-filled rooms help keep you in touch with nature and as Wolverton asserts, “Just the ability to view living plants enhances our psychological and physiological well-being.”

He recommends that for homes and offices, you should “place as many plants as space and lighting will allow.”

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