Breathe Deeply

By Simone Slykhous

September 6, 2016 4 min read

When cleaning your home, what do you think are the most important tools to have? Perhaps paper towels, disinfecting wipes, a duster, sponges or glass cleaner. A dozen more things might have come to mind, but did you think about a ficus? What about a Boston fern? Probably not. And yet, a study from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration showed that some houseplants could remove up to 87 percent of indoor air pollutants in a single day.

The controlled experiment from NASA had huge implications for the health of astronauts aboard spacecrafts, but it can also be used to benefit your home. So how do plants and flowers help clean your air? As they go through the process of photosynthesis -- taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen -- plants are also absorbing particles and chemicals in the air. Furthermore, microbes living in the potting soil also contribute to, as NASA says, "nature's life support system."

With the advent of better-insulated homes, circulation from outside was reduced dramatically. These days, poor indoor air quality is one of the Environmental Protection Agency's top five environmental risks to public health. As winter approaches and you spend more and more of your day inside, air quality is incredibly important.

Some of the most common pollutants in homes and offices are formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. Formaldehyde is found in plywood products, foam insulation, cigarette smoke and even grocery bags. Benzene is commonly found in printing inks, paints, plastics, rubber and synthetic fibers. Though trichloroethylene is mostly used in dry cleaning and metal degreasing, paints and varnishes also emit the pollutant.

If you're looking at adding some clean air to your office or poorly lit areas of your home, and don't want to put in a lot of effort, try rubber plants, golden pothos or Janet Craigs. They are great at removing formaldehyde, and need very little sunlight, watering or care. Leaving them alone on weekends or over holidays won't damage these hardy plants long term.

Low-light loving peace lilies are also good for offices, as they pull volatile organic compounds from the air that comes from cleaning supplies, unless the maintenance staff uses green cleaning supplies. As peace lilies can be poisonous, be sure to keep them away from children or pets.

Living walls are growing in popularity in home decor. Consider adding English ivy as a decorative piece to remove formaldehyde, with Dracena plants surrounding the sprawling ivy to remove benzene, trichloroethylene and xylene, as well as formaldehyde. Function and fashion combined. Palm trees, such as lady palms, parlor palms and dwarf date palms, are great in cooler temperatures, between 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. With their larger surface area, palms also help filter dust. Boston ferns share this benefit. With hundreds of tiny leaves, ferns are great at removing formaldehyde and pollutants from gas exhaust. Though easy to grow, they need tons of moisture and humidity to stay alive. Daily misting could be needed depending on your location.

Though these green plants are striking in their own ways, you might be wondering about flowering plants. Gerbera daisies are at the top of the list for reducing pollutants, though chrysanthemums and tulips are also great purifiers. Though the blooms of these plants are beautiful, they take work to stay alive. Daisies need a lot of light. Most flowering plants prefer even cooler temperatures than palms, below 65 F. And consistent watering and soil checks are needed.

As you prep your home for fall this year, consider stopping by your local nursery on the way to grabbing cleaning supplies.

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