Indoor plants and health

When I tell you that the air inside your home is likely to be 5 -10 times more polluted than the air outside, you may find that hard to believe. After all, our energy efficient homes are good for the environment, how could they be bad for our health?  Unfortunately, as we have become more energy efficient, we have actually created an airtight setting where indoor pollutants can accumulate.  And to make matters worse, some of the materials used in enhancing energy efficiency (such as insulation) actually contribute to an increased concentration of VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds in the air. Despite what you want to believe, your Rheem may “condition” your air, but it does not scrub it clean of the VOCs that are released into the air not only by building materials, but also by cleaners, pesticides and even furniture.

The most common known-to-be-hazardous VOCs found indoors are benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.  Benzene is a known carcinogen (cancer causer) in humans, the primary source of which is second hand cigarette smoke and stored petroleum products—you know, that half-full gas can in the garage.  Formaldehyde is off-gassed by furniture made from pressed wood and MDF boards (sorry Ty-all that design on a dime can be hazardous to one’s health). Trichloroethylene enters your indoor air mainly with your dry cleaning—it’s the chemical used in to clean by the “dry” method, but is also released by adhesives, varnishes and paint.

The good news is, there has been a significant amount of research substantiating the use of indoor potted plants as inexpensive, effective “air scrubbers”. Initial research was done in 1995 by NASA as they explored measures to scrub the air aboard the space station. Since then, many more studies by various environmental scientists have supported and expanded on those findings.  Interestingly, it is not the plant alone that does the job-but the plant along with the microbes that live within the soil at the plant’s roots.  Each species of plant supports its own unique microcosm of micro organisms, and that is why some plant species are better at air cleaning than others.

To enhance the activity of the microbes, repot your plants into a breathable vessel, such as unglazed terracotta, a JackPot breathable grow bag or a  Woolly Pocket.  Not only does that eliminate any of the gasses that may be released by the plastic container, but these planters all allow for greater interaction between the indoor air and the root-dwelling microbes. It has been shown that when exposed to more toxins, the plant/microbes become more efficient at removal of toxins-clearing up to 87% in a 24-hour period.

There are other health benefits to indoor gardening here .  Plants increase indoor humidity, which prevents damage to the nasal, sinus and tracheal lining, which in turn, prevents upper respiratory infections. They also decrease particulate load by 20% — less dust means less allergy triggers.  And I know if you are reading my blog, I don’t have to tell you about the positive psychological impact of plants. Really, that is not just you trying to rationalize your plant habit. There have been numerous studies showing that plants increase attentiveness, raise productivity, lower anxiety and flowering plants –well they just make you happy! Yes, that is a true scientific fact!

So as you begin to formulate your New Year’s health resolution, why not choose one you know you will be able to live out: Build an indoor garden to enhance your indoor air quality and detoxify your surroundings. We can help. Here is a table listing some of the sources of the toxins along with the plants best suited to their removal.  Determine which will benefit you the most, select a variety that will cover the total square footage of your home (figure one potted plant per 100 square feet of living space) and come to see us. We’ll teach you all you need to know to be a happy, healthy indoor gardener!




Benzine Inks, oils, paints, plastics, rubber, dyes, detergents, gasoline, tobacco smoke, synthetic fibers English Ivy, Dracaena spp, Chrysanthemum, Gerbera Daisy, Peace lily
Formaldehyde Foam insulation, plywood, pressed-wood products, grocery bags, waxed paper, fire retardants, adhesive binders in floor coverings, cigarette smoke, natural gas Azalea, Philodendron, Spider plant, Golden Pothos, Bamboo palm, Dracaena spp, Chrysanthemum, Sanseveria spp


Primarily used dry cleaning industries; also in printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, adhesives Gerbera Daisy, Chrysanthemum, Peace lily, Dracaena spp
Sadness, Misery, Resentment Varied and widespread Gerbera Daisy, Reiger Begonia, Kalenchoe sp