In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
November, 2003
Regional Report

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This grouping of low-maintenance, colorful houseplants really can help you breathe better.

Houseplants Clean the Air

Do houseplants really make us feel better? I remember several years ago after being in the hospital for five days that it was quite a pleasant surprise to step outdoors into fresh air. It reminded me of how much better I felt physically when I stopped working in an office. I don't feel that same shock when I leave my house, and I believe that it's partially because I am surrounded by indoor plants. They improve the quality of my indoor air.

Common Indoor Pollutants
In our world of highly efficient office buildings, which are sealed against the elements, it is alarming to find the number of pollutants that are our constant roommates. Copy machines and printers, rug pads, insulation and other synthetic materials, veneer furniture, products made of pressed wood and plywood, smoke, and detergents all give off pollutants such as benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene, ammonia, and formaldehyde. Studies by the EPA indicate that indoor air pollution is one of the fastest growing environmental problems.

Plants to the Rescue
How can we reduce these troubling substances in our lives? Research shows that plants reduce indoor pollution and provide us with a healthier physical atmosphere. Plants absorb pollutants through their leaves, where naturally occurring microorganisms break down the chemicals. Some absorption and breakdown also occurs in common potting soil.

The original research on plant filtering began with NASA, when they needed to find ways to reduce the high amount of pollutants emitted by equipment in the confined environment of the space shuttle. Happily, the National Space Technology Lab found that many common houseplants significantly reduced the amounts of pollutants, particularly nitrogen and formaldehyde.

In fact, a single spider plant in a closed chamber containing formaldehyde removed 85 percent of the pollutant in 24 hours. As few as fifteen plants can significantly reduce pollutants in the average house. This study recommends that we use one potted plant for every 100 square feet of floor space for pollution control.

Besides helping control gaseous pollution in the home, plant leaves clean the air by trapping particulate matter. And, in their natural process of respiration, plants absorb our waste product -- carbon dioxide -- and furnish us with oxygen and moisture. The old myth that you should never have plants in your bedroom because they will use all your air couldn't be farther from the truth. Those plants are making your air better while you sleep.

Not only can plants actually clean the air in an office building or your home, but the positive feelings that result from being around plants can effectively help reduce fatigue and mental stress associated with a high-pressure job. Plants not only raise humidity levels, making the workplace more comfortable and less "itchy," but the moisture given off by plants seems to suppress the growth of airborne microbes.

In a study by Washington State University, people with plants in their work environment were 12 percent more productive and had lower blood pressure than those without plants. Need we say more about the positive aspects of being surrounded by plants?


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