Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Purifying your home with plants - Volatile organic compounds and how plants can help!

So in an effort to help with making my home a better and safer place, I've decided to join 2 of my greatest passions (Horticulture and Green living) and write about plants and their ability to purify your living space.

According to studies conducted by NASA and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the early 70s and 80s, researchers found more than 300 VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that we breathe in everyday. The scary part is that these VOCs were found outdoors and indoors. Not only have these toxins been known to cause allergic reactions, but they can also be linked to illnesses such as cancer.

I had already started looking into in-home toxins and their sources when I wrote one of my first blogs about PVC shower curtains. But after attending an expo where someone was passing out flyers about the top purifying plants to have in your home (which I will get into later), I decided to do more research on how they do it and how to make them work for me. Here are a few things I found out.

Let’s start with sources of VOCs in your homes and how to already take a step towards lowering your exposure. According to the EPA, main sources for these compounds are everyday household products such as paints and solvents, wood preservatives, aerosols, cleansers and disinfectants, bug sprays and air fresheners, stored containers of fuels, automotive products in your garages, hobby supplies such as glues and dry-cleaned clothing to name a few. If you are like me, venturing to be green, you have long since given up toxic cleaning products under your sink and you choose to hand wash and air dry your finer garments. But all of us have painted walls, varnished furniture and some super glue somewhere in case of breaks. We can't exactly start ripping apart our home, so what can we do?

Plants are a great way to help balance everything out. Now all plants can contribute to cleaner air in a home by the simple photosynthetic act of absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen. But certain plants are actually also particularly good at absorbing some of the most common VOCs like :

  • Formaldehyde - found mostly in plywood and press wood products, glues, paints, etc.
  • Benzene - found in solvents and paints.
  • Ammonia - found in many cleaning products.
  • Trichloroethylene - found in solvents.
  • Pentachlorophenol (PCPs) - found in wood preservatives and some disinfectants.
  • Carbon monoxide - naturally produced by the human body, but found in excess due to wood and gas burning stoves and fireplaces, car exhaust (when starting your car with the garage door closed), furnaces, water heaters, generators.

So what are these super plants? According to Gilles Pelletier, indoor horticulturist, (whom I’ve already quoted in my post on home made bug repellants) here are his top plants to have in your home :

  • Ficus – To help with neutralizing formaldehyde.
  • English Ivy – Very efficient at removing benzene from the air.
  • Palms – Many of the dwarf palms have the ability of removing both ammonia and formaldehyde from your in home air. Recommended for kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Ferns – Great for most VOCs.
  • Chrysanthemums - Are great for trapping trichloroethylene. A must for any freshly painted room.
  • Spider Plants – a great purifier for removing formaldehyde and carbon monoxide.
  • Philodendrons – Great for removing trichloroethylene and PCPs.
  • Pothos – The super plant! Can remove 90% of excess carbon monoxide in 24 hours.

Now keep in mind that having one or 2 plants for your home will not be enough. While doing research on this, I found multiple sources that recommend an average of 15 to 20 plants in order to have a clean and healthy home. If you are like me, that isn’t much… I have plants on almost every elevated surface of my home (so the cats won’t eat them!). But if this seems like a lot, than concentrate on a few good ones and take the habit of airing out your home. But on a side note : Studies have shown that people that have lots of house plants in their everyday environment are more relaxed and productive, so maybe having lots of plants would be a great way to improve not only your air quality, but your quality of life in general!

Hope this was informative and I look forward to reading your thoughts and comments.

What plants to you generally keep in your home?


Small Footprints said...

That was excellent! We recently just picked up a few more plants for the house. We got ferns and philodendrons. Beautiful and hard workers!

Small Footprints

Yanic said...

I'm very happy you found it informative.

Our house is filled with philodendrons and pothos. They grow like weeds. We have ivy (I know, not good for the cats, but they can't get to them) and a few ficus bonsaïs.

My dream for our next place (july) is to have a great bamboo palm...

Pete Morse said...

Wow, very interesting, I am off to buy some Ferns....