Use plants to remove toxins

Is your living space giving you ‘sick building syndrome’? Treat it with a collection of plants that absorb toxic chemicals. They’re good for your soul – and good for your health.

In the drive to make our homes energy-efficient we have become better at sealing the indoors from the outdoors to keep temperatures even and lighten the load on the energy systems used to heat and cool our houses. However, this can lead to poor indoor air quality and our health can suffer from the build-up of toxins inside our homes.

The CSIRO estimates that the cost of poor indoor air quality in Australia may be as high as $12 billion per year (Brown, 1998). In recent years, comparative risk studies performed by the US EPA and its Science Advisory Board have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health (US EPA, 1993).

The indoor pollutants that affect our health are formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (benzene and trichloroethylene or TCE), airborne biological pollutants, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, pesticides and disinfectants (phenols) and radon. These pollutants contribute to ‘sick building syndrome’, which causes symptoms ranging from allergies, headaches and fatigue through to nervous-system disorders, cancer and death.

Fortunately, the boffins at NASA have found that plants and the microbes at their roots can, through their normal photosynthetic process, absorb these pollutants and provide the fresh air and humidity that makes us healthier. Their research identified a collection of easy-to-grow indoor plants that, if we cease to bring new toxins into the home (see “Use Non-toxic Cleaners” action), can remedy ‘sick building syndrome’ and make your home a palace of respiratory health.

How to do it now!

Deck out your house and office with a collection of the following plants and breathe easy.

Top ten plants for removing formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide from the air:

  1. Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) – semi-sun
  2. Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa) – semi-sun
  3. Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii) – semi-sun
  4. Rubber Plant (Ficus robusta) – semi-sun to semi-shade
  5. Dracaena “Janet Craig” (Dracaena deremensis “Janet Craig”) – semi-shade
  6. Philodendron (Philodendron sp.) – semi-shade
  7. Dwarf Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii) – semi-sun
  8. Ficus Alii (Ficus macleilandii “Alii”) – full sun & semi-sun
  9. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata “Bostoniensis) – semi-sun
  10. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa”) – semi-shade

For more information on indoor air quality try the following websites and resources:

Why is this action important?

Sustainable living guide