indoor plants on windowsill helping to improve indoor air quality

Plants To Have In Order To Help With Air Quality

Blog written by Veva.

We don't often think about the quality of the air we breathe at home. However, long before the pandemic, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors on average. And since the pandemic started - between lockdowns, remote work, and remote learning, that estimate has likely crept upward.

Common indoor air pollutants can seriously compromise our health. Some pollutants stem from the building materials used in our home's construction and are not only toxic but potentially fatal with long-term exposure. If you suspect your home's air quality may be compromised by:

6 Dangerous Indoor Air Pollutants

  • Asbestos
  • Black Mold
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Formaldehyde
  • Lead
  • Radon

You should call a professional indoor air quality specialist to remediate the issue immediately if you suspect your home’s air may have one of the above indoor air pollutants.

However, our homes are filled with many more types of pollutants. From pet dander to dust mites, our air is filled with tiny, often microscopic particles and gas vapors that aren't good for our lungs. Most often, these pollutants aren't visible to the naked eye. In fact, we may start having trouble breathing or experience skin rashes before we see the signs around our home that our air quality may be poor.

Several studies have found evidence that household plants can may improve the air quality of our homes. Now, they won't take the place of letting outside air to circulate periodically, changing your HVAC filter every three months, using an air purifier, or cleaning your carpets, ducts, and other places where pollutants can build up. But several types of houseplants can help filter out some of the more common household pollutants and are worth picking up the next time you head to a grocery store or flower shop.

How do plants improve air quality?

For a long time, the notion that plants could improve indoor air quality was based on a study conducted by a NASA researcher, Bill Wolverton, about ways to purify the air inside space stations. The study involved placing fairly common household plants inside sealed chambers containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a phrase describing a category of indoor air pollutants routinely found not only in space stations but inside homes as well.

After 24 hours, Wolverton found that a substantial amount of the VOCs had been removed. However, more recent studies have shown that the airflow patterns inside a home are more complex than those inside the chambers in the original experiment. For plants to approach the effectiveness of, say, regularly opening windows, you'd need, essentially, to build a greenhouse in your home.

Despite this, even a few houseplants can remove some VOCs, making them more than just a decorative purchase. Further, houseplants can also increase the diversity and quantity of microbes in a home, which can help prevent harmful bacteria from settling. And adding a touch of green can improve our perception of indoor air quality, in addition to reducing stress and anxiety levels.

How many plants do you need to improve indoor air quality?

While plants can remove VOCs, you won't see a measurable difference in air quality unless your house or apartment is filled with plants. According to some estimations, you'd need at least 100 plants every 10 square feet to start seeing a difference.

Keep in mind that multiple factors affect the air quality of your home. Your HVAC system is pumping air in and out. Open windows are replacing inside air with fresh air. The routine daily actions you take, such as scrambling eggs, vacuuming a rug, spraying a bug with a pesticide, or using a disinfectant, affect your air quality.

Even the things you ignore, such as that slow drip in the basement, have an impact. Never mind if you have children or pets. Your home isn't a small sealed chamber, so you'd need a lot of plants to replicate the effects of the NASA study.    

What plants are best for improving indoor air quality?

Still, if you're considering purchasing plants to help improve your overall air quality, there are several factors you should consider. Not only should you get the most air-purifying indoor plants, but you also want plants that are easy to maintain, affordable, and attractive. If you're fairly unfamiliar with houseplants, here are some of the best plants for clean air:

Aloe Vera

You may know of it from body lotion and moisturizers, but Aloe Vera is a type of plant known as a succulent whose leaves contain a gel that you can apply to your skin to relieve pain from bruises or burns. Aloe Vera requires indirect sunlight and water, and can help remove trace amounts of benzene and formaldehyde - VOCs commonly found in cleaning products.

Areca Palm

Areca Palms resemble bamboo and are often planted outdoors for use as a privacy screen. Indoors, Areca Palms need considerable sunlight and watering whenever the soil starts to dry. In addition to beautiful fronds, you'll have help filtering various VOCs from acetone to toluene.

Boston Fern

In addition to indirect light, Boston Ferns require some humidity and may require misting periodically to keep them in good health. But they also help keep the air moist, in addition to helping filter out indoor air pollutants.

Dracena

A type of plant known as a cultivar, Dracaena plants are marked by their upright form and colorful foliage. They are also quite effective at filtering out various VOCs. You'll want to keep their soil moist and fertilized, as well as prune the leaves periodically to maintain them.

English Ivy

Like Aloe Vera, English Ivy plants have medicinal properties. The leaves can be used to prevent respiratory swelling or blockages. English Ivy climbs over structures as it grows, so if you keep a plant indoors, either hang it overhead, away from walls or else keep it in a pot with a wire frame it can climb over.

Peace Lily

As often found in offices as homes, Peace Lilies grow well under low or medium-light and produce beautiful white flower bracts. You have to be careful about overwatering them, but generally, peace lilies are some of the easiest plants to care for. They also absorb mold spores as food, and given the respiratory damage mold can do, peace lilies are a great choice for an air-purifying indoor plant.

Philodendron

Philodendrons are also quite easy to care for. They require indirect, bright sunlight, watering when the topsoil dries out, and fertilizer. There are also climbing and non-climbing varieties; if you opt for the form, make sure you have a pot with a post or a wireframe. Philodendrons are good at filtering out formaldehyde, a VOC common in building materials and cleaning products.

Rubber Tree Plant

Rubber Tree Plants need indirect sunlight and consistent watering. You'll want to keep them in small pots to keep them manageable; otherwise, they can grow as tall as ten feet! But when they are growing well, they can help scrub indoor air of carbon dioxide, breaking it down into oxygen.

Snake Plant

With their upright, fresh-looking leaves, snake plants are great at filtering out VOCs and can also help reduce airborne allergens as well. They're very easy to care for, requiring indirect sunlight, general-purpose fertilizer, and infrequent watering.

How to Incorporate Plants into an Effective Home Air Cleaning Strategy

In addition to buying several of these air-purifying indoor plants, you'll want to follow other basic steps to keep your household air as clean as possible:

  • Keep air from the outside circulating in. Cracking a window every so often is especially important during the winter months when pollutants can build up, as indoor air is continuously recycled through your HVAC system.

  • Clean every surface where pollutants can build up. Dust all surfaces, vacuum your carpets and rugs and regularly change linens.

  • Change your HVAC filters once every three months and clean any dust buildup around your return air vents. Also, make sure to have your HVAC system serviced regularly.

  • Replace or clean all of your other filters regularly, including those in your vacuum cleaner, dryer, window screen, kitchen range hood, and window screens.

  • Take care of your pets by bathing them regularly and ensuring they're eating the proper diet. Doing so can help lessen pet dander buildup.

Beyond these prevention tactics, you'll also want to help your plants purify the air with a HEPA-filter-powered air purifier. As per the EPA, HEPA filters capture 99.97 percent of very small airborne particles (those 0.3 microns or bigger). When you use a HEPA-filter-powered air purifier, like the VEVA 8000 Elite Pro Series Air Purifier, you're actively, continuously, and efficiently removing indoor air pollutants from your home.

Many household plants provide great natural air-purifying benefits. But they need help keeping your household air as clean as possible. So follow the steps above to keep pollutants from building up. Then combine a few peace lilies and English Ivies with a VEVA 8000 Air Purifier, and you'll be breathing fresher, cleaner air in no time.

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