Using Plants As Home Air Cleaners to Stop Sick Building Syndrome

areca palm houseplant

Home air cleaners that use ionic or ozone producing technology can make your inside air pollution problem worse. Using plants is a healthy alternative.

The change to a cleaner greener lifestyle isn’t as hard as some people believe. Just making a few changes in your normal everyday routine will not only improve your immediate and long-term health but could save you hundreds of dollars a year. So, not only is green better for your body but it’s better for your wallet as well.

The first place to start, and one of the easiest changes to make, is in your home, by changing the way you clean your air. Many indoor air cleaners cause more health problems than they prevent.

Indoor environments often suffer from what has been termed “sick building syndrome.” This is basically an environment that promotes sickness due to excessive indoor air pollution.

Many homes and businesses that suffer from sick building syndrome already employ indoor air cleaners expecting them to do a job that, even if they do well, are overshadowed by the potentially devastating side effects of their primary functional mechanisms. Thankfully, there is a simple solution to using these machines – indoor plants.

indoor hanging garden

Over the Counter Air Disinfectant Sprays and Plug Ins

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent by homeowners every year on over the counter disinfectant sprays and plug in air fresheners. These sprays and plug ins may or may not claim to “clean” the air but do claim to make your home smell fresh and clean. What these products don’t tell you is what they use to achieve this effect. Because they are not regulated by any government agencies they are free to list, or rather, not to list what is inside. What is it that they don’t list? The major omission is phthalates. Phthalates are a type of hormone disrupting chemical that, according to the State of California, are “known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm.”

In a test conducted in 2007 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 12 out of 14 aerosol products contained toxic levels of phthalates. The levels detected were high enough in concentration to easily enter the human blood system through inhalation or absorption through the skin. The NRDC is currently “petitioning the EPA and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to do more comprehensive testing and to take action to protect the public from dangerous chemicals in air fresheners.”

Other chemicals that are present in several air freshener products are para-dichlorobenzene, napthalend and formaldehyde, all of which are central nervous system depressants. These toxins are the major component in sick building syndrome and can cause everything from asthma to cancer when there is consistent exposure.

The Dangers of Ozone and Ion Producing Air Cleaners

Sprays and plug ins aren’t the only home air cleaners that are potentially harmful. Ozone emitting machines that claim to “clean” the air by releasing ozone into the atmosphere actually do very little to disinfect the air. The smell of ozone is sweet, like the air after a rainfall, and lends itself to the claim that the air is “cleaner” because of the pleasant odor.

So what’s so bad about having some extra ozone in your house? Well, ozone is a molecule in which three oxygen atoms are fused together. This molecular structure is not very stable and quickly breaks down with one oxygen atom releasing from the other two. This “rogue” atom will attach itself to organic materials and change their chemical properties just as the manufacturers’ claim it will. What isn’t said is that this can, and will, happen inside the body just as it will outside the body.

When the ozone breaks down in the body the extra oxygen atom attaches to the interior lining of the lungs causing severe damage. Exposure to ozone can cause coughing, throat irritation, chest pain, shortness of breath and the worsening of asthma and other chronic pulmonary diseases. It can also weaken the immune system and hamper the body’s ability to fight off disease.

Ion producing home air cleaners work by creating negative ions that attach themselves to dirt and dust particles to take them out of the air. Often, especially if the ionic cleaner is near a wall, there will be a build-up of black dust near the machine. This is because the ionic cleaner is very effective at producing the static charge that catches dust particles. Why is this a bad thing? The ionic static is so strong that if the dust particles are inhaled they cling to the interior of the lungs and are not exhaled as normal dust is. This causes the lungs to become inefficient in providing oxygen to the bloodstream leading to all sorts of respiratory problems including asthma and COPD.

Natural Home Air Cleaners

houseplants

With all of the possible health risks involved in using chemical sprays and mechanical air “purifiers” one might wonder if there really is a safe way to remove air pollution from inside a home or office environment. There is and it is a very simple and efficient, not to mention aesthetically pleasing alternative – foliage plants.

In a study co-funded by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) it was determined that plants can remove up to 85% of environmental air toxins in a period of 24 hours. Further it was suggested that the density of foliage and type of plant were of considerable importance. The study suggested that there be at least one six inch plant for every 100 sq. ft. of indoor space with more than this only offering more benefits.

Houseplants make especially good filters because they are acclimated to common household temperatures because they come from a tropical environment. In the wild these plants are adapted to low light due to growing beneath a thick canopy of tropical trees. This combination of low light and tropical temperature tolerability make these varieties of houseplants the best for indoor use.

Using houseplants as air filters to combat sick building syndrome allows you to have a living filter that looks just as good as it works. The natural foliage and flowers on several of these varieties can be added to an existing interior design or made into a planted focal point.

Finding these plants is simple as well. All of the varieties on the list are readily available at most local nurseries and for very reasonable prices. In fact, purchasing 20 plants to cover a 2,000 sq. ft. home will cost just about the same amount as two ionic or ozone home air cleaners. So bring some life into your home or office and take your first step into green cleaning with an easily sustained living indoor air cleaning system.

~ Kenneth Sleight

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About the Author

With the endless passion for organic living, I - Ann Sanders has come up with the idea of creating A Green Hand. Being the founder and editor of A Green Hand, my goal is to provide everyone with a wide range of tips about healthy lifestyle with multiform categories including gardening, health & beauty, food recipe,...