When I saw this image of six air-purifying houseplants, I recalled that there were a few others, as well, not pictured. Once I started researching the topic, it occurred to me that I didn't really know which things produced which toxic substances in the air, so I researched that, too.
Last summer, I bought a wardrobe chest from Home Depot that was made of particle board. It was one of those things you have to put together yourself, and fortunately my dad agreed to do that part for me. After the wardrobe chest was up, I realized that it stunk, so I decided to keep the doors open for a while to air it out. Then I started to have huge headaches, especially at night, because the wardrobe chest was right next to the bed. On doing some research on the web, I realized that the glue that they use to make particle board gives off formaldehyde, and I realized that I would have to open my windows for a long time to make sure the gas dissipated. That, of course, led to an increase in seasonal allergy symptoms. My eyes were so red that one doctor thought I had pink-eye. When the pink-eye medicine didn't work, the doctor realized it was an allergic reaction.
I realize, now, that I should have aired out the pieces for the wardrobe chest in my dad's garage for a while before having him put it up. And... I should have had more houseplants.
I'm going to introduce the plants first, then give you a bit of information about the substances that they filter out of the air in your home. In the photo above, the plants are numbered 1-6, with numbers 1-3 in the top row, left to right, and numbers 4-6 in the bottom row, left to right.
1. Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii): This plant removes formaldehyde and acts as a natural humidifier. It also filters out benzene and trichloroethylene (TCE).
2. Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) aka Mother-in-law's Tongue: This plant absorbs nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde. It grows in low light, so it's perfect for rooms with no natural light source.
3. Areca Palm (Dypsis lutescens): This plant is good for general air cleanliness. It filters xylene and toluene from the air, and acts as an effective humidifier.
4. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum): This is a great indoor plant for removing carbon monoxide, benzine, and xylene. NASA says that spider plants are one of the best for removing formaldehyde from the air, as well.
5. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum): This is not a true lily plant. It is mildly toxic to humans and animals, if ingested, but not as toxic as true lilies. These plants are often placed in bathrooms or laundry rooms because they are known for removing mold spores. They also remove formaldehyde and trichloroethylene (TCE). They can also filter toluene and xylene.
6. Gerbera (Gerber) Daisy (Gerbera): These beautiful flowers remove benzene from the air. They absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen overnight, which can improve your sleep.
Here are a few other plants that can improve your air quality.
|Photo: Forrest & Kim Starr|
|Photo: cogito ergo imago/Flickr|
|Photo: The Top Tenz|
Now, what are all these nasty things in the air, and where do they come from?
Formaldehyde is a common chemical with a strong, pickle-like odor. It is used in thousands of products as a bonding agent or solvent. It is used to make plywood, particle board, paneling, and pressed-wood products, as well as foam insulation. Permanent press fabrics, shampoos, cosmetics, and even toilet paper contain small amounts of formaldehyde. The formaldehyde gets released into the air as a gas. Carpets have not been made using formaldehyde for some 30 years, now, but they do contain other chemicals that can interact with ozone in the air inside your home to produce formaldehyde. If you buy a large piece of furniture made of particle board or install new carpet, keep your home well ventilated and use plants to help clear the air.
Nitrogen oxides are released into the air from motor vehicle exhaust in attached garages, or the burning of coal, oil, diesel fuel, or natural gas. If you live near an electric power plant, this may be an issue for you. Nitrogen oxides are also released during the process of welding, electroplating, and engraving, so if you have a workshop where one of these processes take place, this may be an issue. The most prevalent source of nitrogen oxides in the home is cigarette smoke.
Benzene vapors come from glues, paints, furniture wax and detergents, although many of these products have been reformulated since the late 1970s to reduce or eliminate benzene content. About 50% of all benzene exposure in the United States is due to exposure to tobacco smoke.
Tuolene is used in making paint, paint thinners, fingernail polish, lacquers, adhesives and rubber. It is also used in some printing and leather tanning processes.
Xylene is a solvent used in leather, rubber, and printing industries.
Trichloroethylene (TCE) is found in typewriter correction fluid, paint, spot removers, carpet-cleaning fluids, metal cleaners, and varnishes.
Carbon monoxide sources include unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters wood stoves and fireplaces; gas cooking stoves; generators and other gasoline-powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages; and tobacco smoke. This is not to be confused with carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide is produced when humans and animals breathe out. Plants give off oxygen, which we breathe in, and we give off carbon dioxide, which plants absorb. It's a nice exchange, and one of the main reasons why we need those rainforests. Carbon dioxide is also produced when coal is burned and when volcanoes erupt.
Mold spores grow and fill the air in humid conditions where rooms are not well ventilated. Make sure your furniture is not blocking ventilation ducts. Mold spores also grow in homes that have been flooded.
Airborne fecal matter sounds gross, but it's not as much of a problem as it might appear. Older, dried stools can become airborne on the wind, or when you are mixing it into compost. Fortunately, the illness-causing organisms (viruses, bacteria, fungus or parasites) die when fecal matter dries out. Normally, people don't have any problem handling this, should they breathe in fecal matter, but if your immune system is suppressed (after chemotherapy, for example, or if you have HIV), you may wish to be especially careful to flush stools immediately and clean your bathroom area regularly. This should be standard procedure, for everybody, anyway.