Do Houseplants Really Clean the Air?


I had to find some way to show my husband  that my obsession with plants is something good. I found it – Phytoremediation. The more plants I bring into the house, the healthier our home will be. Plants clean the air. NASA said so In 1989. They were looking for a way to scrub the air inside space stations for the health of astronauts. They wanted to get rid of formaldehyde and benzene and other cancer causing compounds that are part of our indoor manufactured environment. . Experiments showed that plants actually do the job, some better than others. So I’m off to the races with my obsession.

Boston fernMy Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalta Bostoniensis) in the sun room has thrived through the heat of last summer and the damp cold of this winter. It’s on the list of the ten most effective plants in devouring formaldehyde which gets into our houses in plastic garbage bags, paper towels, facial tissues, rugs, adhesives, gas heating and tobacco smoke. Whew. Would a Boston fern in every room be going overboard?

For many years in another house, a Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) lived a very long time with very little attention. In twenty years it grew to six feet. I reluctantly passed it on to a young plant-loving neighbor when we moved. I’ve just gotten another which is much shorter. I’m urging it onward and upward with my new grow light.

houseplants1I’ve had Umbrella Trees before (Schefflera arboricola) and always liked their lush foliage. I added one next to an east window. It should get enough light there for photosynthesis. Then I couldn’t resist a palm. It’s funny, when you buy small houseplants at home centers, they don’t bother to list the botanical name on the tag. They just say “tropical.” I can tell it’s a palm, but the variety is a mystery. I’m hoping it’s an Areca (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) because that palm is supposed to be the best at eating up the chemicals that come in paint thinners, nail polish remover, glue and the solvents used in the printing, rubber and leather industries. Sounds good to me.

aloeA friend moving to Florida gifted me with a little Aloe Vera plant . This lovely is also known as the “first aid plant.” Great for sun burns at the beach. It’s also on the list of air-improving plants. It is thriving in a sunny window in a guest bedroom.

Kamel Meattle, a New Delhi businessman did a TED Talk on how he cleaned the air in his office building, air that was making him sick. He has been a pioneer in the movement to make work spaces more healthful. He promotes three plants that can change the quality of indoor air: Areca Palm –converts carbon dioxide into oxygen during the day, Mother-in-law’s Tongue -converts carbon dioxide into oxygen at night (good for the bedroom) and Money Plant – devours formaldehyde and VOCs. If these studies are true, that’s wonderful. But if the claims are a little overblown, I still love my houseplants. Their beauty is enough.


1 thought on “Do Houseplants Really Clean the Air?

  1. Pingback: Plastic or the Real Thing | Greenish Thoughts

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