Another Reason to Love Those Houseplants


Alright, I really have seen everything now. Big Ox canned oxygen? Really? Here's a taste of its purveyor's snappy marketing patter: "Because of increased pollution and the continued destruction of our forests, you might not always be getting the oxygen you need for your active lifestyle." So, never mind reducing our collective carbon footprint or relying on more renewable natural resources for paper, clothing, and other needs. No, the solution to our air quality woes, naturally, is to purchase Big Ox, an "89 percent flavored oxygen-enriched breathing mixture," at 10 bucks a pop.

Well, I say there's a cheaper -- and infinitely more reasonable -- fix for the quality of our indoor air at least. Many of the houseplants with which we share our homes and offices happen to be silent, toxic avengers, removing airborne toxins like formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, and acetone as a matter of course. Turns out those pollutants are all around us in the form of cigarette smoke, cleaning supplies, off-gassing from carpeting, paint, and plastics, and much more, and our plants replace those nasty chemicals with fresh (albeit unflavored) oxygen. According to a relatively ancient NASA study, different plants remove assorted chemicals in different amounts. For instance, the common philodendron, spider plant, devil's ivy, and Boston fern naturally remove formaldehyde from the air, and peace lilies, chrysanthemums, and gerbera daisies are said to filter out benzene and trichloroethylene. A few other hard workers include the bamboo palm, Chinese evergreen, Janet Craig dracaena, English ivy, snake plant, and rubber plant.

To find out which plants filtered which chemicals, researchers Bill Wolverton, Rebecca McDonald, and E. A. Watkins isolated 400 different types of plants in individual, sealed chambers in which they pumped a series of toxic compounds. They then measured the levels of airborne contaminants in 12-hour intervals, and ultimately posited that the air in a home that's 1,800 square feet with eight-foot ceilings could be scrubbed with just 15 spider plants. That works out to about one potted plant per 100 to 120 square feet of living space. And spider plants are OK, but I prefer to mix things up a little. OK, a lot, actually. In fact, my tiny bungalow is so crammed with plants, it's a wonder I've not yet been hospitalized for hyperoxia! Hmmm. . . 

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