One silent but potentially deadly threat to overall wellness is indoor air quality. Since people sleep, eat and work mostly indoors, it’s important to limit the presence of harmful chemicals in these environments, effectively limiting the health issues they can cause
One group of these chemicals, known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are abundant in most indoor areas largely because of their presence in consumer products, as well as in building materials and other things produced by mass industry.
VOCs are unique in that they vaporize at room temperature. This is why the bathroom smells a certain way after it’s been cleaned, or it’s always easy to tell when a room has been freshly painted.
The Impacts of VOCs
Overexposure can be felt as lightheadedness, dizziness, a headache, loss of vision or coordination, or even memory impairment. But long-term effects can be liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, and maybe even cancer.
And this without mentioning their negative environmental effect. Limiting the presence of these chemicals a matter of not only environmental protection but also public health. These chemicals can pollute marine environments, and many are greenhouse gases, contributing to global temperature rise.
The best way to limit exposure is to remove the presence of these compounds from the home by using natural products, or by making sure areas where concentrations may be high are well-ventilated. But even when all measures have been taken, it’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate these airborne chemicals. Yet actively removing VOCs from the home is possible, and doing so requires a pollutant abatement strategy assisted by some unexpected friends.
The VOC-absorbing Plants
Some plants happen to be really good at absorbing harmful toxins from the air. It’s been known for a long time that plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, therefore providing clean air for other life forms to breathe, but this ability to painlessly store harmful chemicals is something just now being understood.
This is not to say that putting these plants will remove all VOCs from the home. It’s still important to take all safety precautions, and it’s especially important to install a smart indoor air quality monitor to measure concentrations and prevent them from reaching levels that can cause health problems.
But these plants can still do wonders in helping improve indoor air quality. Most of them can be grown at any temperature and require little to no maintenance.
Here are some of the most effective toxin-fighting plants:
The Areca Palm
Also known as the “butterfly palm,” this plant has been found to remove more xylene and toluene from the air than any other plant. It’s a relatively low-maintenance plant requiring little water and minimal sunlight, although it does enjoy a humid environment. It’s decorative, but it’s also effective at removing harmful toxins from the air.
Named for its resemblance to the famous bamboo three, the bamboo palm is known for being particularly effective at removing formaldehyde one of the most common VOCs out there, formaldehyde, from the air. It’s also been shown to be effective in reducing benzene concentrations. These plants also give off water vapor, too, giving the room humidity and making it easier to regulate temperature in an energy efficient manner.
A great plant to grow at any temperature, the rubber plant has also been found to be effective in removing formaldehyde from the air, making it an easy-to-maintain pollutant removal option.
Dracaena “Janet Craig”
This particular plant has been rated for having very high removal efficiency. It’s known as one of the best plants for cleaning trichloroethylene (TCE) from the air. But it’s also been known to clean around 78 percent of the benzene in the air within 24 hours.
This is another good option when looking at plants to help purify and cleanse the air. Peace lily is known to remove organic toxins such as alcohols, acetone, benzene, TCE and formaldehyde. And because it also gives off water vapor, it helps keep air full of moisture and easy to breathe.
There are many other plants that can help to reduce VOC concentrations in the home and improve air quality. But these are some of the most effective and easy to maintain. Putting them in the home can help dramatically improve air quality and overall health.
For more information on VOCs, here are some additional resources:
List of Common Volatile Organic Compounds. Aromatic hydrocarbons are everywhere. Know which VOCs are most common and where they come from to keep concentrations low.
Organic Chemicals: VOCs in Paint. Paint is one of the most common sources of toxic chemicals. Learn more about how to avoid exposure.
Volatile Organic Compounds in Cigarette Smoke. As one of the biggest dangers to health, it should be no surprise that cigarette smoke has high concentrations of harmful chemicals.