Cleaning Your Home With Plants

Cleaning Your Home With Plants

In keeping with the trend to green homes, houseplants are making yet another comeback, this time as a means of filtering pollution out of your home.

The rise in the number of people with asthma and serious allergies is being attributed to the increase in indoor air pollution that comes along with our new airtight buildings.

We all remember learning about photosynthesis — how plants have a respiration system that absorbs carbon dioxide through their leaves and roots and exhales clean oxygen. Well, some plants also take in some of the more noxious byproducts of modern living, like formaldehyde and benzene, and convert them to oxygen.

NASA has done extensive research on how to clean the air in space stations, and they are the original discoverers of this fortuitous fact. And now people interested in providing their families with clean environments are using specific plants not just as design elements but also as air filters. (And not just for homes — notice all the plants the next time you visit a hospital.)

Annie Walters of Forever Green Interiors in Medford has noticed more clients interested in the ability of plants to clean their air. She notes that we often aren't aware that the air in our homes is a chemical brew, but everything from paints to new carpets to synthetic upholstery to cleaning supplies and plastic packaging add unseen chemicals to the air we breathe in a process know as "off-gassing."

"Adding plants can reduce fatigue, coughs and dry throat produced by inhaling this stuff," she says. "It also reduces about 50 percent of airborne molds. Plants can help you improve focus, stop those sickly feelings and improve creativity."

According to Christy Brown of Living Interiors in Medford the rule of thumb is one plant for every 10-by-10-foot space to clean the air in the average home. So if you live in a 1,500-square-foot home, you will want about 15 plants, and add another plant for every additional 100 square feet. But distribute them throughout the house for best effect.

"Plants do increase the humidity levels in a home, but in Medford we generally have a heater or air conditioner going, both of which take almost all the humidity out of the air," Brown says.

Plants are easy to incorporate in any decorating style, and not all houseplants need direct light. Among the plants that filter toxins, pothos, philodendrons, dracaenas and Chinese evergreens can survive in low-light situations, or under fluorescent lights.

However, the very best air filtering houseplant is the spider plant, and it does need direct light. The spider plant is also unique in that it tends to do its work at night. It is able to process formaldehyde, a major indoor pollutant that is present in everything from plywood to paper bags to permanent-press clothes.

How to keep your plant at its healthiest? Sugeet, of Creative Visions Feng Shui in Ashland, recommends giving them a five-minute tepid shower and leaving them in the shower until they dry. And don't use those "plant cleaners" that spray a nice, shiny waxy coat on the leaves of the plant. "It's like putting plastic over your upholstery," he says. "They can't breathe."

"Plants relax people," Brown says, "and no one knows exactly why but it has been proven they reduce stress and make for a more relaxing environment."

And now we know they can also help us breathe easier and reduce our carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide we each contribute to air pollution). What a great way to go green.

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