The survival rule of threes, intended to help people prioritize during a survival situation, states that you can live three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without air. This rule of threes helps illustrate just how important the air we breathe is to life.
While many people focus on the importance of hydration and nutrition for health, we shouldn’t overlook air quality. We consume more air proportionately than any other substance. Clean air isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.The quality of the air we breathe is important to our health and our comfort.
The average American spends as much as ninety percent of his or her time indoors, where the air can actually be several times more polluted than the air outside. HVAC professionals can help you keep the air inside your home clean and contaminant-free by installing products like electrostatic filters or providing services like duct cleaning techniques approved by the National Air Duct Cleaning Association.
However, there is one easy and attractive way you can take action to improve your home’s air quality. All you have to do is add some house plants.
How Plants Improve Indoor Air Quality
The NASA Clean Air Study was the first published research that proved common house plants can effectively eliminate specific toxins from indoor air. The research began in the late 1980s, and was intended to help NASA discover ways to keep the air inside of space stations safe and clean for astronauts.
During research, scientists discovered that certain plants did more than just absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Many houseplants also effectively removed significant amounts of toxins including:
- Benzene – A chemical commonly found in household detergents, paint, gasoline, and plastics, benzene can cause headaches, dizziness, and eye irritation. Benzene exposure is also known to cause certain types of cancer.
- Formaldehyde – A colorless, flammable chemical commonly found in building materials, permanent press fabrics, adhesives, and industrial disinfectants, formaldehyde can cause watery eyes, burning of the nose and throat, nausea, and skin irritation. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services listed formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen.
- Ammonia – This chemical is a common ingredient in many household cleaners. Exposure to ammonia can cause coughing as well as nose and throat irritation.
- Trichloroethylene (TCE) – A solvent used most commonly as a grease remover, trichloroethylene is also used to make refrigerants, adhesives, and paint removers. Exposure to TCE can cause skin rashes, nerve damage, and liver and kidney damage. Long-term exposure can lead to lowered levels of reproductive hormones, low sperm quality, and a decrease in sex drive.
- Xylene – Xylenes are important petrochemicals often found in cleaning products, paint thinner, and gasoline. Exposure to Xylene can cause dizziness,confusion, headaches, lack of muscle coordination, and possible changes to the lungs and kidneys.
Plants aren’t just helpful in space, however. Having a few potted plants is more than just a simple and natural way to clean air inside of space stations. They can also be used to clean the air inside of your home or office.
Other research shows that having plants in your home or office can also significantly help overcome the effects of sick building syndrome, a mysterious medical condition where inhabitants of a building feel unwell for no apparent reason.
More recent research suggests that it is more than just the houseplants themselves that clean indoor air. A study released in 2004 shows that tiny beneficial microorganisms living in the soil of many potted plants aid in removing toxins from indoor air.
The Best Potted Plants for Clean Air.
Most of the plants that made NASA’s list of the best air-filtering plants originated in tropical and subtropical environments. Because or their ability to thrive in often thick forested environments, thriving on sunlight filtered through lush forest canopies, these plants are capable of growing well in filtered household light.
NASA’s top plant performers are the peace lily and florist chrysanthemum. Both of these plants are effective at filtering all five toxic compounds in the original research study (benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia, trichlorethylene, and xylene) from indoor air.
- Peace Lilies – When it comes to house plants, peace lilies are some of the easiest to grow and care for. Since they prefer medium to low light areas, they grow well in homes and office spaces.. Peace lilies are great plants for beginners as they are very forgiving and can even “tell” when they need to be watered. Just be careful not to over water. The soil should be almost dry. Water only when the leaves begin to droop.
Not only are these hardy plants efficient air cleaners, they also brighten up any living space with their wide green leaves and lovely white “flowers.”
- Florist Chrysanthemum – With their big, bright flowers and dark green foliage, florist mums will bring a splash of color and sunshine to any indoor space. They require a cool, bright spot for optimum blooming. Once the flowers are spent, it is difficult to get the plant to re-bloom. Because of this, florist mums are often treated as annuals, needing to be replaced every year. While chrysanthemums help keep indoor air healthy, the leaves are toxic. Make sure to find a place safe from small children and curious pets.
- Other Plants – While peace lilies and florists chrysanthemums were NASA’s top clean air performers, there are many other plants that you can include in your home or office to help improve indoor air quality. Here are some other varieties that will brighten your indoor spaces and clean the air you breathe:
Snake Plant (also known as Mother-in-law’s Tongue)
Broadleaf Lady Palm
House plants are one proactive step you can take to improve the quality of the air you breathe, However, a few potted plants are not cure-all solution. There are many other steps you can take. If you want to further improve the air purifying properties of your HVAC system, reach out to your local HVAC experts to explore other options for optimum indoor air quality.