Sometimes All You Need is the Air that You Breathe!

If you know anything about our family, you know that there’s been a connection to NASA for a long time. My father built the tools that went to the moon on the Apollo mission that scooped up the first moon rocks. Those tools are now on display at the Smithsonian in the Air and Space Museum. Our son Christopher had his first experience with NASA through an online program and then an internship at the Johnson Space Center in Houston when he was in high school. So naturally, anything connected with NASA is of interest to us.

There is also a connection to NASA for Vic, myself and the garden center through their Clean Air Study that was conducted many years ago. If you are interested in reading the entire study, you can find it by clicking here. Since the topic for the month both in the newspaper columns and in this e-news has been houseplants, it seems like a good time to talk about the effect they have on the reduction of indoor air pollution.

It’s really true that sometimes all you need is the air that you breathe, but with closed up homes resulting in reduced fresh air exchange and better insulation, the winter house air often isn’t good. Tightly sealed buildings and poor ventilation are known to cause health issues in some cases and that can easily be remedied with the addition of the functional decorations of houseplants.

The benefits of plants are varied and many and have been proven over and over again in countless studies. For instance, Dutch researchers found in a 2008 study that the addition of plants in hospital rooms lowered the stress levels of patients. Chemicals such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde and others are often found in homes from the building materials or other things such as paint, furniture which have been brought into the home. I won’t get into all of the gasses and chemicals that the addition of houseplants reduces, or the technical data here, but instead want to share some of the best houseplants that will help to de-stress your home and purify your air.

Aloe vera tops several lists as one of the best houseplants to have in your space. It clears formaldehyde and benzene and is a great plant to have for it’s gel which helps heal burns and cuts. Put an aloe plant in a bright sunny window to keep it happy and healthy. An interesting note on aloe plants- they are also a good barometer of the air in your home. When the harmful chemicals become excessive, the plant will begin to display brown spots. You’ll need to be careful with these though, because they are toxic to dogs and cats.

English ivy was NASA’s number one best air-filtering pick because it was the most effective one that filtered formaldehyde. It’s easy to grow and works well in a bright window.

Peace lilies or spathiphyllum have grown in popularity over the past few years and are known for their easy care and are also one of NASA’s top pick for filtering the big three toxins. I like this plant because it tells you when it needs water by visibly drooping, so it’s an easy choice for a beginning houseplant owner. As popular as they are, be careful with them around your pets because these are also toxic to dogs and cats.

Bamboo palms thrive in shady indoor spaces which is what makes it a good choice over some of the others, particularly if you don’t have a very bright space in your home. You’ll often see these in photos from the Victorian era, as they were as popular then as they are now. They prefer drier soil, so if you are often forgetful about watering, these are a good choice for you.

Philodendron are one of my favorites because I love their pretty, heart shaped leaves. A workhorse at removing the toxins in your home, they aren’t a good choice if you have children or pets because they are toxic if eaten and since they vine, that often puts them in easy reach of both kids and pets. However, they are low maintenance, easy to grow and are particularly good at absorbing formaldehyde.

Spider plants are one plant just about everyone has had in their home at one time or another and with good reason. These are super easy to grow and also easy to reproduce. Just take some of the little “spider pups” that grow off of a mature plant and place it root side down in a pot of soil. Spiders are great at fighting pollutants, and prefer dry soil. A resilient plant, this one is difficult to kill and a good one to have if you have pets because they won’t harm them if they nibble on the foliage.

Dracaenas, particularly the red-edged varieties, also made NASA’s list of top houseplants for filtering toxins. These prefer bright light and can get quite large- as tall as 15 feet- so they need a bigger space in which to live. Take heart though- they are slow growers and will take quite some time to reach this height.

Golden pothos is another one of my personal favorites. Although it is also one that is poisonous to pets and children, it’s cascading green leaves are great for tackling formaldehyde. An interesting fact about this plant is that it will stay green, even when kept in the dark, so it’s a great plant for homes with low light.

Finally, snake plants or mother-in-laws tongue, are just like their namesakes. They don’t need much light or water to survive and is one of the best for filtering toxins, particularly formaldehyde. An interesting note about these is that they work in reverse of most plants by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen at night, so they are a great choice for bedrooms.

Air purification is best accomplished with one plant per 100 square feet of home space. So if your winter air is feeling a little stuffy, then clean up your act with the addition of some new houseplants!