Growing Fresh Air

Indoor polution

Sources of indoor pollutants

We tend to stay indoors for most of the day, either at our house, at the office or any public building such as a shopping mall, grocery store or movie theater. Even if you live in a region with an "acceptable" level of outdoor pollution, you might still be negatively affected by the quality of your indoor air. In fact, the air inside your home might be as much as ten times more polluted than the outside air. As a result, allergic reactions and other chronic illnesses can develop over time.

During the Skylab 3 mission in 1973, which was the second manned mission to the first American space station, different scientific experiments and analyses were performed over 58 days. As a result of some of these analysis, NASA found over 300 volatile organic compounds. These are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at ordinary, room-temperature conditions. They include both human-made and naturally occouring chemical compounds and unfortunately some of them are dangerous to human health or cause harm to the environment. In fact, some of these chemicals have the potential to not only produce allergic reactions (like certain scents or odours), but also cancer and other forms of illness as well. Out of the 300 volatile organic compounds, NASA focused on three because they were the most commonly found and in greater abundance. These toxins, in order of abundance, were:

  • formaldehyde
  • benzene
  • trichloroethylene

Out of all three, the one with the greatest human exposure is formaldehyde as it can be found in certain foam insulation, pressed wood products, grocery bags, waxed papers, facial tissues and paper towels. These products give off formaldehyde as they are treated with an urea-formaldehyde resin as it is wrinkle resistant, water repellant, fire retandant and adhesive binder. Cigarette smoke, natural gas and kerosene also give it off, but hopefully you're not using those indoors.

Benzene is used as a solvent and can be found in gasoline, oils, inks, paints, plastics, rubber.

Trichloroethylene is also usually used in paints and inks, varnishes, adhesives and printing inks. It is also considered a potent liver carcinogen.

So as you can see, there is a high risk your indoor air is polluted.


Helpful indoor plants

Luckily, NASA did not just leave this study at the analysis phase, but also found plants that could serve as air filters. These plants will filter out the three chemicals mentioned above, as well as carbon monoxide. There are over 50 plants recommended to filter air, but some are not easy to grow or they are not safe to animals or might be poisonous to children if eaten. Too complicated?

Luckily, only the following three plants are needed to purify your air.

Areca Palm

1. The living room plant

  • Also called the Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
  • Works well in the day time
  • Great for living areas
  • One needs ~4 shoulder high plants/person
  • Needs to be put outdoors once every 3-4 months
  • The leaves of the plant need to be wiped everyday in very polluted cities and perhaps once a month in a cleaner city
  • The soil used should be of vermi manure or use hydroponics



2. The Bedroom plant

Mother-in-Law's Tongue

  • Also called Mother-in-Law's Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)
  • Converts carbon dioxide into oxygen at night (so that's why it's good to have it in the bedroom)
  • One requires about 6-8 such waist high plants per person in the bedroom
  • Leaves need to be wiped in the same way as the Areca Palm
  • The soil used should be of vermi manure or use hydroponics


Money Plant

3. The specialist plant

  • Also called the Money Plant (Epipremnum aureum)
  • Excellent for removing formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds
  • Best grown using hydroponics


The following video has researcher Kamal Meattle showing how the arrangement of the above houseplants cab be used indoors in order to clean the air.

How to grow fresh air: 4:04 min



Green desk

As noted from the video above, in his office building in New Delhi, 1200 plants were put in for 300 occupants to test the results of improved air quality. As it can see from the adjacent photo, a desk is shown incorporating all these plants needed for cleaner air.

A 2008 study by the government of India found the building to be the healthiest building in New Delhi and noted some impressive health effects: that occupants of the building experienced a reduced incidence of eye irritation (52%), respiratory system problems (34%), headaches (24%), lung impairment (12%) and asthma (9%).

Currently, approximately 40% of the world’s energy is used up by buildings, so if less energy is needed to provide fresh air by using more natural air-filtration, there will be an important energy savings.


How will you help purify your indoor air and decrease the energy consumption? Will you consider buying any of these houseplants?


More information

If you would like to read more about air purifying house plants, I recommend reading "How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office" by B.C. Wolverton

Website Sponsors