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Clear the air and keep on growing


Clear the air and keep on growing

It’s not just about the décor. House plants filter and humidify the air and help keep germs at bay. KENDALL MORTON discusses the benefits of indoor plants for the whole household’s health.

Plants add colour to the home and provide a conversation piece. Caring for house plants can help an ex-gardener feel connected to green living things when their active gardening days are over.

There are two major health benefits.

Firstly, the humble house plant is an oxygen factory and air-purifying machine. Remember photosynthesis? Plants take in carbon dioxide, water and sunlight to create sugars which they turn into new growth. As a by-product, the plants expel oxygen.

In 1989, NASA conducted a landmark study, known as the “clean air study”. Given that astronauts lived in confined spaces with limited ventilation, NASA wanted to know if plants could improve the air quality for their space pioneers.

The results were impressive. In 24 hours, plants can remove up to 87 per cent of certain pollutants including formaldehyde and benzene, while at the same time returning oxygen to the closed environment.

Numerous studies have confirmed the NASA research.

Basically, when plants take in carbon dioxide, they also absorb pollutants from the air. The pollutants of concern are VOCs – volatile organic compounds. These are chemicals from carpets, furniture, air fresheners, cosmetics, cooking, heating, smoking and other sources.

Sometimes you can smell off-gassing from carpets or new household products, but gases you can’t smell can be just as harmful.

The VOCs that can be present at home include benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride and toluene.

These chemicals can increase risk of headaches, infections and asthma attacks. The air pollution inside can be higher than outdoors. This is exacerbated in winter when the house is closed to keep out the cold.

Plants that actively remove toxins from the air include peace lilies, snake plants, English ivy, spider plants, aloe vera and weeping figs.

Some plants produce oxygen at night as well as during the day. This makes them a good choice for the bedroom. These include the snake plant (previously known as mother-in-law’s tongue), aloe vera, gerbera daisy and peace lily.

A second benefit is house plants add some protection against airborne viruses such as the flu. This is because plants add humidity to the air.

One peace lily can increase humidity by 5 per cent.  With internal heating, the air in your home can become dry. Viral droplets like flu droplets travel further when the air is dry, so keeping the air moist can reduce risk of infection and illness.

Dr Taylor, an infection control consultant at Harvard Medical School, co-authored the paper Humidity as a non-pharmaceutical intervention for influenza.

In an interview with Climate Control News, she said that humidity plays a role in the spread and prevention of viral illnesses.

Viral particles spread through coughing, sneezing or talking, hover in the air. Keeping the air at a humidity of 40-60 per cent, deactivates these tiny pathogens faster. This humidity range also helps our airways to remove viral particles.

 Kendall Morton is Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email

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