In the 1960s, scientist Bill Wolverton was working with the US Military to clean up Agent Orange and made an amazing discovery. The swamp plants in one of the facilities were actually cleaning the air of the chemical! Since then, Wolverton has led many studies on air quality and the effect of plants.
Assuring that you spend most of your time in clean air is one of the most important things you can do for your health. When we box ourselves off indoors without plants and have all sorts of off-gassing chemicals in the air, it's a quite unnatural experience that our bodies are not equipped to deal with! We evolved with plants around us, and we are finding out just how helpful they are in cleaning the air. Interestingly, researchers working on the NASA Clean Air Study found that it's not just the foliage of the plants that clear toxins from the air, it's the live microorganisms in the soil that are interacting with the roots of the plants as well! Just another amazing example of how the microorganisms that are invisible to the naked eye are greatly affecting our health! You may be familiar with the idea that exposure to a greater microbiome, like having your children play in the dirt, is better for their immune system as it increases their microbiome diversity.
The following are a list of plants that have been studied to remove benzene, trichloroetheylene, xylene, ammonia, and formaldehyde from the air. As I was looking through research, I felt it fairly important to note that almost no plants performed poorly in the studies, and the ones listed and touted as amazing for toxins are often just the ones that have been studied. The same is true for the chemicals studied. Many chemicals have not been studied, but that does not mean that they are not effected by plants!
***Note, these plants are highly effective! You need a couple of plants per 100 square feet of room you are trying to clean.
- Dwarf Date Palm- Formaldehyde, Xylene
- Boston Fern- Formaldehyde, Xylene
- Kimberly Queen Fern- Formaldehyde, Xylene
- Spider Plant- Formaldehyde, Xylene
- Bamboo Palm- Formaldehyde, Xylene
- Weeping Fig- Formaldehyde, Xylene
- Devils Ivy- Formaldehyde, Xylene, Benzene
- Chinese Evergreen- Formaldehyde, Benzene
- Flamingo Lily- Formaldehyde, Xylene, Ammonia
- LilyTurf- Ammonia, Trichloroethylene, Xylene
- Broad Leaf Lady Palm - Formaldehyde, Xylene, Ammonia
- Braberton Daisy- Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene
- Cornstalk Dracaena- Formaldehyde, Benzene, Trichloroethylene
- English Ivy- Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene, Benzene
- Varagated Snake Plant- Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene, Benzene
- Peace Lily- Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene, Benzene, Ammonia
- Red-edged Dracaena- Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene, Benzene
- Florist's Chrysanthemum- Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene, Benzene, Ammonia
Where Are These Chemicals Coming From?
Formaldehyde: "Indoor sources may be combustion processes such as smoking, heating, cooking, or candle or incense burning (1,5). However, major sources in non-smoking environments appear to be building materials and consumer products that emit formaldehyde (5,6). This applies to new materials and products (7) but can last several months, particularly in conditions with high relative humidity and high indoor temperatures" (Source, WHO Guidelines)
Xylene: "You may also come in contact with xylene from a variety of consumer products, including gasoline, paint, varnish, shellac, rust preventives, and cigarette smoke. Breathing vapors from these types of products can expose you to xylene. In some cases, indoor levels of xylene can be higher than outdoor levels, especially in buildings with poor ventilation. Skin contact with products containing xylene, such as solvents, lacquers, paint thinners and removers, and pesticides may also expose you to xylene.
Besides painters and paint industry workers, others who may be exposed to xylene include biomedical laboratory workers, distillers of xylene, wood processing plant workers, automobile garage workers, metal workers, and furniture refinishers. Workers who routinely come in contact with xylene-containing solvents in the workplace are the population most likely to be exposed to high levels of xylene." (Source CDC ATSDR)
- "Occupational exposures may occur in chemical industries that manufacture: other polychlorinated aliphatic hydrocarbons, flame retardant chemicals, and insecticides where TCE is a chemical intermediate, pentachloroethane, polyvinyl chloride
- Other potential exposures occur in the manufacturing processes of: disinfectants, dyes, perfumes, pharmaceuticals, soaps
- The following occupations also have increased likelihood of exposure: dry cleaners, mechanics, oil processors, printers, resin workers, rubber cementers, shoemakers, textile and fabric cleaners, varnish workers, workers reducing nicotine in tobacco" (Source CDC ATSDR)
- "Benzene is formed from both natural processes and human activities.
- Natural sources of benzene include volcanoes and forest fires. Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke.
- Benzene is widely used in the United States. It ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume.
- Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are used to make plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibers. Benzene is also used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides". (Source CDC)
"The largest source of NH3 emissions is agriculture, including animal husbandry and NH3-based fertilizer applications. Other sources of NH3 include industrial processes, vehicular emissions and volatilization from soils and oceans. Recent studies have indicated that NH3 emissions have been increasing over the last few decades on a global scale." (Source: Study Published in Environmental Sci Pollut Res Int)
Some hints that you might be chemically sensitive to something in your work or home:
New onset of : Allergies, Fatigue, Headache, Rashes, Sensitivity to other products, dizziness, sore throat, respiratory issues (like new onset of asthma or frequent infections).
New: construction either in your building or around it, furniture, ventilation systems
*** You can also rest for these substances in your body using a simple urine test ordered by your doctor
Other suggestions for keeping airborne chemicals and toxins out of your home:
To reduce exposure to almost everything: Take shoes off at the door – many toxins are in the dirt outside, in the yard, in the street -- contaminated with paint, un-burned gasoline from our cars, buses, styrene particles from car tire disintegration, flame retardant, PFCs, Plastics particles, Dioxins – and they get tracked into and around the home. And vacuum well, often. Get a vacuum with a Hepa filter, and a dust meter. Children and pets are most at risk because they are closest to the ground.
Buy a separate HEPA filter for your home or office
- How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office.