Expert Advice

Breathe Easy with Clean Air Plants

Posted on January 11, 2014

Clean Air Plants logo.
Suzie Vezza
Hicks Nurseries Greengoods Manager

Boston Fern in a hanging basket.Everyone wants clean air but “clean air” means different things to different people. When I say “clean air” what does that mean to you?

Nowadays people open the windows in their house less. They have central air and heat. They dry their clothes in a dryer.  They work in high rise buildings where the windows don’t open. They drive with the windows closed on the car. We are living in a world where chemicals and toxins are increasing and “clean air” is diminishing.  I am going to introduce you to an easy way to clean your air.  PLANTS!

You don’t need fancy filtration systems or to spend a lot on air fresheners. Many scientists, government agencies and medical professionals use plants to create a less toxic and more beneficial environment. Studies done at the University of Agriculture in Norway showed that indoor plants can combat fatigue, sore throats, and other cold related illnesses by increasing humidity and decreasing dust. Studies done in several medical facilities show that patients whose windows have a garden view recovered more quickly than those who just looked at a wall. Many companies have also noted that both productivity and creativity increases when employees work around plants. Plants are also known to combat “sick building syndrome”.

So there are many different ways that plants affect their environment.

Plants can “clean” the air in many different ways.

a) They give oxygen and take out carbon dioxide in the environment.

b) They make the air smell nicer.

c) They get rid of toxins.


A)     Oxygen:   All plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. Plants are like air filters. They emit water vapor that helps pull contaminated air down around the plant roots where it is then converted into food for the plant. During this process they emit oxygen into the air. Some plants emit more oxygen then others. As part of the photosynthetic and respiratory processes, plants release moisture vapor, which increases humidity of the air around them. Plants release roughly 97 percent of the water they take in. Place several plants together, and you can increase the humidity of a room, which helps keeps respiratory distresses at bay. Studies at the Agricultural University of Norway document that using plants in interior spaces decreases the incidence of dry skin, colds, sore throats and dry coughs.

  1. Snake Plant (Sansevieria laurentii) -produces unusually high amounts of oxygen during the day.
  2. Areca Palm (dypsis lutescens) -highly effective in removing carbon dioxide during the day.
  3. Peperomia & Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema) Pothos all  of these plants emit a high oxygen content.
  4. Boston Fern- natural air humidifier.
  5. Ficus -great overall air purifier.
  6. Gerbera Daisy – absorbs carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen at night which is said to improve your sleep.


B)       Nicer Smelling Air– This next group of plants also emit oxygen and take in carbon dioxide but they also help to make the air smell nicer.

  1. Geraniums -one of the most popular fragrant houseplants.  They need a lot of sun and bright light to bloom but their leaves also emit a pleasant fragrance depending on the plant. Lemon, orange, peppermint, pineapple, pine, chocolate.

Hand-picked Basil in a basket.2. Herbs

i.      Rosemary- great for releasing humidity and has a pleasant aroma.

ii.      Lavender- the aroma relaxes the lungs and helps for a calmer night sleep.

iii.      Basil- has a rich aroma that spreads thru the air if you move leaves a little.

iv.      Mint- makes the air easier to breathe especially if you are sick.

v.       Jasmine-has a wonderful aroma that calms and relaxes you

vi.      Coffee Plant – when blooming it smells very refreshing. Like your first cup of coffee in the morning.

vii.       Sprouts- sprouts are an excellent source of oxygen and gives off a very earthy green smell

viii.      You don’t have to grow the herbs inside to get the fragrant benefits. Fresh herbs are sold at  most grocery stores.  You can buy some and put them in a vase  at home.  (Rosemary, lavender and sage)   You can take a bowl and add several herbs to make a potpourri. Herbs such as peppermint, rosemary, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, fennel seeds, lemon balm ,etc.  Use herbs in your fireplace (sage, Rosemary, cinnamon, pine ) make a bundle with newspaper and put into fireplace. You can also  boil herbs slowly to emit fragrant scents throughout the house. (Cinnamon & cloves, lemon balm and orange peel, etc.)


C)      Plants  that  get Rid of Toxins – Common houseplants provide a valuable weapon in the fight against rising levels of indoor toxins.  Plants remove toxins from air – up to 87 percent of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) every 24 hours, according to NASA research. These toxins include benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene.

a) Benzene: is a commonly used solvent and is present in gas, inks, oils, paints, plastics, detergents and rubber.   It is known to irritate the eyes and skin.  Chronic exposure to low levels of benzene can cause headaches, drowsiness, nervousness, loss of appetite, and anemia.

b) Formaldehyde:  the major source of formaldehyde in the home is foam insulation, particle or pressed board wood products, paper grocery bags, facial tissue and paper towels.  Also many cleaning agents such as water repellent, permanent press clothes, fire retardants, wrinkle resistors and carpet backings.  Formaldehyde is also released in natural gas, kerosene and cigarette smoke.  Formaldehyde irritates the eyes, nose and throat and causes headaches.  If it combines with protein it can cause allergic contact dermatitis.

c) Trichloroethylene: You can find trichloroethylene in degreasing products, and dry cleaning. Also it is used in printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes and adhesives.   The national cancer institute considers this chemical to be a potent liver carcinogen.

d) Xylene and Toluene: You can find these chemicals in spray and wall paints. Paint thinner, nail polish, spot removers, rubber and leather.  Exposure to low levels can cause confusion, light headedness, headaches, memory loss and much more.

NASA did a 2 year study and announced that living plants are so efficient at absorbing contaminants in the air that some will be launched into space as part of the biological support system aboard future orbiting space stations.

Their study has shown that living, green and flowering plants can remove several toxic chemicals from the air in building interiors.  The use of plants indoors helps people feel better, perform better and enjoy life more.

I want to leave you with some tips on how to choose and care for your houseplant.

1)      choose one 10″-12″ plant or several smaller plants per 100 square feet of space for maximum benefits.

2)      Consider where you want to place the plants and how much light they require.

3)      Once you figure out the water requirements for your plants, keep a schedule for even watering.

4)      Periodically dust the leaves with a damp cloth to ensure proper absorption of air particles and toxins.  A clean plant is a happy plant!

5)      Keep the soil replenished by occasionally adding organic fertilizer and changing soil when needed.  Try not to use inorganic fertilizer because the chemicals from the fertilizer will be emitted by the plant.

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