The idea of having plants in the home became popular in the 1980s, when the results of a famous NASA experiment were published, showing that some indoor plants were capable of purifying the air of harmful substances.
This study has continued to be repeated, to the point where people are looking for purifying plants to place inside their homes, but how true is this? can your humble peace lily purify the air in your flat?
You need to take care of the quality of the air you breathe
At this very moment the coffee table in your living room is releasing toxic particles into the air, from the xylene in the lacquer used to varnish it. But it's not the only thing that may be polluting the air you breathe in your home: benzene is present in furniture polish and insecticides, while trichloroethylene and formaldehyde can be found in cleaners and adhesives and in upholstery.
These are known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals can cause chronic diseases, asthma, compromised neurological, reproductive and respiratory systems, and is even thought to cause cancer.
In developed countries people tend to spend at least 90% of their time indoors, whether it is their home, office, school and so on. In most cases, the air breathed in these spaces can be as or more polluted than outside, especially if there is little ventilation. It is important to take measures to improve the quality of the air you breathe, but while we would like to believe that our beautiful plants are enough, it is better to take complementary measures.
The controversy: plants vs. science
If you're wondering whether air-purifying plants exist, the short and simple answer is yes, but their effectiveness and scope is much smaller than previously thought. The NASA study was looking for methods to remove toxins from the space station environment, so it focused on these plants and their air-purifying properties.
Science is wonderful, because it is constantly evolving. There are no definitive results, and as other research methods are developed, it is possible to prove or disprove theories. Recent research claims that while certain plants are capable of filtering VOCs from the air, they are not very efficient at doing so in our everyday environments.
The NASA experiments, like many others, test the effectiveness of air-purifying plants in controlled situations and sealed spaces, such as laboratories and space stations, but not in open, dynamic places, such as your office or living room in a home. In these places the air is renewed at least every hour and this would affect the performance of a brave and feisty plant, such as the peace lily.
On the other hand, a large amount of sunlight is required to stimulate the photosynthesis process of your purifying plant, which would be responsible for disintegrating environmental toxins. This is not common in most European households. It is not for nothing that indoor plants that require little light are among the most sought after.
Plants that purify the air
Another requirement for your peace lily to effectively purify the air is the support of an army of similar plants.
Studies estimate that you should have about 10 plants per square metre or so. This is the equivalent of having a small jungle at home. We don't judge, if you want to take up the challenge these are the plants that should make up the green battalion that will stand up to environmental toxins, and you can get them all here:
- Peace Lily
- Kentia Palm
- Brazil Log(Dracaena fragrans)
- Snake plant
- ZZ or Zamioculcas crow plants
- Boston Fern
Whether or not you manage to create a branch of the Amazon rainforest in your living room, the real benefits of plants transcend those of purifying the environment. Plants improve the air to the extent that they increase humidity levels, which is beneficial for your respiratory health and your skin. But the real and undeniable benefit is for the people who live in that plant space.
Caring for a plant has a direct impact on mental health. There is something joyful, cheerful and satisfying about so much greenery; not only because it improves the aesthetics of the space but because caring for a living thing is an enriching and satisfying activity.
Having plants translates into less stress, better mood and an improvement in your quality of life.
There is something that plants and content creation have in common: natural geometry. I love creating visual content and managing Be.Green campaigns.