Cooler temperatures mean more time indoors and an increase in indoor pollutants.
Not only can poor indoor air quality cause asthma and allergies, but it also is a culprit in headaches and fatigue. However, air-purifying plants can help control indoor pollutants.
While all plants have some ability to remove toxins from the air, research in the late 1980s by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America found that placing specific plants indoors can significantly reduce the amount of pollutants in the air because the plants absorb the pollutants.
More recent research by the University of Georgia indicates that the benefit of house plants as air purifiers is more relevant now.
"We spend as much as 90 percent of our time indoors, breathing indoor air that often contains a diverse range of volatile organic compounds, many of which are toxic," Stanley Kays, a horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said in a February 2009 college publication.
Local gardener Jean Kernaghan also touts the use of house plants as air purifiers.
"I keep a few token plants for that purpose inside over the winter," she said. "I work at Tuscany Spa, and when we were getting ready to open five years ago, to lessen the paint smell in our new building I brought in a lot of spider plants and ivy. It worked great."
Air-purifying plants help absorb pollutants that come from carpet, wood panels, paint, people, pets and other sources. Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, also come from electronic equipment, furniture and construction materials.
"Most of these compounds are readily absorbed into our bodies," UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Horticulturist Bodie Pennisi said. "Bad indoor air can result in new house syndrome and sick building syndrome that can cause a diverse cross-section of ailments in those exposed."
To reduce VOC levels in the home, UGA researchers recommend adding a "cross-section of plants, one per 100 square feet of living space. Using active charcoal filters in heating and air conditioning systems helps, too."
The healthier the plant, the more air it can filter. However, plants will not do much to alleviate tobacco smoke or dust.
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