Use Plants to Clean the Air in Your Home

By Brooke Citron on

"Plants are the central pivot, without which the world outside would gasp for breath" T'ai Hsuan, 10 B.C.


It is no secret that much of the oxygen humans breathe today is produced by plants as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Around the 3rd grade, we were all enthusiastically taught that plants absorb carbon dioxide and water, and through the process known as photosynthesis, convert these products to energy while releasing oxygen as a waste byproduct. A less common known fact is that as little as one hundred years ago, the average oxygen levels on the planet tested at about 30%; but with the dawning of a new age, and the emergence of a forest/vegetation-deficient, over-polluted 21st century, oxygen levels have now tapered out to a jaw-dropping 15% (average meaning 20-21% oxygen levels in rural, heavily shrouded plant and tree vegetation areas, to as low as 8-9% in urban, big city areas where green vegetation is low and pollution is high). Looks like our 3rd grade teachers were right after all; we really DO depend on our green cohabiters for vitality and sustenance.

As if low oxygen levels and outdoor pollution weren't enough to worry about, we are now forced to re-evaluate the cleanliness of the air in our own homes as well. According to NASA research, our homes have become interior cesspools for a variety of synthetic chemicals, produced by the very things we surround ourselves with.  In a perfect world, and in a perfectly "green" home, one would obtain the security of having surrounded his or herself and family with organic, non-synthetic, non-toxic carpeting, wall-paint, clothing, detergents, plastics, insulation, papers, adhesives, and cleaners. But in the real world that you and I live in, transitioning to a 100% toxin-free green home is somewhat short of impossible. Even making realistic changes takes time, research, resources, and financial flexibility. So until we have perfected our greening transition and eliminated such toxic indoor pollutants, we have two options to protect ourselves and our loved ones from such domestic chemical assaults: The first is to install an expensive yet efficient air-filtration system such as the Air Deluxe 3200, which creates ozone and releases stabilized oxygen, and the second is to tap into mother nature's infinite and irrefutable organic resources as a master cleanser and provider, through the utilization of household plants to clean the indoor air that we breathe.

The concept of cleansing the air around you with plants is more than just recycled new age mumbo-jumbo. Legitimate research conducted by Dr. Bill Wolverton and NASA reveals that plants can be extremely effective toxin fighters. In a comprehensive study titled Closed Ecological Life Support Systems conducted in 1984, NASA first published studies demonstrating that interior plants could remove VOCs (Volatile Organic Chemicals) from sealed test chambers. A couple years later, NASA developed specialized research to delineate exactly what indoor chemical pollutants were emitted in homes and buildings, and furthermore, which household plants efficiently filtered each subsequent chemical. In Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement (1989), NASA scientists studied nineteen different plant species for two years. Of the nineteen, only two were "flowering" plants  (chrysanthemums and gerbera daisies), the rest were true household plants, kept indoors year-round in moderate climate. They found that a variety of these indoor plants effectively filtered the air from synthetic indoor chemicals such as trichloroethylene, benezene, and formaldehyde. The sources of these toxins include household cleaners, particle board, clothing, detergents, carpeting, insulation, paper, plastics, inks, paints, dry cleaning, and adhesives (for a more in-depth account of chemical emmission sources). Conditions caused by these toxins include allergies, dizziness, headache, blurred vision, cancer, dermatitis, respiratory diseases, irregular heartbeat, tremors, kidney and liver damage, and psychological disturbances.

The good news is that the research garnered very promising results, at a minimal cost, and requires very little effort on our part. 

Follow these guidelines to properly "Green Your Home" for maximum air filtration benefits:

  • Use Broad or full-spectrum lights which simulate natural outdoor lighting. While Most of the plants listed below evolved in tropical or sub-tropical forests with minimal light source required for development, and can therefore photosynthesize and develop under relatively low light conditions, its always better for you and your family's health to remove harmful fluorescent and/or UV lighting from your home.  You can easily find these full spectrum light bulbs at hardware stores or order them online.
  • Soil and roots played a very important role in removing air-borne pollutants. Microorganisms in the soil become more adept at using trace amounts of these materials as a food source, as they were exposed to them for longer periods of time. Effectiveness is increased if lower leaves that cover the soil surface are removed, so there is as much soil contact with the air as possible. It is important to use organic or non-chemical, non-synthetic soil/fertilized soil as a base for potted plants . One good indication that a commercial soil is acceptable in organic production is a label stating that the product is "OMRI Listed." OMRI--the Organic Materials Review Institute is a nonprofit entity that evaluates products and processes for the organic industry. OMRI Listed products have been thoroughly reviewed and are consistent with the requirements of the National Organic Standard. To locate a certified organic soil producer online or near you, or to learn how to make your own, visit here.
  • If you plan on buying your greenery from a nursery, make sure you go to a certified organic garden nursery. Programs such as VeriFlora and Circle of Life provide certification to growers of nursery plants and cut flowers. VeriFlora provides certification via an independent auditing company called Scientific Certifications Systems or SCS. The other program, Circle of Life from the Ball Horticultural Company, promotes sustainable growing practices that will bring quality plants in biodegradable pots to home gardeners. You can find a retailer that carries Circle of Life plants by going to the retailers page and finding your state in the drop-down menu.
  • Optimal results and most effective filtration is accomplished if small fans that pull air through a charcoal filter in the soil are placed next to house plants, cleaning more than foliage could alone. But even without the fan and the filter, houseplants will remove trace pollutants from the air.
  • NASA recommends that you use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800 square foot house. The more prolific and vibrant the plant, the better the filter.
  • Each species of plant has unique watering, lighting, and sustainable needs, for specifics on raising your house-plant in an eco-friendly and manageable way, visit your friendly neighborhood organic nursery, or visit here to locate your closest organic horticulture specialist or organic nursery.
  • You won't hurt your plant by watering it with tap water, but for maximum plant vivality, opt for organized molecular water, via Wellness Water, a superior water filtration system (or any filtered water that has been purified of chlorine and fluoride). Try to steer clear of distilled water, as it is great for drinking, but lacks the minerals necessary for your plant to thrive. Also great for watering plants is sprout water (if you sprout your own nuts, seeds, and grains, don't throw out the soaking water! Use it to water your plants, it's full of great minerals that plants soak up, yum!).

·      Here is NASA's list of top pollutant-fighting plants for the home:


  • Poinsettagolden pothos.JPG
  • Spider pant
  • Ficus
  • Dwarf Date Palm
  • Boston Fern
  • Gerbera Daisy
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Aloe Vera
  • English ivy
  • Spider Plant
  • Golden Pothos
  • Peace Lily
  • Chinese evergreen
  • Bamboo or Reed Palm
  • Snake Plant
  • Heartleaf Philodendron
  • Selloum Philodendron
  • Elephant Ear Philodendron
  • Red-Edged Dracaena
  • Cornstalk Dracaena
  • Janet Craig Dracaena
  • Warneck Dracaena
  • Weeping Fig

For more information on Dr. Bill Wolverton's latest research and to find out how to buy his book "How to Grow Fresh Air", please visit www.wolvertonenvironmental.com

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