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According to NASA, Indoor Plants Improve Air Quality! Here’s What Homeowners Need to Know

Environmental toxins can have a dramatic impact on our health – they can affect everything from our respiratory, renal, and cardiovascular health to our reproductive, nervous, and immune systems. Every time we are exposed to toxic elements, we risk the chance of experiencing a new side effect, and even if we don’t always feel the impact, the subtle damage can add up over time.

Typically, we think about air pollution as something that affects us most when we are outside — you probably imagine the kind of smoggy air you can see and smell, especially in cities with sizable manufacturing industries. It might surprise you to know that indoor pollution, which is less obvious, can be much more insidious and just as bad for your health — or even worse! In fact, Chris Stokel-Walker of the BBC cites the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which suggests that “air pollution indoors is often between two and five times greater than outdoors – and can get at its extreme up to 100 times worse than the open air.” The more extreme end of that spectrum applies primarily to developing nations with little environmental regulation, but western homeowners are not exempt; our homes are full of the pollutants we bring in with us from outside and then seal inside, but they are also full of the toxins we accumulate through cooking, as well as the materials and chemicals that make up our furniture and cleaning products.

This might be alarming news, but luckily, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. One tool a homeowner can use to improve their indoor air quality is indoor plants. Houseplants as effective air quality control sounds too good to be true, but NASA’s 1989 Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement study found that, when used in tandem with an active carbon filter, plants and the minuscule organisms they house can break down pollutants from viruses to cigarette smoke and improve the interior of your home. Furthermore, we all know that mental health is just as important as physical health, and various studies even suggest that decorating your living and working space with greenery is a powerful way to reduce stress. In 2011, the academic journal Public Health Reports found that with increases in “nature contact,” in office environments, “perceived stress and generalized health complaints decreased.”

Now, NASA was researching ways to maximize cleaner air in space stations. However, what they discovered is no less relevant for your home! Here’s a brief glimpse into which indoor plants can improve your home air system. Each of these plants aids in removing one or more of the following toxins: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroet, xylene and toluene, and ammonia.

1. The Snake Plant

The Snake Plant, also sometimes called Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, is a top option for most homeowners because of its affordability, sturdiness, and low maintenance care. Snake Plants are low light plants, so they’ll thrive even without being right by the window. They’re also succulents, which means you don’t need to water them very often! Most importantly for our purposes, Snake Plants are efficient in scrubbing formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene from your air.

2. English Ivy

English Ivy is a durable plant that loves bright light. It cascades down elegantly from hanging baskets on hooks and is a great choice for livening up a window or a well-lit corner. It gets better: The University of Utah reports that this one is also adept at removing trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, xylene, and benzene!

3. Weeping Fig

For homeowners with a little more space, the Weeping Fig is a good go-to for indoor trees that keep the air clean. However, the Weeping Fig is a little needier — it prefers humid areas like bathrooms, and it may start losing leaves if left near the hot, dry air of a vent. But, if your home suits it well, this little tree is a beautiful choice.

4. Dracaenas

For a fledgling houseplant owner, the diverse category of plants that fall under the name Dracaenas offer a promising starting point. Buyers will find them in a wide slew of colors and shapes that match nicely with a variety of decor. Heads-up, pet owners! Dracaenas can be toxic to your furry friends, but they help clean the air of formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, benzene, and trichloroethylene.

5. Boston Fern

The Boston Fern is a classic decor plant — it has been a popular interior decoration plant since the Victorian era, and science has made it even more attractive. An especially affordable and easy-to-please plant, the Boston Fern gets a special mention in the book Working with Ferns: Issues and Applications by Helena Fernandez, Ashwani Kumar and Maria Angeles Revilla. The authors specifically discuss the Boston Fern as being particularly efficient in turning pollutants into plant fuel.

The above handful of plants is a solid place to start, and if you’re looking to diversify your greenery, you might check out some of these other great options:

  • Aloe vera
  • Areca palm
  • Bamboo palm
  • Banana
  • Barberton daisy
  • Broadleaf lady palm
  • Chinese evergreen
  • Cornstalk dracaena
  • Dendrobium orchids
  • Devil’s ivy
  • Dumb canes
  • Dwarf date palm
  • Elephant ear philodendron
  • Flamingo lily
  • Florist’s chrysanthemum
  • Heartleaf philodendron
  • Janet craig
  • Kimberly queen fern
  • King of hearts
  • Lilyturf
  • Moth orchids
  • Peace lily
  • Red-edged dracaena
  • Rubber plant
  • Selloum philodendron
  • Spider plant
  • Warneckei

Caring for houseplants is a timeless method of bringing color and life to a living or work space, and it is only becoming more popular among interior designers. Given the recent research on how having more frequent access to greenery and bringing little snippets of nature inside can positively impact our mental and physical health, it seems clear that all of us ought to be making better use of plants in our lives! Many people discovered the therapeutic joys of keeping houseplants during the pandemic, but as the pandemic wanes, we hope that renewed understandings of how houseplants create a cleaner, healthier environment will keep the trend alive.

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