Air on the Side of Green

By: Brittany Shoot

Even during the warm summer months, most of us spend our days behind closed windows and doors. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend 90 percent of our time inside, where air quality can actually be worse than it is outside. Yet there’s a simple solution—houseplants—that can help combat allergies, respiratory conditions, and symptoms of sick building syndrome.

Air-purifying plants such as moth orchids, bamboo palms, mums, and dracaenas filter out carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene, while also releasing oxygen and raising the humidity level.

You’ll need about one potted plant per 100 square feet of office or home space, says NASA, which famously conducted a clean air study of plants and their role in reducing pollutants in the air. As always with plants, some houseplants can be toxic if eaten by small children or pets, so do double-check for safety based on your circumstances.

Boston fern

This hardy perennial is forgiving, tolerating occasional lapses in watering. Also called a sword fern, this plant helps clean formaldehyde and mold spores out of the air.

Golden pothos

This plant is commonly used to naturally filter out the nitrates fish leave in aquariums. It’s equally useful for ridding the air of chemicals like toluene, which is used in paints, paint thinners, and synthetic fragrances, and xylene, a chemical found in glues and paints.

Ficus

A glossy-leaf perennial that comes in shrub or tree form, the ficus removed benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the air, reported the NASA study. Trichloroethylene is a solvent; exposure can cause liver damage.

Spider plant

Perfect as a cubicle mate or for a small apartment, spider plants are especially useful for absorbing formaldehyde that leaches from building materials and pressed-wood furniture.

Areca palm

This slow-growing native to Madagascar banishes toluene and xylene. It also transpires a lot of water, making it an efficient living humidifier.

Double Duty

These five plants help purify the air and contribute even more to your well-being.

Nasturtiums clean the air and add zest to your salad, with peppery-flavored flowers that make a great topping. When pickled, their edible seeds can be used in place of capers.

Orchids of the moth and Dendrobium varieties clear the air of toluene and xylene. Dendrobium flowers, canes, and leaves can be used for edible decoration, food, and tea.

Aloe vera does more than absorb air pollutants. The cooling gel inside this spiky succulent can soothe burns and scrapes, and aid digestion.

Gerbera daisies absorb benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde when used inside. Outdoors, they attract beneficial pollinators like butterflies and bees.

Chrysanthemums reduce indoor air pollution but can also be used to make teas to treat colds, boost liver function, and ease stress.

 

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