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You may think that the air inside your home, school, and work is not a non issue, but research has shown that the air indoors is 30% more contaminated than that of the outside, possibly more in the winter months when the windows and doors are opened less often. Indoor air pollution is a big factor in the creation of allergies and asthma. If you have allergies or asthma the air inside your house may be causing your symptoms or at the very least worsening them. The top air pollutants indoors are formaldehyde, benzene and Trichloroethylene or TCE. You may be surprised at the origins of these chemicals and their adverse effects on your body.

Know Your Poisons

Formaldehyde is a ubiquitous chemical found in virtually all indoor environments. It is used in consumer paper products which have been treated with UF resins, including grocery bags, waxed papers, facial tissues and paper towels. Many common household cleaning agents contain formaldehyde. Formaldehyde irritates the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat. It is also a highly reactive chemical which combines with protein and can cause allergic contact dermatitis. Until recently, the most serious of the diseases attributed to formaldehyde exposure was asthma. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently conducted research which has caused formaldehyde to be strongly suspected of causing a rare type of throat cancer in long-term occupants of mobile homes.

Benzene is a very commonly used solvent and is also present in many common items including gasoline, inks, oils, paints, plastics, and rubber. In addition it is used in the manufacture of detergents, explosives, pharmaceuticals, and dyes. Benzene has long been known to irritate the skin and eyes. In addition, it has been shown to be mutagenic to bacterial cell culture and has shown embryotoxic activity and carcinogenicity in some tests. Evidence also exists that benzene may be a contributing factor in chromosomal aberrations and leukemia in humans. Chronic exposure to even relatively low levels causes headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, nervousness, psychological disturbances and diseases of the blood system, including anemia and bone marrow diseases.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a commercial product found in a wide variety of industrial uses. Over 90 percent of the TCE produced is used in the metal degreasing and dry cleaning industries. In addition, it is used in printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, and adhesives.

Research has shown that these 10 plants are the most effective all-around in counteracting off-gassed chemicals and contributing to balanced internal humidity.

Areca Palm - The Areca Palm is the indoor plant that outputs the most humidity. It releases copious amount of moisture into the air, removes environmental toxins, and is tolerant of indoor spaces. Definitely one of the most useful houseplants out there!

Areca Palm image

Reed Palm - The Reed Palm has the ability to survive in relatively low light, but may grow several feet tall, especially in a brighter location. This palm does best in reasonably warm temperatures. Keep them away from leaky windows and cold entryways where they'd be exposed to blasts of frigid air.

Reed Palm image

Dwarf Date Palm - The Dwarf Date Palm or "Phoenix" Palm has been proven effective at removing formaldehyde in the air. It has a solid history as a houseplant and amongst the most durable of all palms. In a pot-bound situation, this palm continues to be beautiful for many years.

Dwarf Date Palm image

Boston Fern - The Boston Fern also removes formaldehyde in the air. It requires more sunlight than the previous ferns. Place your Boston fern near a window that receives plenty of indirect sunshine. They can endure dimly lit locations, but they won't flourish and grow. Boston ferns prefer daytime temperatures that range from 65°F to 75°F. Evening temperatures should be a little cooler.

Boston Fern image

Janet Craig Dracaena - The Janet Craig Dracaena is widely used in the interiors of homes. They are available in bush form (pictured), cane form and occasionally as a braided tree. Plants are available from small starter plants to eight foot tall. Proper watering is the trick to keep this plants full appearance. Set dracaenas in low light and water sparingly allowing the top several inches of soil to dry down. Dracaenas do not like fertilizer... only feed annually.

Janet Craig Dracaena image

English Ivy - English ivy has been proven effective in removing airborne-mold and feces by a significant amount as well as formaldehyde. If you have indoor pets, you should consider placing this plant by any litter boxes or cages in your house. Put it out of reach of your pets though as it is poisonous. It can also be planted outside for benefits to outdoor pet owners, but be aware that this plant has the ability to overrun any area that it's set in. Most cultivars of ivy grow best in bright light, but not direct sun. There are hundreds of cultivars of this popular ivy. It is an incredibly varied group, with leaves from well under an inch to over 3 inches long and in many colors and shapes.

English Ivy image

Australian Sword Fern - Australian sword fern This plant looks very attractive in your office, home or garden. They do well in pots or in hanging basket plants. This is a vigorous grower, and the sword shaped leaves remain sturdy in windy areas. They grow to about 24-36 in.

Australian Sword Fern image

Peace Lily - The Peace Lily (Mauna Loa) removes benzene, xylene and toluene found in nail polish, paints, solvents, and adhesives as well as TCE. Peace lily will flourish in almost any well-drained potting mix. Peace lily will survive low interior light but would prefer bright filtered light. Peace lily should not be placed in direct sun or it will sunburn. These plants need very little fertilizer. You can plant it directly in water with a beta fish to feed on the roots for a more interesting setting. Wash the leaves occasionally to prevent insect attack.

Peace Lily шьфпу

Rubber Plant - Rubber plants can easily grow 6 to 10 feet tall or more indoors if there is enough space. They can be pruned to reduce their size. They grow best with the morning light from an east window. They do well in warm to average room temperatures. Water rubber trees thoroughly, but let the soil dry somewhat between waterings. The soil mix should be a well-drained houseplant mix. Wash the leaves with water when they get dusty to keep them attractive and help your plant stay healthy.

Rubber Plant image

Weeping Figs - Weeping figs are usually sold as 3-to 6-feet potted trees or bushes. They can grow as tall as allowed indoors, but they are easily pruned to a suitable height. Weeping figs grow best in bright indirect or curtain-filtered sunlight. They will handle some direct sun if the humidity is high. Variegated cultivars grow best in somewhat lower light. Weeping figs prefer warm temperatures. Night temperatures of 65 to 70 °F and day temperatures of 75 to 85 °F are ideal. During periods of active growth, keep the soil evenly moist. The soil should be allowed to dry slightly between watering.

Weeping Figs images

When planning the positioning of houseplants to maximize the benefits, it is suggested that one plant should be allowed for approximately 10 square yards of floor space. Assuming average ceiling heights of 8 to 9 feet, this means that you need two or three plants to contribute to good air quality in the average domestic living room of about 20 to 25 square yards. In a NASA study, scientists found that "houseplants can purify and revitalize air in our homes and offices, protecting us from the negative effects of such common toxins as ammonia, formaldehyde, and benzene."

Learn more about being green and living healthy or visit the green blog

Published - November 2008

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