By Lisa Marie Conklin
Did you know you can naturally detox your home of harmful VOCs with house plants? These natural air filters are easy to grow so even if you don’t have a green thumb you can reap the benefits of the double duty plants.
The Bad Guys
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are found in products we use every day in our home, like the tub and tile cleaner that smells so strong you have to open a window when you use them. Some other common VOCs are acetone (nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol), benzene (furniture polish, liquid ant traps), formaldehyde (carpet, pressed wood products), 1, 4-dichlorobenzene (air fresheners), and tetrachloroethene (dry-cleaned products, spot removers). Studies show that our homes can have three to five times more pollutants than outside! VOCs affect human health differently depending on the person’s age, health condition, and the level of exposure. Headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, eye and skin irritation, allergies, and asthma are some common symptoms of VOC exposure.
Recent research by Vadoud Niri and his team at the State University of New York at Oswego found five houseplants that really stood out for absorbing common VOCs. The fab five are the jade plant, spider plant, bromeliad, Caribbean tree cactus, and dracaena. They were all were shown to help provide better air quality in our homes. All five of these plants were able to absorb acetone, but the dracaena took the gold for absorbing 94%. The bromeliad plant was the best VOC fighter. Of the 6 out of 8 VOCs studied, it absorbed 80% in a 12-hour period.
Known as the "good luck," "friendship," and "money" plant in Asian cultures, you may want to pick up a few! The Jade plant loves as much light as you can give it, but it will also thrive in artificial light. This low-water succulent should be watered when the top few inches of the potting mix is dry to the touch. Note: It can be toxic to cats and dogs if ingested.
Your mom or grandma probably had one of these hanging in the corner or high on a bookshelf with its leaves cascading down. It needs bright to moderate sunlight. The stems of the spider plant extend to 12-18 inches and may produce tiny white flowers during the first summer it’s alive.
This exotic-looking beauty is reminiscent of the pineapple plant, a variety of the bromeliad, and the gorgeous flowers may give you the impression it’s going to be hard to grow, but fear not, they’re easy on the eyes and on your faded green thumb. These plants prefer shallow pots and lighter potting soils with sphagnum moss. Place them in medium to bright light. Bromeliad plants have “cups” at the base of the leaves. This is the best place to water the plant. If water collects in the saucer between watering, empty it out to protect against disease and insects. The colorful, showy part of the bromeliad doesn’t last long, but the pups at the base of the plant can be removed from the parent plant once they are matured. Just clip them and replant in another pot.
Caribbean Tree Cactus
You may struggle to find this elusive prickly addition. Also known as Tree Opuntia, a tree-like cactus, it requires plenty of light. Make sure to place it near a window that gets bright light for most of the day. A young cactus in a pot requires more watering than mature plants. All-purpose soil with good drainage is key. Once the plant is established, it usually only needs watering once a month.
The "potted tree in the corner" is how you may recognize this tropical tree, especially the popular massangeana variety, with its showy green leaves with yellow variegation running down the center. The bromeliad plant was the best overall VOC fighter in the study; of the six out of eight VOCs studied, it absorbed 80 percent in a 12-hour period. This plant favors bright, filtered light, like what you get behind sheer curtains on a window. The dracaena requires all-purpose soil with good drainage. It’s fairly drought-resistance and doesn’t do well in soggy soil. If the soil feels slightly dry, give it a good watering and drain the saucer if necessary.
Images used with permission, courtesy of www.shutterstock.com and www.dreamstime.com