Clearing the air with indoor gardens

In its column, the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society looks at ways indoor greenery can benefit our homes in the winter months.

December may seem like a weird time to talk about plants.

It kind of is. But as we start to spend more time indoors, there are some very good reasons to start thinking about indoor greenery.

Our homes are a comforting, warm, inviting place to be. But most unfortunately, many modern homes are also sources of pollution. The pollutants are often unknown, and do not produce any obvious signs or symptoms, but in the last few decades we have increased the number of household products that produce harmful chemicals, and these are concentrated when combined with poor ventilation and more time spent indoors.

There are three primary sources of indoor pollutants: biological, chemical and radiological. One of the most increasingly common sources are VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, that are found in common household products and materials such as paints, glues, flooring, cleaning and air-freshening products, and furnishings. Short-term exposure to these chemicals can cause breathing problems and irritation, while effects of long-term exposure are still unknown.

There are some simple steps we can take, however, if you want to limit exposure to indoor pollutants before they can become a problem. Poor ventilation is one of the primary reasons indoor pollutants rise in homes, especially in the winter. Opening windows and doors periodically to allow air flow can be a huge benefit. Even if it’s chilly out! Reducing the number of pollutant-producing products in the home is the next step. Choosing products with little to no formaldehyde, phthalates, benzene, and xylene will reduce total VOCs and other chemical pollutants in your home.

But another unexpected weapon against indoor pollutants can be the quiet, unassuming house plant! Plants have the amazing ability to absorb volatile organic compounds from the air into their leaves and then translocate them to their root zone, where microbes break them down, and even consume them. They also increase humidity and reduce particulate matter (dust) accumulation. In addition, volatile phytochemicals released by plant leaves can reduce airborne microbes and mold spores in surrounding air by up to 60 per cent. Here are just a few of the house plants that rate highest in their ability to translocate indoor pollutants:

• Ferns

• Bamboo palm

• Dwarf date

• English ivy

• Rubber plant

• Peace lily

• Umbrella tree

So with a few more photosynthesizing friends in your homes this winter, you can rest easy knowing that it is a much healthier place to be. If you do not have many indoor plants already, now is a great time to start.

And they make lovely Christmas gifts! Happy, Healthy Holidays, everyone!

Conservation Tip of the Month: Purchasing a live, potted conifer for your Christmas tree this year is awesome in SO many ways. Not only does it reduce the waste and off-gassing from an artificial tree materials, but a live tree will transpire (humidify) your home, and reduce indoor pollutants until you replant it outdoors. Oh, and they smell amazing, too!

Sources:

Kobayashi, Kaufman, Griffis, and McConnell “Using Houseplants To Clean Indoor Air “, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (2007)

Wolverton, “How to Grow Fresh Air” (1997).

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