A Breath of Fresh Air – For Your Home or Office

Our use of household poisons and pollutants, building materials and a “keeping the outside out” mentality have contributed to the imbalance of our indoor environment. Ironically we are now seeing that bring the outside into our living and working spaces is “healing” the self-inflicted wounds of our technological advances. Bringing plants indoors can reduce symptomatic illnesses, just as reforesting gives back to the natural balance of oxygen and proper animal evolution of our outdoor global environment.


Definition: Since the mid-1980s, scientists have been studying a phenomenon known as “Sick Building Syndrome,” or SBS. Known to occur in many homes and offices, SBS surfaces when interior contaminants cause indoor air quality to deteriorate and cause illness. Some of the symptoms described by victims of SBS include dry cough, sneezing, itchy skin, fever, chills, headache, dizziness and nausea or eye, ear, nose and throat irritation.

Public Impact: Consider the public liability of having polluted office and store environments, with your customers breathing in fumes from materials stored, displayed or demonstrated in your business; as well as potentially toxic molds in the A/C systems. Proper use of phytoremediation can certainly lessen these hazards and at least allow your employees and shoppers to have the benefit of cleaner air.

Causes: According to Science Daily, indoor air can be up to 12 times more polluted than outdoor air in some areas. Pollutants called “Volatile Organic Compounds” (VOCs) such as benzene, xylene, hexane, heptane, octane, decane, trichloroethylene (TCE), and methylene chloride can emanate from popular household cleaners, computer printers, paints, varnishes, adhesives and even some carpeting and drapery. Pollens and molds are another SBS perpetrator.

PHYTOREMEDIATON (Restoring Balance through Use of Plants)

The Research: Studies conducted by Stanley J. Kays, Department of Horticulture, University of Georgia as well as NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) discovered that houseplants would actually improve building air quality and reduce the many problems associated with SBS.

The Recommendations: Scientists believe that phytoremediation may be the answer to healing structures that suffer from SBS. “We feel that future results will provide an even stronger argument that common indoor landscaping plants can be a very effective part of a system used to provide pollution free homes and work places, ” former NASA senior scientist Bill Wolverton explains.

Here were a few of the plants that the NASA-ALCA study claims plants helped remove:

The Plants:

English Ivy (Hedera Helix): An ivy that is native to Europe and some parts of Asia, English ivy can be used as an evergreen outdoor plant covering or indoors as a decorative plant that has the added benefit of cleaning the air.

Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera Jamesonii): There are over 30 varieties of this cheerful daisy, found originally throughout parts of South America, Africa and Asia. NASA showed this annual as extremely effective in removing benzene from the air.

Purple Heart Plant: This beautiful evergreen plant gained its name from the deep purple color of younger plants and the grayish-blue color of older plants. Purple heart plants can be used as an outdoor groundcover as well as planted indoors or hung in baskets, and can remove some VOCs.

Purple Waffle Plant (Hemigraphis alternate): Native to Indonesia and New Guinea, Dr. Kays’ study discovered that this plant is particularly helpful in removing a large number of VOCs from a home environment.

Philodendrons (P. cordatum, P. scandens, P. selloum): Native to tropical regions and the West Indies, several varieties of the large-lobed philodendron were determined by NASA to be the best houseplants for removing high concentrations of formaldehyde from the air.

Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus): Originating from South Africa, this plant is really no fern at all. While in its native country Asparagus Fern is considered an invasive weed, it is often used as a lovely ornamental plant in the United States. This fern can successfully clean the air of many VOCs.

Variegated Wax Plant (Hoya canosa): Originating from Australia and Asia, the Variegated Wax Plant has light pink, star-shaped flowers that make a lovely ornamental plant. A member of the milkweed family, this plant has the ability to filter out a multitude of VOCs.

While many of these plants are have the ability to successfully remove indoor air pollutants, it’s important to speak with a qualified horticulturist to make certain that whichever plants you bring into your home are safe around small children and pets. Also consider the use of water-based, eco-friendly house paints and varnishes that are free of VOCs and heavy metals, and use plant-based colorants instead. It may be more expensive but your well being is worth it.

About the Author

Sandy Andersen is a traveling insurance consultant from London, and a content contributor for companies providing public liability and home insurance quotes like the UK coverage specialist Policy Expert.

*Image: Red Gerbera Daisy by Andrea44/flickr.*