Improve Indoor Air Quality with Plants and Get Better Health

plant by windowMany of us worry about air pollution and how it can affect our overall health, but have you ever thought about the indoor air quality in your home?

As an interior designer, I understand how people assume that interior design is all about aesthetics.  It’s true that we want to make sure paint colors match with carpets, wood flooring, and the sofa fabric.  I believe that achieving a cohesive interior does wonders to boost our well-being.

So, yes, aesthetics is a very large part of what we do.  However, there are many other factors of design that don’t get as much attention but are just as important to our living space.   One that is often overlooked is indoor air quality.  Sometimes, when we can’t see something, we forget that it exists.

The most common perception of air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels.  In cities, we think about smog and all the exhaust fumes from cars and trucks.  We often think that getting away from all the gray skies and bad smelling fumes is an easy fix.  All we need to do is go indoors right?  The simple act of closing windows and doors to separate us from the bad air outside makes us feel safe and protected.

We are also often fooled by the appearance of a newly built or remodeled building.  These sparkling clean interiors makes us feel safe because we don’t see dirt or mold.  We have been taught to correlate new and clean interiors with good air quality.  But in reality, this is not necessarily always the truth.

Over the years, to improve energy efficiencies in our home, in colder climates we are encouraged to seal our homes by adding more insulation, apply caulking or weather stripping to seal everything.  This is to make sure we don’t let the heat escape.  In the same way, in warm climates, they seal homes to keep the cool air from escaping.   In doing so, air may not be able to come in, but that means we aren’t letting the indoor air go out either.  The lack of ventilation is part of the problem.

Today’s building materials, paint, and furnishings are often made with many glues and resins that emit various gases.  We call this off-gassing.  This process for materials to completely off-gas can often take years.  These gases called VOC’s or volatile organic chemicals are toxic and are constantly entering into our sealed homes, remaining in the air we breathe.  Many scientists and doctors believe that this is one of the causes of many illnesses today.  Because we don’t “see” these toxic gases, we really don’t realize they are affecting us.  Furthermore, this theory is also very difficult to prove.

So what do we do?  We can try to find more natural furnishings and finishes for our homes and use paint, like those with low or no VOCs.  We can buy antiques and live in old homes that have no gases that need releasing.  But, realistically, we can’t escape all off gassing.  It’s in so many of our consumer items and it’s just part of our modern lifestyle.

The best and most simple solution is to use living indoor plants to clean our air.   Artificial plants are aesthetically pleasing, but they cannot clean the air.  So, no artificial plants please.  Only real live plants.

We must thank NASA, who, for over 25 years, has done extensive research proving how houseplants can remove these toxins and improve indoor air quality.  This was called the Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Pollution Abatement.  They list all the plants that scored high in removing toxins.  The following list is NASA’s top plants for removal of toxic gas formaldehyde: Boston fern, florist’s mum, gerbera daisy, dwarf date palm, bamboo palm, rubber plant, English ivy, peace lily and Chinese evergreen.

Yucca gloriosa in clay pot.jpg

Here are some tips to help you choose the right plant for your home.

  • Before buying a plant, think about where you’re going to put it.  For example, in your living room, is the best spot next to the window or in the middle of the room?  Do you want just one or multiple plants?
  • Should the plant be placed on a table or on the floor?
  • What size plant do you need?
  • How much light will the plant get in that spot? Is it low light or full sun?
  • Once you assessed all your needs, then go shopping.
  • When choosing a plant read the label making sure it has the right light requirements.  This way your plant will thrive in that specific location.
  • Make sure you follow the instructions on your plants watering needs. Over watering can rot the roots and kill the plant.   To help avoid this problem, I keep my plants in their original pots and do not replant them.  I just place them inside another ceramic pot.  When watering, I take my planted pots to the sink,  water and drain them before placing them back in the ceramic pot.  No more rotten roots and no more mess!

If you don’t have a green thumb.  That’s okay.  I didn’t have one either.  Start with just one plant and slowly add to your collection.  The goal is to have at least one live plant in every room so you are constantly cleaning the air throughout your home.   Why not even buy a plant or two to put on your desk in the office?  Let’s improve our air quality and our health at the same time.  Go and get a living plant today for better health!

Image By Arch. Attilio Mileto – attilio.mileto@florero.net – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2619105



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One Comment

  1. Thank you for this post. My husband and I had to have new carpet torn out of new homes twice because we became ill from VOCs. VOCs are real and are harmful. Thank you for drawing attention to this invisible danger! “Dr. James Sprott, OBE, a New Zealand scientist and chemist, states that crib death is caused by toxic gases, which can be generated from a baby’s mattress. He says chemical compounds containing phosphorus, arsenic and antimony have been added to mattresses as fire retardants and for other purposes since the early 1950s.” https://www.healthychild.com/has-the-cause-of-crib-death-sids-been-found/

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