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Plants to detox the air in your home


Neville Passmore


4 October 2017

Yellow Gerbera Daisy Flower

Detox the air in your home with these plants

Fashions are cyclical in nature so every trend comes back eventually. Indoor plants were on trend in the 80's and their reappearance recently has come at a time when we have a new appreciation of their value.  

Back in the late 1980's the American NASA (National Aeronautical Space Agency) were looking to keep the air in space stations clean and breathable.  It was well known that plants can absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen so this makes a good starting point for air freshening. The more exciting finding from this research was that plants can go further and neutralize airborne toxins commonly found in homes and offices. 

Here's a list of some of the worst indoor air polluters

  • Trichloroethylene is found in printing ink, varnishes, adhesives, paint and paint removers. Short-term exposure symptoms include: excitement, dizziness, headache, nausea and in the case of acute exposure - vomiting followed by drowsiness and coma.
  • Exposure to Toluene, which can be found in paint and paint thinners, fingernail polish, lacquers and adhesives; shows up such symptoms as headaches and dizziness. 
  • Formaldehyde is quite a common toxin of building interiors as it can be found in paper bags, waxed papers, facial tissues, paper towels, plywood panelling, and synthetic fabrics. Symptoms of exposure include: irritation to nose, mouth and throat, and in severe cases, swelling of the larynx.
  • Benzene is used in the manufacture of plastics, resins, lubricants, detergents, and drugs, it's also found in tobacco smoke, glue, and furniture wax. Symptoms associated with short-term exposure include: irritation to eyes, drowsiness, dizziness, headache, increase in heart rate, headaches, confusion and in some cases can result in unconsciousness.
  • Xylene Found in rubber, leather, tobacco smoke, and vehicle exhaust. Symptoms associated with short-term exposure include: irritation to mouth and throat, dizziness, headache, confusion, heart problems, liver and kidney damage and coma.
  • Ammonia Found in window cleaners, floor waxes, smelling salts, and fertilizers. Symptoms associated with short-term exposure include: eye irritation, coughing, and sore throat.
Specific plants were found to filter, or in other words detoxify, particular pollutants.  As an example the Peace lily (spathyphyllum) can remove benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and ammonia.
Flamingo Lily Flower

Here are 25 excellent indoor performers that showed great promise for cleaning up indoor air:

Bamboo Palm                                 (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
Boston Fern                                     (Nephrolepis exaltata 'Bostoniensis)
Broadleaf Lady Palm                     (Rhapis excelsa)
Chinese Evergreen                         (Aglaonema modestum)
Cornstalk Dracaena                       (Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeaa'€™)
Devil's Ivy                                         (Epipremnum aureum)
Dendrobium Orchids                    (Dendrobium spp.)
Dumb Cane                                     (Dieffenbachia spp.)
Dwarf Date Palm                           (Phoenix roebelenii)
Elephant Ear Philodendron         (Philodendron domesticum)
English Ivy                                       (Hedera helix)
Flamingo Lily                                  (Anthurium andraeanum)
Florist's Chrysanthemum            (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
Gerbera Daisy                                (Gerbera jamesonii)
Golden Cane Palm                        (Dypsis lutescens)
Heartleaf Philodendron               (Philodendron cordatum)
Kimberly Queen Fern                   (Nephrolepis obliterata)
Lilyturf                                             (Liriope spicata)
Moth Orchids                                 (Phalaenopsis spp.)
Mother-in-law's tongue               (Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii')
Red-Edged Dracaena                    (Dracaena marginata)
Rubber Plant                                  (Ficus elastica)
Spider Plant                                    (Chlorophytum comosum)
Selloum Philodendron                  (Philodendron bipinnatifidum)
Weeping Fig                                     (Ficus benjamina)

White Anthurium Laceleaf Plant
My take is any plant that grows indoors successfully contributes to clean air. The faster the growth the greater volume of oxygenated air is emitted. The plants on this list are all in the easy to grow category, meaning you don't have to retire to attend to their every whim, instead set them up in a well lit indoor location water them when the soil is dry to the touch, even less in winter; feed them once a year with a controlled release fertiliser in spring and enjoy fresh air.

Liveability research has given us even more inducements to bring greenery indoors. The presence of potted plants in the home, office, school and hospital have been shown to lower systolic blood pressure, increase attentiveness, improve reaction times, improve attendance at work or school, raise productivity, improve feelings of wellbeing, lower levels of anxiety, improve levels of job satisfaction and improve perceptions of the surrounding space. Wow! Who doesn't want some or all of that stuff?

Nature deficiency syndrome. Modern lifestyles are leading us further away from nature and we are seeing negative results. Its not just unit and apartment dwellers that are being separated from contact with trees, grass and flowers on a daily basis. Perth homes are planned these days to all but completely fill the building block. There is no room for recreation let alone trees and shrubs or a square of living turf.  Screens and electronic entertainment usually in an air-conditioned interior dominate our lifestyle, and that of our kids. How many media rooms have windows allowing inhabitants to see an outside view?

One of my favourite cities is Singapore. This city has had a policy for decades to bring Singaporeans into closer contact with nature.  It has many expressions including the International Flower and Garden Festival, which features living spaces that include plants for food or ornament. Gardens by the Bay in Marina Bay is a 2 billion dollar garden devoted to encouraging contact between people and living plants. This is a must visit destination for me when in this exemplar green city and I always come away feeling great. 

My suggestion is to get more greenery into your indoor scenery. Find plants that you like don't be too worried about lists all plants will make a positive difference, make you feel better, clean up the air you breathe indoors and improve your work productivity.  

And where can you buy these houseplants? The simple answer is your local garden centre, whether it's a bricks and mortar business or an online garden centre. 
Plants pictured from top: Gerbera, Flamingo Flower, White Sails
Left to Right: Dieffenbachia, Moth Orchid, Aglaeonema.
Dieffenbachia Dumb Cane House Plant



White Moth Orchid In Bloom Close Up


Aglaonema Chinese Evergreen House Plant