In winter our windows and doors often stay shut for hours on end. What can we do to safely and naturally purify our air? Commercial air purifiers can be toxic because they emit ozone gases or ultraviolet rays. Instead, we can maintain healthy, breathable air in our homes in other, more natural ways.
Perhaps the two best ways to keep air fresh at home are, first, to use ecologically friendly cleaning products. Most indoor pollution is caused by chemical cleaning agents we apply to surfaces in our homes. Second, we can grow houseplants that filter out pollutants and return cleaned air to our rooms.
Clean, Don’t Pollute
The use of nontoxic cleansers and deodorizers in your home ensures that you are not poisoning your environment with harsh chemicals. A jar of vinegar set unobtrusively in a corner will help absorb odours. Sprinkling your carpet with baking soda on a quiet evening, then vacuuming it up the following day before foot traffic resumes will deodorize your broadloom.
Cleansers that contain natural compounds such as sodium carbonate (washing soda) and other minerals such as feldspar and calcium carbonate (limestone) work well for cleaning windows and mirrors. They have been used for years and scour and shine without cratching. For general cleaning, try a basic soap without perfumes or other additives.
Substitute these cleaners for those containing the most common harmful airborne chemicals: formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, and carbon monoxide. Even in low concentrations these chemicals can cause a variety of health problems.
Green in More Ways Than One
According to NASA research scientist, Dr. Bill Wolverton, in his book How to Grow Fresh Air (Penguin, 1997), many houseplants can filter common air pollutants from our homes. Wolverton researched ways to make breathable environments for astronauts in outer space.
According to Dr. Wolverton, one of the best indoor plants is the peace lily, with its dark green glossy leaves and white flowers. It is excellent for clearing toxins such as acetone, benzene, formaldehyde, and more out of the environment.
Because each plant has an affinity for different toxins, use a mix of plants. “The more you have, the faster they’ll work,” says Wolverton. He recommends as a rule of thumb, two or three plants in 8- or 10-inch pots for every 100 square feet of floor space.
How do they do it? Plant leaves absorb and destroy airborne chemicals by a process called “metabolic breakdown.” When plants transpire (emit) water vapour from their leaves into the air, they also pull air down around their roots. Root microbes break down and destroy chemicals in the air and use them as a source of food and energy for themselves and the plant. Root microbes can rapidly adapt to a chemical contaminant by producing new colonies that are resistant to the chemical. As a result, they become more effective the longer they are exposed to the chemical.
We can personally contribute twofold to healthy air at home by growing air-cleansing houseplants and by using natural household cleaners as alternatives to commercial cleaners and so-called “air fresheners” that contain harmful chemicals.
Top 12 “Green” Air Cleaners
Wolverton found the top 12 houseplants that help to filter and clean indoor air most efficiently are:
- Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema pseudobracteatum)
- Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Clevelandii’)
- Arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophyllum)
- English ivy (Hedera helix)
- Corn plant (Dracaena fragran ‘Janet Craig’)
- Devil’s ivy (Scindapsus aureu)
- Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
- Rubber plant (Ficus robusta)
- Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
- Florist’s mum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
- Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’)
- Dwarf date palm (Phoenix roebelenii)