Alberta's Best Garden Blog

Air-Cleaning Plants

Did you ever dream about being an astronaut? Imagine, if you will, that it’s many years in the future, and you’re an astronaut living in a space-bubble on a distant planet. It sounds exciting, but it doesn’t take long for reality to rear its ugly head.

The Toxic Truth

NASA would have built your bubble with the latest light-eight plastics and carbon-fibers. Here we encounter the problem that NASA has grappled with for 33 years:  synthetic materials off-gassing nasty toxins, like benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene, which make you seriously ill very quickly, in your airtight environment.

Confronting this major challenge to space exploration, NASA conducted a major study in 1984 to see if ordinary houseplants can remove toxins from household air. The results were astonishing.

Several years later, NASA constructed a structural “Biohome” to simulate a man-made space-bubble. Built entirely of synthetic materials, at first it was so flooded with toxins that it didn’t take visitors long to complain of sore eyes and breathing problems. So, NASA added 15 air-cleaning houseplants and within days the toxins cleared enough that visitors no longer showed symptoms of exposure.  

Air quality NASA
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Toxins in the Home

Air-borne toxins aren’t just NASA’s problem. Alarmingly, the materials we live with everyday infuse our household air with a cocktail of toxins. Ubiquitous nasties, like formaldehyde, are found in pressed wood, paint, carpets, and drapes, just to name a few. New homes are particularly affected as toxins are at their strongest when fresh.

Plants breathe, or transpire, just like we do. In doing so, they pull toxins down into their root systems, where certain species of plants host symbiotic microbes. Amazingly, these microorganisms feed on the toxins like fertilizer and, in doing so, help enhance the plant’s overall health. It’s hard to believe, but the formaldehyde that makes us so sick can make our Boston Ferns healthier than ever before.  

Best Plants to Remove Airborne Toxins

When it comes to cleaning air, some houseplants tower over the rest. Luckily, the best toxin removing plants are easily available, popular varieties.  

NASA recommends two air-cleaning plants of average size per every 100 square feet in your home, and more if you’re doing renovations involving particle board or paint. Here are a few of their top toxin removers:

Boston Fern: The oldest houseplant in the world is also one of the most efficient toxin and mold filters. Ferns’ high transpiration rate makes them virtuosos at devouring formaldehyde as they increase relative humidity around them. Boston ferns have been popular since the Victorian era and thrive in moderately lit rooms.  

Peace Lily: This low-light plant gobbles up the carcinogen benzene as it off-gasses from fabrics and paint, so it’s a good one to have around during renovations. Put one near your entertainment center so it can suck up the acetone that electronics emit. Peace lilies need to be kept moist and produce white flowers throughout the year. 

Bamboo Palm: Also called ‘Reed’ Palm, this thin, stately plant is a popular space-saver for narrow spaces and corners. It’s also the world’s best benzene and trichloroethylene filter. Place one near your new sofa to clean up the toxins leaching from it.  

English Ivy: One of the easiest vines to grow is a boon for allergy sufferers. Levels of airborne mold are reduced by as much as 60% within hours of introducing English Ivy. It’s also effective for removing airborne feces (yes, you read that right).  Ironically, the plant is toxic so keep it out of reach of children and pets.  

Spider Plant: The soft-spoken spider plant is very hard to kill, requires minimal light, and chows down on formaldehyde and benzene. It’s one of the few plants to tackle deadly carbon monoxide, which is an odourless killer that accumulates over time. Set your spider plant next to the fireplace or in the kitchen, and other places were CO tends to build up. It’s a must have for homes with clunky old furnaces.

When we’re at home, we shouldn’t be worried about the air quality we’re breathing in, there’s enough concern for that outside (especially in forest fire season). Thankfully, these toxin-munching masters are here to set your mind at ease, while adding to your indoor aesthetic. They make it easy to settle in and breathe easy!

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