Breathing Space

G Magazine

Detox the air inside your home or office with some hard-working pot plants

indoor plant

Credit: stock.xchng/Christopher Harper

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Most of us tend to associate being indoors with feeling sheltered and safe. But studies show that air pollution is usually greater inside that out.

If what the CSIRO says is true - that we spend more than 90 per cent of our time indoors - it will pay for you to read on.

The good news is that indoor plants have been shown to clean the indoor environment of pollutants.

Poor quality air inside buildings can be attributed to outdoor pollutants getting in - and staying in - combines with pollutants originating inside the four walls.

These indoor toxins include house dust, emissions from gas appliances, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), air fresheners, furniture cleaners, shampoos, paints and glues.

Even low levels of pollutants can cause problems like headaches and nausea and can lead to chronic health problems in the long term.

Yet it's not all grim. Indoor plants have been shown to clean the indoor environment of pollutants dramatically.

The idea of plants sucking up toxins out of the air is not new. In 1984, NASA found that house plants do in fact filter the air.

More recently, Margaret Burchett, a plant physiologist, biochemist and toxicologist from the University of Technology Sydney found that it's the microorganisms in the potting mix that do the bulk of the work.

Byrchett tested six plants:

  • Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum 'Petite' and S. 'Sensation')
  • Dracaena marginata
  • Dracaena deremensis
  • Devil's Ivy (Epipremnum aureum)
  • Umbrella tree (Schefflera 'Amate').

Burchett's research was conducted in a range of Sydney office environments and she found that extremely high levels of pollutants were reduced to negligible amounts.

This happened each time pollutants were added to the plant-filled rooms.It seems that once a plant is stimulated to a single dose of toxins, the plants continue to soak up the nasties.

"Any standard indoor plant will do it," says Burchett.

"The plant plays a drirect role, but its main task is feeding and supporting microorganisms."

Ray Borg, of Rentokil Tropical Plants, who supplies interior greenery, is understandably delighted by the findings: "This complements other research around the world showing indoor plants can also improve humidity, have a cooling effect, can reduce noise and have a positive impact on staff morale and productivity."

This doesn't mean you need to create an indoor jungle in your office or bedroom: the UTS study found that a smaller number of plants are equally effective as a much larger collection.

So depending on your taste and space, contenders for indoor space are:

  • Bromeliads
  • Fatsia japonica
  • Sanseveriera trifasciata (Mother In Law's Tongue)
  • Yucca and the dramatic
  • Ficus decore (Red Rubber plant)
  • the unkillable Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)