The Air at Home – How to Improve it with Plants

We live and breathe inside our homes, that’s why it is important that we know how to improve indoor air quality at home. We all know what air pollution is but did you know that you could have it, in your home? In today’s show we’ll be talking about some common toxins in our homes and a surprising weapon against indoor air pollution.

To listen to the audio broadcast on this topic, use the player below. To download and listen later follow this link Remove Toxins from the Air in Your Home


But first, a little history
During the 1970’s, the United States experienced a significant fuel crisis. The price of crude oil per barrel was the highest in recorded history. The outcome, was a significant increase in the price of gasoline, higher energy costs for heating and cooling, increases to most consumer and business products – and ultimately an economic recession.

From this crisis, came many changes to the way we live. One of those changes was to make homes and buildings more energy efficient by “tightening them up.” People began to aggressively seal any place where air could leak in or out of their home. The construction industry developed new building techniques and products to wrap buildings and seal them tight. All of these efforts produced tighter, more, energy efficient homes that cost less to heat or cool.

Another change that occurred is the switch from using more expensive natural products to less expensive manufactured or engineered products anything, from carpet to furniture, to construction materials. These new products rely heavily on the use of glues, chemicals and synthetic materials. Most provided popular benefits: easier care, lighter weight, and easier portability. Now the consumer could fit a box of furniture in their car, take it home and easily assemble it themselves.

Unfortunately, in the 1980’s a variety of illnesses began to appear. In a report by the World Health Organization, it was suggested that 30% of new or newly remodeled construction buildings were likely to have indoor air quality problems.

Sick Building Syndrome was the new term given to these building related illnesses. Some of the symptoms associated with sick building syndrome are: allergies, asthma, eye, nose and throat irritations, fatigue, nervous-system disorders, respiratory congestion, headache, and chronic sinus congestion. Studies show, that indoor air can be 10 times more polluted than outdoor air.

What, was making people so sick? It was a combination of several things:
· the air tight construction techniques did not allow the buildings to breathe
· insufficient intakes of fresh-air in heating and cooling systems
· and out-gassing of high concentrations of volatile organic compounds.

These VOC’s are found in a wide variety of items including: building products, engineered wood products, carpet, furnishings, and cleaning products. Even in low concentrations, these VOC’s can cause a variety of health problems.

Four Common Contaminants

There are quite a few recognized indoor contaminants but we are going to focus on the four most common, airborne toxins that can potentially be found in the average home or office.


This can be found in virtually all indoor environments. It’s used in particle board and pressed wood products to make office or household furniture, cabinets, in many consumer paper products, carpets, water repellents, fire retardants used on fabrics and in the foam of upholstered furniture and even permanent-press clothing. Other sources of formaldehyde include natural gas, kerosene, and cigarette smoke. Formaldehyde irritates the membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat and can cause headaches and allergic dermatitis. It’s suspected of causing a rare type of lung cancer in cases of long-term exposure.


This a common solvent found in inks, paints, plastics, and rubber. It’s also used in the manufacture of detergents, dyes, and some pharmaceuticals. In addition to irritation of the eyes and skin, chronic exposure to even low levels of benzene cause headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, psychological disturbances, and diseases of the blood … including anemia and leukemia.


Tri-chloro-ethyline is used by the dry cleaning industry and in printing inks, paints, varnishes, and adhesives. This chemical is considered to be a potent liver carcinogen.

Carbon monoxide

This well known contaminant is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuel and it’s also found in cigarette smoke. Exposure to low levels can cause drowsiness and headaches.

Easy Solutions

So what can we do?

High Quality Air Purifiers

Our first recommendation is to use high-quality air purifiers in a few rooms of your home. These units have been shown to reduce indoor air quality emissions, to freshen the air, and to reduce the ambient dust particles. Hurray! Dusting just got easier. It’s important to do your research and purchase a brand that has laboratory testing results to back up their claims. Keep in mind, that some of the best products may only be available through independent distributors or online. Most of the best quality units will have ionizers and or produce ozone and have controls for both.

The Natural and Biblical Approach
We understand that, Yahweh knows the end from the beginning. All throughout scripture, we discover that He made provision in the beginning for something that would be needed or would happen at a later time. This principal even applies to indoor air quality.

In Genesis 1:11-13: we learn that Yahweh brought forth grasses, herbs and fruit bearing trees that all produced after their kind and that He declared to be good.

A little later in chapter 22 and verse 13, we find the first mention of Yahweh Yirah. Yahweh saw ahead and provided a ram for the sacrifice after the binding of Yissak by his father Abraham. This name for Yahweh is commonly translated in English bibles as Jehovah Jireh. It means the One who sees and who knows all of our needs and then who provides.

Even though man has been producing materials, products, and buildings that have potential health hazards, Yahweh Yireh saw ahead and provided beneficial plants on the earth that we can grow inside our homes to help cleanse and refresh the air we breathe.

Researchers have identified several varieties of houseplants that excel in removing toxic emissions from indoor air. Many of these plants you may already be familiar with or have them growing in your home.

Plant Varieties to Use

The plants found to be most effective in removing formaldehyde were philodendron, spider plant, and golden pathos. Two common flowering varieties are the most efficient at removing benzene; the lovely gerbera daisy and the fresh scented chrysanthemum (mum). The peace lily and the chrysanthemum removed the highest percentage of tri-choro-ethylene. Since all plants utilize carbon in the process of producing new growth, all these varieties are effective in removing low levels of carbon monoxide. Other varieties found to be especially effective in cleaning the air were english ivy, spider plants, palms, snake plant, and several types of dracaena, including marginata and the corn plant.

How Many Plants are Needed?
You may be wondering, how many plants are needed to remove the concentrated load that can be present in a new home or one that has been newly renovated?

or an average home or office area up to 2,000 square feet, one study recommends using a mixed variety of fifteen to eighteen house plants in 6 to 8 inch pots. 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. Keep in mind that high quantities of VOC’s require a high number of plants to help remove the airborne contaminants. The number of plants can be reduced if you like, once levels have stabilized in the normal range.

All plants require light but some varieties of houseplants do not require direct light or sunlight. Many indoor plants originate in the dense shade of tropical forests and have a high rate of photosynthesis. These are ideal for the home and can be placed in shadier corners. When positioning your plants, try to strike a balance between light and ventilation. The reason? Researcher discovered that the effect of plants on indoor air pollution appears to be reduced if they are placed in drafty areas.

Most of this research was conducted by NASA and the ALCA. They came up with a list of the most effective plants for treating indoor air pollution. All of the plants in our list are easily available from your local nursery or garden center. Research has shown that these plants are most effective over all in counteracting out-gassed chemicals and contributing to balanced internal humidity levels.
Before purchasing any houseplant, do a little research about it care needs and if it is suitable for small children or pets. Unfortunately, some plants can be poisonous if ingested. Small children have a tendency to put anything in their mouth and plants are no exception. Our cats seem to enjoy eating houseplants so we make sure to only keep varieties that won’t be harmful if they decide to have a bite or two, or more. This won’t be a problem with so many varieties available that help to reduce indoor air pollution. We have only mentioned a few but you can find many others among the resources listed at the end of this article.

Quick Review of Beneficial Plants
Here is a quick review of some of the beautiful houseplants that are beneficial in improving the quality of the air inside your home:

Many of the palm varieties including the dwarf date palm. Several ferns like the Boston Fern and the Kimberley Queen. Many varieties of Philodendrons both large and small leaf sizes. Variegated foliage plants include: the Prayer Plant, which folds its leaves up during the night, the Dumb Cane, Spider Plant, Golden Pothos and the Peacock Plant. Of the flowering varieties: Cyclamen with its lovely pink blossoms, the Urn Plant has attractive gray leaves and an impressive pink flower spike. Both the Dendrobium and Phalenopsis Orchids, the Wax Begonia comes in many shades from red to yellow and everything in between. The Christmas Cactus, Chrysanthemum, the Peace Lilly with its large white blooms, African Violets, Gerbera Daisy, the Tulip and the unique Anthurium with its unusual flamingo pink blossoms.

We hope you will try a few of these beneficial houseplants in your home. They will add beautify to your surroundings, help to clean and oxygenate the air in your home and help to make it a more pleasant place to live.

To cleaner, fresher air at home,

Posey's signature



Avi and Posey Salem are both occupational health and safety professionals. Avi is an industrial hygienist and Posey is a safety engineer and OSHA authorized trainer. This information was put together to help business clients manage the out-gassing of VOC’s in the workplace when employees are working in newly constructed or newly renovated buildings and offices.

To read more about this topic and the other posts that correspond to the audio broadcast:

15 Plants that Remove Toxins from the Air

Health Benefits of Indoor Plants

Success with House Plants

Planting Poem

Additional Information
Here is a list of resources for more information:
How to Grow Fresh Air – 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office, Dr. B. C. Wolverton, © 1996, Penguin Putnam Inc.
How your Home or Office Makes or Breaks Your Health, by Dr. Mercola
The Ten Best Pollution-Busting Houseplants, by Dr. Mercola
Plants are Good for Your Health: Four Ways to Use Them to Your Advantage by Dr. Mercola
List of NASA studies related to treating a variety of air and waterborne pollutants with plants:
(1)        Houseplants, Indoor Air Quality, and Allergic Reactions
(2)        Foliage Plants for Improving Indoor Air Quality
(3)        Foliage Plant for Removing Air Pollutants from Energy-Efficient Buildings
(4)        Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement

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