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When I first started the campaign to rid my life of harmful toxins and irritants, I was shocked to learn that one of the most toxic places was my home! One of the most overlooked aspects of ‘clean living’ is the air in our home. Without ventilation, the air around us becomes toxic over time, with the air inside the average home being up to five times more polluted than the air outside. Not only that, there are things that I hadn’t considered to be harmful or toxic. These include chemicals emitted from carpets, upholstery and cleaning products and bacteria, molds and viruses. However, help is at hand in the form of plants. The ancient Chinese first discovered that certain plants act as indoor air regulators and purifiers, filtering out airborne toxins, such as carbon dioxide, formaldehyde and benzene. They also found that plants uptake carbon dioxide and release oxygen during the day (photosynthesis), then uptake oxygen and release CO2 during the night (respiration).
More recently, NASA have been studying indoor air pollution to find ways to purify the air in space stations and space craft. After all, you can’t just open a window to allow some fresh air to ventilate your cabin when you’re orbiting the earth! Their extensive research has identified the most potent plant purifiers to detoxify interior air. From NASA’s top 12 plants, I have chosen 7 of my favourites which can be used to detox your home. NASA recommend that you need one plant for every 100 ft of your home, which means at least 8 medium-to-large sized plants for an average UK home of 818 square feet.
Detox your home with these NASA approved purifying plants
*Warning: Some of these plants may be toxic to pets and children, so will not be suitable if either are prone to chewing leaves.
1. Rubber Plant
Best for: Removing bacteria and mold
Bacteria and mold spores float around in the air, looking for places to grow. Rubber plants destroy both while they are still airbourne by absorbing them through their leaves. The large leaves allow the toxins to be drawn in through the plant, then deposited into the soil. Once in the soil, they are broken down and converted into nutrients for the plant, or into harmless compounds in the soil. A rubber plant also improves air quality by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. Scientists have found that rubber plants can reduce mold and bacteria in a room by as much as 50 or 60 percent, so well worth the investment.
- Easy to grow
- Water sparingly as they like drier conditions in preference to being over-watered
- Suitable for low light environments, so ideal for apartments, small homes and offices
- They can grow up to 8 feet tall, so they do need space
2. Peace Lily
Best for: Removing ammonia
NASA found that peace lilies can effectively absorb ammonia – found in plastics, fabrics, dyes and cleaning products – from the air. One lily can remove toxins from up to 100sq ft of space. They can also reduce symptoms associated with allergies such as itchy eyes and irritated skin, so they can help to relieve asthma and other respiratory problems.
- Peace lilies flower for most of the summer
- They are easy to maintain
- Warning: They are toxic to animals and small children if eaten
- Use filtered water to water as they are sensitive to fluoride
- They flourish in a well lit area but not in direct sunlight
- They like humidity so often do well in a bathroom as long as it is well-lit
3. Snake plant
Best for: Absorbing toxins and increasing oxygen
The snake plant or “mother-in-law’s tongue” (Ouch. I’m feeling that one already!) is a resilient plant that does well in homes with limited lighting. It’s a hard plant to kill, even in the hands of the most abusive owners like myself who either forget to water or over water! One of the top indoor air purifyiers plants, it absorbs toxins and releases oxygen. A Snake Plant also releases moisture in the air and extracts airborne allergens. If you are allergy-prone, a Snake Plant is worth the investment and is a natural and inexpensive way to reduce allergies. It’s happy anywhere, and doesn’t need much watering.
- Great for bathrooms as it thrives in humidity
- Warning: Mildly toxic to pets and children if ingested
- Happiest in a well-lit position – but not in direct sunlight or shade
- Only needs watering every 2 to 4 weeks
- A resilient plant that can survive a bit of neglect!
- Isn’t space hungry so great for small apartments
- Can be started outside in spring and then moved inside
4. Aloe Vera
Best for: Removing benzene and formaldehyde
Aloe Vera removes two of the most common toxins found in homes, benzene present in paint, dyes, plastics and rubber, and formaldehyde, found in insulation, laminate flooring and MDF furniture. Aloe Vera is an excellent longterm formaldehyde filter, although it isn’t necessarily the best plant to improve indoor air. If your plant develops brown spots this could be a sign of high levels of benzene in your home, so it also works well as an indoor air monitor.
The gel from the aloe vera plant also makes lovely skin products and is a good soothing gel for minor burns or sunburn too. I like these DIY beauty recipes here:
- Best in a sunny environment with plenty of direct light
- Great for the bedroom as it removes carbon dioxide while you sleep, then releases oxygen when it’s daylight
- Known as the ‘oxygen bomb’
- Requires watering every 2 weeks
4. Dwarf Banana Plant
Best for: Humidifying dry environments and absorbing carcinogens
The Dwarf Banana Plant has huge leaves that produce generous amounts of moisture, especially during the winter months when the central heating is on. An efficient indoor air purifier, it removes carcinogenic materials that have been ‘off-gased’ into the air. The large leaves also provide plenty of oxygen, beneficial for anyone with asthma or a respiratory condition.
- 100% safe around pets as the leaves are edible
- Needs a minimum of eight hours of sunlight for the best growth and up to 12 hours if you’re trying to grow fruit.
- Dwarf Banana Plants love humidity with 50% or higher humidity being optimal.
5. Barberton Daisy
Best for: Detoxing formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and benzene
The Barberton daisy cleanses toxins like formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and benzene which are normally found in a wide range of household materials from paints to synthetic fibres. Not only that but they add a lovely splash of colour to any home!
- Place the plant in a room with plenty of natural light
- Soil should be kept moist but well-drained, otherwise the daisy wilts quickly
6. English Ivy
Best for: Reducing formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene
English Ivy was shown by the NASA study to be the best air filtering plant out there. It was reported to reduce airborne particles and formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene from the air – volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are also known as carcinogens.
- Needs bright light
- Clean leaves occasionally by washing with water
- Don’t over-water as English Ivy prefers dry condition
- Warning: Keep away from animals and children as the leaves are poisonous
7. Bamboo Palm
Best for: Neutralising formaldehydes, benzene and carbon monoxide
The bamboo palm came out top for neutralising formaldehydes, benzene and carbon monoxide. It is a natural humidifier and produces around a litre of water every day, making it a good plant for dry climates and rooms. It would also help anyone with respiratory and breathing problems.
- Will grow in a variety of light but best kept out of direct sunlight
- Plants receiving high levels of light require more frequent watering, while plants in the shade need much less water
- Bamboos prefer high humidity, so are perfect for bathrooms and kitchens
- Prune any discoloured leaves
Replace air fresheners with natural alternatives
If you want to detox your home effectively, avoid using chemically-based air freshener. The main thing that will improve the health of your home is to dispense with synthetic fragrances. They don’t actually get rid of nasty smells – they just mask them! It’s also been proven that artificial air fresheners contain phthalates which have been proven to disrupt hormones. Look for alternative ‘fresheners’ such as natural soy-based candles, natural air purifiers and essential oil diffusers. Essential Oil diffusers are easy to make, find my recipe here.
Detox your home with Feng Shui and plant placement
According to the principles of the ancient art of Feng Shui, all plants have their own Feng Shui. The Snake Plant can be viewed as bad Feng Shui, as it’s usually advised to steer clear of pointy plants (including cactus.) But according to Karen Kelly (Feng Shui specialist), these type of plants can also signify protection. She recommends placing ‘pointy’ plants close to your front door or main entrance to enable The Eight Virtues (long life, prosperity, intelligence, beauty, art, poetry, health, and strength) to enter. As long as plants are kept healthy, they are more likely to bring good Feng shui as they will have good energy around them. Displaying plants in beautiful pots is also thought to attract good energy. The best position to place the plants in your office or home is a place that is enriched by the plant’s Wood element. South eastern, southern, and eastern corners are the best Feng Shui spots to place your plants. If you would like to find out more about Feng Shui and plants check out this article.