10 Air Purifying Plants to Help You Keep a Greener Home

A few years ago I was investigating the best ways of purifying the air in my house using natural methods. I’m increasingly worried about the levels of toxins in the air we breathe and wanted to see if there was anything I could do to off set them in my home, even if only in a small way. Living just outside of a major city, I want to actively do something to help combat the effects of the ever present pollution in the air I breathe. I’m sure I’m not alone, especially with the mounting environmental concerns that are only getting worse the more we discover the effects we are having with the methods we’ve been using. From producing electricity using unsustainable methods to overloading our sewage systems and what we’re putting in the products we’re using on our bodies, it’s hard not to feel like a passenger on a sinking ship.

I did some research on the subject and the advice that kept coming up was to plant more trees. As I’ve said above, I live on the outskirts of a large city. So planting more trees just isn’t practical advise. I use Ecosia, which is a search engine that plants a tree for every query I make, but that doesn’t make me feel like I’m having an impact on my immediate environment. It’s nice to know that there are people planting trees in far away places, but I want to make a difference in my immediate surrounds.

And I refused to believe that the only way to create a higher quality of air in my house is by planting more trees. Not that I’m against the idea but there are so many other species of plants on earth. Surely some of them must be able to do even a tenth of the job that a typical tree does during the course of a day.

So I did some more research and what I found was that NASA is already on it. In the 70’s, NASA found that some employees were complaining of allergy symptoms while working in newly constructed buildings. When they looked into the matter further, they discovered that the new construction, along with the furnishings and machines that were cohabitating spaces with the workers, were off-gassing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are dangerous to human health.

VOCs are still an issue in general. I’m not entirely sure how long homes off-gas VOCs for, but some of the compounds they emit include benzene (plastics, gasoline, think anything made from petroleum), formaldehyde (used in building materials and household cleaners and beauty products), carbon monoxide (off gassed by gas ranges or boilers, anything using gas, coal or wood in the home as well as car exhaust), xylene (a solvent used in the leather, rubber, paper and automotive industries), trichloroethylene (a chemical found in stain and paint removers), ammonia (found in window cleaners but also used in agriculture as a fertilizer, another reason to buy organic) and toluene (adhesives and paint thinners). This is not an exhaustive list, and all VOCs are toxic to humans. Definitely not something I want floating around my house if I can help it.

Luckily for us, some common house plants take in these toxic gasses, along with the microorganisms in the soil as well as their roots. From what I understood of the study, plants filter these VOCs by taking them in through the soil and roots or directly into the leaves, and then they are passed to the plant where they become part of the plant. The plant sequesters the VOCs and holds them, rendering them harmless to humans.

It only makes sense that nature has a solution, but it’s still satisfying to think about how it solves this particular problem. And all the while creating fresh oxygen for us to breath. “So what are these plants”, you may be wondering. For the rest of this post, I’ll go over the plants I have and am looking for, why I chose them and what their benefits are. Also a little bit on how to care for them too. Because there’s no point in picking up a new plant to help keep you healthy if you don’t know how to keep it alive!

I believe one of the first plants I got to help purify the air in my house was a peace lily. The peace lily is adept at breaking down compounds such as, benzene, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. The reason this plant is so appealing to me is that, if you like me, live in a city with lots of traffic, the ability to break down carbon monoxide and benzene are two compounds I want to focus on. Seeing how these particular VOCs are so prolific around traffic congested areas like cities, this is something the peace lily will handle.

They like moderate or medium light, which means partially shaded with not much direct sunlight. They take fertilizer in the summer months, about every six weeks according to The Farmers Almanac. And it’s easy to tell when it’s time to water you peace lily because the leaves will become limp and droop. I water mine about every two to three weeks.

The next plant on my list is the snake plant. This plant is stellar at removing formaldehyde from the air. This is a good thing considering formaldehyde is in an awful lot of our personal hygiene products. And according to RollingNature.com, where most plants will release carbon dioxide at night, the snake plant, or Sansevieria will produce oxygen. Paired with the peace lily, not only will you be reduce the carbon monoxide in your home, you will be replacing it with fresh oxygen. Win win.

This plant is a succulent, which means it’s pretty hearty. That said, as with all succulents, if you over water them they will develop root rot. You should wait until the soil dries out completely before watering. And when in doubt, wait a little. These guys are drought resistant so err on the side of under watering. They will tolerate many different light settings but prefer bright, indirect light.

Next up is the dracaena plant. This guy is known for removing formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene from the local environment. They’re especially good at removing formaldehyde, so a good location for this plant may be in the bathroom or near your vanity. Wherever you use most of your soaps, beauty and hygiene products.

Luckily, most of the plants on this list are pretty hearty and the dracaena is no exception. They don’t require a lot of water. Keeping the soil slightly damp should be enough to take care of its watering needs. I water mine about once every two weeks. They’re also sensitive to fluoride and watering with filtered water will help to keep this plant at its healthiest. The fluoride in our drinking water imparts brown crispy spots on their leaves. Filtered sun is best and never place these guys in direct sunlight. Direct rays can scorch the leaves of this guy leaving it looking a little crispy.

Another succulent on my list, the next plant is the aloe vera. This plant is kind of amazing. It’s good at removing benzene and formaldehyde, but it’s ability to reduce carbon dioxide and produce oxygen is nine to one when compared with other plants! It takes carbon dioxide in during the night, and when exposed to sunlight it releases the oxygen back into the air. And it’s sometimes referred to as an oxygen bomb! That’s pretty badass for a plant if you ask me 🙂 The insides of the aloe are also used to soothe minor burns and scratches.

Caring for this succulent is easy since they don’t require much attention. When watering, do not water often, but water deeply. I think I let mine go at least three to four weeks between waterings. They are a succulent, so again, too much water will cause root rot. Let the soil become pretty dry before watering your aloe again. They enjoy bright indirect light. I place mine just on the outskirts of my eastern facing window, away from the morning sunlight. This allows them to gain the benefit of the bright morning sun without being directly in the sun’s rays.

The spider plant is another air purifying plant that made NASA’s list. Also known as an airplane plant, spider plants are stellar at the ability to remove formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene from the environment they inhabit.

As far as watering and sunlight needs, this plant is easy to care for. While they are small and just becoming established, you’ll want to water them once a week. After the first year, you can reduce their water schedule to once every two weeks. These plants will also produce shoots with what look like baby spider plants. And if you plant these little guys in soil and keep them well watered and attached to the mother plant, that’s exactly what they’ll become! They also prefer bright, indirect sunlight. So near a sunny window, without being directly in the sun’s rays.

English Ivy is another plant that made the list. English ivy is known for its ability to clean formaldehyde, benzene and xylene, as well as reducing molds and fecal matter from the air. It’s resilient and easy to grow as well. These aggressive plants are found growing mostly in Europe and North America, and take well to containers for in the home as well as for landscaping outside on a larger scale.

They are resilient plants, and prefer bright, direct sunlight. Their watering needs aren’t complex either. They like to be a bit on the drier side, so water once the top inch of the soil dries out. This ivy also needs to be fed on a fairly regular basis. Once a month during the growing season. From spring to fall, while suspending the feedings during the winter months. English ivy also benefits from having the dust removed from its leaves once and a while. Gardening Know How suggests to give your ivy a quick shower to remove any dust and pests that have found their way onto your ivy. Plus, you have a new shower buddy! Jk, don’t use soap on this plant, or any plants. It may not kill them, but it isn’t a guarente : )

Next up is the Rhapis excelsa, aka the lady palm. This palm is able to scrub formaldehyde and xylene from the air, but is best known for its ability to filter ammonia from the atmosphere. They also help to keep their environment higher in humidity. Something beneficial to not only its human cohabitants, but also their fellow plant friends as well. Ferns in particular thrive in humid environments. So the ability to regulate the moisture in the growing space is important.

Lighting requirements for the lady palm are bright, indirect light. The same strategy I use for the aloe vera plant should work for the lady palm as well. Near an eastern facing window, just out of the morning sun’s rays. Let the top inch of soil dry out before waterings and let the soil dry more so during the winter months. And fertilize only in the summer months with fertilizer diluted to half strength.

Weeping fig, or the ficus tree is another plant adept at filtering formaldehyde and xylene from its environment. This plant is considerably sensitive to its environment and, if moved may drop leaves as it adapts to its new location. This is another plant that prefers to be in a humid atmosphere. Like its fern friends, it would benefit from being in a room with a humidifier or the bathroom.

The weeping fig likes to have moist soil through the growing season, which is from spring to fall. And requiring fewer waterings during the winter months. During these months, let the soil dry out up to two inches before watering your weeping fig again. As for lighting needs, this plant loves indirect, bright sunlight. Keeping them just outside of the sun’s direct rays will be their ideal location. Fertilize your weeping fig during the spring and summer months using an all purpose houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength.

The Boston fern is another plant on the list that is exceptional at removing formaldehyde from the air. But benzene and xylene are also among its impressive cleansing abilities. This is another plant that would benefit from being in a humid environment. Either in the bathroom (if it doesn’t already look like a jungle in there by now), or with a humidifier.

The soil of the Boston fern likes to be kept moist. Check your plant often to make sure that the soil is moist enough and don’t go too long between waterings. You also only need to fertilize this plant a few times a year. Maybe once a season during its growing season, spring to fall. And these plants do well in low to indirect sunlight. Nothing to close to an eastern or southern facing window.

The bamboo palm is next up and last on this list of air purifying plants. The bamboo palm is not to be confused with lucky bamboo, which is actually a relative of another plant on this list, the dracaenia plant, or dragon tree. It is best at scrubbing formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and benzene from the environment.

For its watering needs, this plant likes to have moist soil. When watering wait for the top layer of soil to dry out before rewatering and don’t let your plant sit in standing water. This palm does well in low light settings but will grow faster in brighter light. Keep out of direct sunlight. You can use time release fertilizer during the growing season which is spring to fall.

I’m currently looking for a list of beauty and cleaning products that contain formaldehyde, and when I do find one, I’ll be posting it on the community page. For those of you who are as concerned as I am about the contents of the products we use. If you’re ready to make the jump to something more natural, Mrs. Meyers has a ingredient index list that should help guide you in some of your household cleaning and beauty purchases.

As for tools that may come in handy for caring for your new plant friends, it may be beneficial to purchase a small humidifier to help keep your environment just right for some of your moisture loving plants like ferns or weeping fig. It’s also helpful for us humans as well 🙂

Also, a lot of the care information I received was adapted from Gardening Know How as well as The Farmers Almanac. These two sites have loads of helpful advice on how to care for and maintain your plant friends. I also use an app on my phone to remind me when it’s time to water and feed my plants. Vera, from Bloomscape is free and has been indispensable for me to remember when to water and fertilize, as well as other tasks you may need to remember for general plant care. There have been many a plant that have met their end while in my care before I had some assistance, I’m not too proud to say. If you’re like me and need a little help in the remembering department, this app may be worth looking into.

That wraps up my round up (no round-up was used by me during the writing of this post) of air purifying plants. It feels good knowing we can make a difference, however small, by tending to and caring for some green space in our homes. Until next time, be well, happy gardening 🙂 and peace.

Here are some links to some resources on what VOCs are and where they are found. The DOH in New York released this PDF on VOCs and some products they are found in. This post from One Green Planet lists common household items that contain VOCs. And this article from Science News for Students has a rudimentary list of consumer products containing VOCs. I haven’t found specific brands that contain certain VOCs, but when I do I’ll post it on my community page. If you find anything please feel free to share below in the comments section.

Image Credits: “🌿🌱🌿🌱🌿 #tokyo #japan #house #plants #street” by DocChewbacca is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Walking in Nature: The Netflix Alternative

Lately I’ve got it in me to hike more of the local trails. Ones I’ve never hiked before or have already done only a few times. It started a couple of weeks ago when my stepmom told me our town had a forest. I’ve been hiking in general for a while and have done a few of the local hikes but our town is a small one and on the outskirts of Boston. We barely have a commons let alone an entire wooded area enough for a forest! But rest assured it’s here. 47 acres or so the sign informed me. It is also deer tick season, FYI.

So on one of my days off I set out for the forest. The trail was about a mile long and the walk to the woods I believe was slightly longer than the actual hike itself. But all in all it wasn’t a bad hike. It abuts some swampland and off in the distance I could here the machinery of the local aggregate industries hammering away. It was surprisingly hilly for its short distance and halfway through there was an old derelict car from the 50’s or 60’s. Rusted out and adorned with broken bottles and what I think were old roofing tiles.

Not the prettiest hike I’ve done but it was nice to get out into nature and enjoy the first few warm days of spring. Since I’ve done a few more hikes all within a few miles of where I live. But just being able to get out and enjoy the warmth of the sun, to hear the birds calling and see the forest come to life after what always seems to feel like too long a winter is good for the spirit. It reminds me of how connected we are to our environment. Which got me to thinking how our connection to nature has been a particularly pointed perspective. Especially with climate change and how obsessed we are with our technologies.

I commute into work now, Cambridge MA. And since the Corona virus the commute has been a lot less crowded. But before we had to stay home the trains were packed. hundreds of people all sitting next to one another, shoulder to shoulder. But if you were to close your eyes it would seem as though you were completely alone. Not a sound. Only the busy typing on touch screens and so many headphones that if they had cords, they would probably wrap around the length of the train a few times.

I’m not saying this to take some sort of moral stance against technology. I enjoy it. I’m typing outside on my porch right now listening to music while in the distance I can see and hear the sounds of waves scrubbing the beach. But it seems to me as though our priorities have been skewed.

The outdoors used to be a place that we would go to wake up into our senses. Be in the body and feel the wind on our face. Smell the ocean and trees in bloom and feel the sun on our skin. And now, for some, it’s a place to store our garbage and impromptu garage. Collectively we’ve become so dissociated from our surroundings by shutting ourselves in and cutting off from the rest the world that it feels like if you didn’t see it on social media, or didn’t watch it on Netflix, it didn’t really happen. So much so that we’ve became a culture raised on anything we can binge on. From fast-food and television.

And again, I’m not trying to take a moral stance against takeout and television. Both have there place. But when we use tech to completely disconnect and binge on television or takeout, or anything bingeable, here is where the problem lies and the dissociation starts.

Now I’m not suggesting that we reinvent the wheel or anything. By going completely apeshit and swinging in the other direction by throwing out or T.V.’s and become urban homesteading fascists. Instead why not search for local green spaces to explore. Then some Sunday instead of tuning into Netflix and stuffing yourself full of things you’ll probably feel bad about later, and possibly while you’re doing it, you could reconnect with yourself. And appreciate the natural world that has been going largely unnoticed as of late.

So again, I’m not saying tech, takeout or television are bad things. They have there place and I know I for one am grateful for them. But they aren’t the pinnacle of our cultural achievements. They’re just things that make life a little easier. If we make some small changes, like getting out and exploring some local hikes, we’ll probably come to appreciate them a little more. And this will lead to having a greater sense of fulfillment. Being a part of the world we are living in instead of cutting off from it.

Image credits: Adam Sergott, a photo I took atop Mt. Mooseilauke NC.

Whose Turn was it to take out the Garbage?

I live in a pretty small town. It’s a suburb of Boston. Fairly affluent and close to the water. I walk a lot of places because most of what I need is in walking distance. There’s a shopping center near my house with a Whole Foods that I often visit. It’s a nice walk. Mostly through neighborhoods and some green spaces but I’m always surprised by how much garbage there is on the ground in these fairly wealthy neighborhoods.

There’s a stretch of wooded area that is about an eighth of a mile long, and it is packed with garbage for about six to seven feet into the woods. It’s weird. I’m not sure how it’s gotten there or continues to collect. But my best guess is that it happens on windy trash pickup days when the elements have the chance to spread some of the garbage around. Either way the point is whose job is it to clean this mess up?

If my guess is correct then it’s really no one’s fault that there is garbage on the streets and in our neighborhoods. But that doesn’t help to solve the issue of, how do we clean this mess up? It may seem fairly benign. But the communities that are hit hardest are the poorest.

I used to live in what some people would call, “the ghetto”, but all in all it wasn’t such a bad neighborhood. Sure the apartments were crowded, over packed and falling apart. And the kids where lighting firecrackers off in the middle of the night in the streets. But the people were usually pretty friendly. I used to chat with my downstairs neighbor often while I was coming in or going out. He was a smoker so I’d see him on the porch and we’d fall into conversations.

One time we spoke about the garbage in the streets at the bottom of the hill we lived on. I kept trying to bullster his spirits by telling him that it was just being washed by the rain from the top of the hill and he just stared off into the distance and said, “this place is so dirty”. I felt bad and the hopelessness in his voice was palpable. So I ended the conversation. But you could tell it’s something that he’s thought about often and to no avail.

On the other side of the coin my dad walks the beach by our house. And when the weather is nice he’ll bring a bucket and some grabbers and pick up whatever is on the beach. Sometimes he’ll fill the bucket five to six times a trip. Not only that but he’s inspired other beach walkers to do the same. “Sometimes” he says, “there’s nothing to pick up at all.”

That’s great news to be sure but that kind of comradery shouldn’t only have to happen in the scenic places. What about the places like the stretch of woods I walk by? Out of sight out of mind? And the neighborhood I used to live in? These places need our attention as much as the scenic ones do. And I believe it should be the job of not just the neighborhood to clean them up but all able bodies in the surrounding area.

All of this sounds pretty idyllic. And I agree it’s hard to imagine some of the people in the neighborhood scouring the streets and woods for rotting pieces of garbage. One of the reasons I believe that the idea is such an unappealing task is because the people doing it now are usually in cuffs and orange jumpers. Paying society back for some grievance they’ve committed.

The only issue I take with this is that it’s our mess. Why aren’t we cleaning it up? We clean our houses, make our beds, fold laundry. We clean our yards and take out the garbage from our houses. Why does it have to stop there?

I visited Japan years ago and was amazed at how clean everything seemed. No litter on the streets and the flora and green spaces were manicured and well kept. It was refreshing. In an article on Japan Today titled “8 Reasons Japan is so Clean“, author Amy Chavez goes into detail about why Japan is so adept at keeping its streets and green spaces clean. She mostly attributes it to social responsibility and cleaning up each person’s own space including around their homes and places of work. But the sense of responsibility, follow through and dedication each person has to their own and others shared spaces is what’s so inspiring about this aspect of Japanese culture.

A friend of mine who lives in a neighboring city has started a group that does exactly what I’m writing about. In the spring and summer months she gathers a group of locals and they choose a section of the city to clean. They spend the afternoon cleaning. If we could replicate this across the country, we’d have beautiful green spaces and city streets. But we have to get involved.

This is something that is doable and it starts with us. Our determination and our ability to care about our shared collective spaces and the environment at large. So let’s all get involved in looking after and caring for our green spaces and city streets. We created the mess, it’s time for us to clean it up.

Image credits: “Trash” by computerwhiz417 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 

Socio-eco-Blah-Blah-Blah

Canteen tent, Bedouin Camp in the Sahara
Example of a Yrt, “Canteen tent, Bedouin Camp in the Sahara” by jonl1973 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

For some reason I got it in me that I needed to start throwing pottery. So I walked to a pottery studio that is about a mile and a half from where I live. The studio was beautiful. It was in an old brick factory of some sort, built at the turn of the nineteenth century. Four floors filled with artist’s studios and kinetic energies of all kinds. The vibes were indeed good.

While on my walk home I took a different route from the one that got me there. And where the studio itself was inspiring, brick laiden with pieces of ceramics in various stages of completeness crafted by the earthy hands of Carhartt robed artisans, it was the homes on my way back that struck a chord with my creativity. What was most striking to me was the driveway of the apartment buildings in the outskirts of a small urban city that borders where I live.

What was so interesting about these driveways was that they were adorned with tents. Like carports only used as a gathering space instead of, well carports. And with the yards and driveways so packed together they almost carried an air of being gypsy like. Or possibly the ways that the nomadic cultures of Mongolia use yrts as moveable structures to follow the herds to greener pastures. Either metaphor falls short of the surreal feeling of a temporary community popping up in and around the more permanent apartment buildings. In the sea of tiered concrete and single-family homes that they were cohabitating with it seemed strange indeed.

The possibility seemed so whimsical, but the idea really didn’t begin to unfold for me until on my walk home. Walking through a different section of town where I saw the more creative uses of gardening spaces in driveways. And the spaces between the sidewalk and the street where sometimes you will see a small strip of green space.

I thought, what if you could take these two ideas, the temporary feel and nature of the tents and mix that with the creative gardening and rich texture of the yrt?” I imagine you’d create community. Each tier would be a different level of connection, comfort and ease mixed with vibrancy. A place where friends, neighbors and Family could gather and cook out or play games. What’s stopping us from creating something so beautiful? Perceived socioeconomic class boundaries.

The main idea of success in America is usually wealth based. How much money, land, cars, stuff can we accumulate to make our lives more prestigious and comfortable? Enviable of our neighbors, friends and social circles. How are we being ranked in the eyes of those we want to be seen as being successful. This is an old story for sure. I’m not blowing any minds so far but it’s a yolk that seems to regenerate itself each generation.

The sixties for example. Free love wasn’t just some catch phrase to sell a product or to get people to do drugs. It was about actually giving love freely to one another. Instead of, to borrow a line from Bens Fold Five, being so “selfless cold and composed.” But the part of us that fears egalitarianism because we feel it devalues our self-worth the more we raise the worth of another, took the feelings of love and freedom and turned it into a fashion trend. And that’s not a knock on fashion either.

Fashion is usually the entryway into self-discovery, getting to know who we are as feeling beings. It only becomes a problem when somebody else wants to put their name on our underwear and claim us as a victim of their fashion war. I’m looking at you Vicky. Full disclosure, I am wearing Lucky Brand underwear but I usually just buy whatever is on sale at Marshell’s.

So if wealth and status have been the markers of success in our society then packing ourselves together to share a space that is warm and filled with a caring community of friends, family and neighbors, would sound crazy in the eyes of those who have achieved success or those aspirants to the “successful life”. More to the point I imagine if it became popular to create outdoor shared spaces of community those same minded successful would create it, then put a fence around it and control whom could and could not come into their space. This creates homogeneity and reinforces the same sort of class warfare conditions that separates “us from them”. The key ingredient to creating a community of freely flowing ideas found by bringing together a diverse battery of individuals.

When my father and step-mother watch T.V. they mute the commercials and read a book or talk about something that is relevant to their day’s or to what they’re watching. This may not be the answer to how we create more community but it’s a start for sure. Instead of being driven and influenced by what we see advertised or what we hear our friends and family talk about wanting, why not be driven by authentic connection and knowing what it is that opens that space of connection between us and those we love? For example, I know my father puts cinnamon in his coffee every morning before brewing. So for Christmas I’m looking for an especially tasty type of organic ceylon cinnamon. As a special treat for their morning coffee.

This is the type of connection mixed with action that creates community. Thoughtful and inquisitive but also with some follow through and to have “the ability to let that which does not matter, truly slide”-Tyler Durden. A.k.a. all the latest trends or anything that is preventing us from connecting to our authentic selves and getting to know each other in an authentic way.

So it is in this vein that I suggest we build and create a space of comfort and community. A space of enough, being together in nature in the rustic. But also the urban or suburban and create something beautiful that we can all use as a catalyst in getting to know one another in authentic and loving ways. Regardless of how someone may try to privities or patent it :]

No fights were started, nor credit card companies destroyed in the writing of this article. Nor does the author condone the use of violence toward achieving any end.