Airborne toxins aren’t just NASA’s problem
Air-cleaning houseplants devour deadly chemicals
CONFRONTING a major challenge to space exploration, NASA conducted a major study in 1984 to see if ordinary houseplants could remove toxins from household air.
They 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 visitors quickly complained of sore eyes and breathing problems.
After adding 15 air-cleaning houseplants, however, within days the toxins cleared enough that visitors no longer showed any symptoms of exposure.
Airborne toxins aren’t just NASA’s problem. Alarmingly, the materials we live with every day infuse our household air with a cocktail of toxins. Ubiquitous nasties such as formaldehyde are found in pressed wood, paint, carpets and drapes to name just a few. New homes are particularity affected as toxins tend to emit less gas over time.
Plants breathe, or transpire, just as we do. In doing so, they pull toxins down to their root systems, where certain species of plants host symbiotic microbes. Amazingly, the toxins are like fertilizer to these micro-organisms, who feed on them, enhancing the plant’s overall health. It’s hard to believe, but formaldehyde makes our Boston ferns healthy even as it makes us sick.
When it comes to cleaning air, some houseplants tower over the rest. Luckily, the best are easily available and popular.
NASA recommends two averagesize air-cleaning plants per 100 square feet of 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 mould 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 lowlight plant gobbles up the carcinogen benzene as it offgases from fabrics and paint, so it’s a good one to have around during renovations. Put one near your entertainment centre 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 popular for narrow spaces and corners. It’s also the world’s best benzene and trichloroethylene filter. Place one near your new stuffed sofa to clean up the toxins leaching from it.
English ivy: One of the easiest vines to grow, it is a boon for allergy sufferers. Levels of airborne mould are reduced by as much as 60 per cent 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 children’s reach.
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, an odourless killer that accumulates over time. Set your spider plant next to the fireplace or in the kitchen, places were CO tends to build up. It’s a must-have for homes with clunky old furnaces.
The Spider plant is one of the few plants that can tackle deadly carbon monoxide.