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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Houseplants that purify air and reduce toxins

A golden pothos can help reduce indoor pollutants,

A golden pothos can help reduce indoor pollutants, but can be toxic to pets. Credit: Fotolia

You may think of it as just another pretty face, but behind the scenes, your houseplant is working its little bud off.

Like pets, plants have been shown to reduce stress levels, which in turn can improve overall health. Gardeners already know that spending time in nature can impart a sense of calm, and lowering stress is widely accepted as having a positive effect on certain aspects of health, such as blood pressure.

A 2007 study conducted by Dutch researchers compared its subjects’ perception of a hospital room that housed indoor plants with one that instead had a painting of an urban environment on its wall. The findings revealed that indoor plants in hospital rooms “reduce feelings of stress,” which can be beneficial not only for your sick loved ones, but for the staff treating them as well.

And we’ve known since NASA conducted research in 1989 that plants are the most efficient (and cost-effective) method of reducing indoor air pollution.

The most effective way of clearing the air usually is to open windows, but that’s not always practical — or possible. You might have noticed that hotels and office buildings, which often have stationary windows, typically have indoor plantscaping. That’s not merely for aesthetics. During the past decade, commercial properties have incorporated more plants into their floor plans in hopes of avoiding so-called “sick building syndrome,” a condition attributed to poor ventilation that can result in headaches and respiratory problems among office workers.

As we learned in seventh-grade biology class, plants absorb the carbon dioxide we exhale and, in turn, release oxygen. What we didn’t learn back then was that they also are effective in removing toxins from the air.

And if you think you don’t have indoor air pollution, you’re probably wrong: According to the NASA Clean Air Study, if you’ve got carpeting, vinyl flooring, upholstered furniture, plastic grocery bags, cigarette smoke or even a roll of paper towels laying around, you might be inhaling toxins on a regular basis. Ironically, many scented air fresheners even exude chemicals that may be harmful.

Benzene is a component of many detergents, inks and dyes, plastics, rubber products, petroleum products, synthetic fibers and tobacco smoke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long-term exposure to benzene is harmful to the immune system, and can cause a decrease in red blood cells. The federal Department of Health and Human Services has associated benzene exposure with an increased risk of cancer.

Formaldehyde has been found to be released into the air by carpeting, cleaners, foam insulation, furniture, paper products, plywood and particle board. The CDC has associated the chemical with sore throats, coughs, scratchy eyes, nosebleeds and breathing difficulty or asthma in those who are susceptible.

And trichloro-ethlene hitchhikes into your home with adhesives, dry cleaning, inks and dyes, lacquers and paints, paper products and varnishes. The CDC has linked its long-term exposure with an increased risk of certain types of cancer.

The following plants have been associated by NASA with removing these common indoor chemicals from the air you breathe. You might want to start potting them up.

*Aglaonema (Chinese evergreen)

Chamaedorea (Bamboo palm)

Chlorophytum (Spider plant)


*Dracaena spp.

*Epipremnum (Golden pothos)

*Ficus spp. (Weeping fig)

Gerbera (Gerber daisy)

*Hedera spp. (English ivy)

*Philodendron spp.

*Sansevieria (Snake plant)

*Spathiphyllum (Peace lily)

*toxic to dogs and cats

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