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How Houseplants Can Improve Your Health

By Sharon Jacobsen

Did you know that polluted air in the home and workplace is one of the top five public health threats in America? And did you know that it's the main reason for the rise in asthma that's been experienced over the last decade? And what would you say if I told you that NASA scientists have discovered how houseplants can solve the problem of indoor air pollution?

While this may be news to us, the Chinese have known about the benefits of houseplants for centuries and have been using them to create 'living energy' in their homes and workplaces.

The 'living energy' produced by houseplants is said to affect us physically, emotionally and psychologically but just how do plants work?

Harmful Chemicals

NASA scientists conducted experiments with houseplants to ascertain whether or not they could remove volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) from the air. The tests were conclusive and it was decided that everyone would benefit from growing houseplants in the home.

VOCs are found in paints and varnishes, paint strippers and other solvents, aerosol sprays, certain household cleaning products and air fresheners, new carpets, glues, hobby supplies and dry-cleaned clothing. In other words, VOCs are present in your home.

Health Problems

Volatile organic chemicals shouldn't be taken lightly - a wide range of health problems can occur when a build-up of VOCs are found in the air.

As best the effects can be anything from eye, nose and throat irritations to headaches, loss of concentration and nausea. At worst the result could be liver or kidney damage as well as serious damage to nervous system.

Some of these volatile organic chemicals have been proven to cause cancer in animals and there's reason to believe that the same applies to humans.

Plants remove these pollutants from the air through their stoma - small pores in the leaves that they breathe through. The bad air goes in, is cleansed and sent out again as oxygen.

Other Advantages

Although the removal of harmful chemicals from the air is the most important factor, the way houseplants improve our well being is based on a variety of elements.

Plants promote feelings of relaxation and calm, qualities that we all want to feel in our home.

How do they do this?

Softening harsh lines: Feathery palms and ferns should be placed in the corners of rooms to soften them. Ivy and other trailing plants should be used to soften the edges of bookshelves and similar.

The use of color: The color green is known to promote feelings of harmony and, as opposed to the color red, means 'go' - a free passage of harmony is available. Plants come in all shades of green from bright, lime greens to those with very dark, almost black leaves and together they create a palette of tranquility and free flowing balance.

Natural surroundings: With many of us living in cities and large towns and rarely, if ever, getting the chance to enjoy the tranquility of the countryside, bringing nature into the house helps satisfy the same need as outdoor gardening - our need to be in touch with our natural environment.

Improved health: Experiments have shown that thanks to a combination of the removal of chemicals from the air and their relaxation promoting qualities, patients in hospitals where plants are displayed recover faster and with less medication than others.

Which Plants?

While any houseplants are good to have in the home, when it comes to removing toxins, some perform better than others.

In order to make a noticeable difference, it's recommended that you have six inches of plant to every 100 square feet of interior. In other words, there's no need to overload your home with plants in order to promote a healthier atmosphere but a tiny plant in a large room will do little to improve the environment. Use common sense - the larger the room, the larger the plants needed.

The following indoor plants are considered useful to have in the home or workplace:

Ficus - NASA's studies showed Ficus to be the plant that worked hardest at removing harmful chemicals. Otherwise known as the 'weeping fig', this is a plant that should be found in every home.
Bamboo - This graceful plant grows quickly and will thrive in any light conditions and is happy in either dry air or where humidity is high. Handy to use in the bathroom.

Palms - Their soft, sweeping shapes promote an atmosphere of calm. Palms come in all sizes from just a foot high to huge varieties that look magnificent in a high entrance hall.

Ferns - Their feathery foliage is beautiful to look at and as they thrive in humid conditions, the bathroom is often the perfect environment.

Dracaena - Their striking color combinations and unusual forms add a touch of drama to the home or office and are on NASA's list of top performing pollutant removing plants.

English Ivy - Softens the harsh lines of bookshelves and similar edges. Looks lovely climbing around and framing a kitchen window as an alternative to curtains.

Golden Pothos - Another beautiful plant for softening harsh lines and another that NASA has found to be a superior performer when it comes to removing toxic chemicals.

Philodendron - Looks stunning as a specimen plant in a large room where the huge leaves will work hard to remove unwanted chemicals in the air.

Spider Plants - NASA's tests showed that Spider Plants are particularly useful for absorbing gaseous formaldehyde, a dangerous gas that leaks from new furniture.

Flowering Plants

Gerbera Daisy - A pretty flowering plant that will brighten up the room with its large, daisy-like flowers.

Peace Lily - Very easy to grow and will thrive in low light conditions although is generally happiest in good, indirect light. Elegant white flowers are born on long stems throughout the year.

Pot Mums - Nice, compact plants that carry a profusion of blooms in a variety of colors. Excellent for adding a splash of color to a room.

Lavender - A lovely plant to use in the bedroom where the scent will promote peace and relaxation.

The above are merely suggestions - choose the plants that you feel most attracted to but do try to find out which ones are likely to thrive in the location you have in mind. Some are sun lovers while others will only thrive when kept out of direct sunlight. Few will be happy in deep shade although 'Aspidistra' will generally grow anywhere as long as there's some natural light (so forget the broom cupboard!).

Plants in the Bedroom

Some of us grew up believing that plants should never be placed in a bedroom as they were said to steal oxygen during the night.

This is wrong.

During the day, as well as helping to minimize the amount of VOCs in the air, plants absorb the carbon dioxide that we exhale and fill the air with oxygen instead. As they generally absorb more carbon dioxide than they need, this is released back into the air. It's this release that people have considered dangerous.

However, the amount of carbon dioxide a houseplant releases is minimal and the chances are that you'll release far more yourself. You'd have to fill your room with plants for there to be any harmful affect so their cleansing properties by far outweigh any potential problems.

Some professionals believe that VOCs are linked to "Sudden Infant Death Syndrome" and actually recommend placing a small plant in the nursery.


Whether you prefer a small African Violet or a huge Yucca Palm, healthy houseplants make a home look welcoming and cared for and far from being green statues, they work hard for their keep.

Apart from their pollutant removing qualities, seeing plants thrive and grow will also bring pleasure and a sense of satisfaction, both of which will add to our feelings of general well being.

If you've no experience with houseplants, buy the easier to care for varieties first and get yourself a book that explains how to look after them. You don't have to have green fingers - a little common sense goes a long way.


Sharon Jacobsen is a professional freelance writer based in South Cheshire. For a reasonable fee she'll write compelling, informative articles for your website or newsletter. She also writes dynamic sales copy for both web and print media.

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