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  • Writer's pictureAlizée CCM

Plants that help clean your air: which ones and why

Our morning routine when you live in Shanghai

You take a quick glance out of the window this morning before heading out. Maybe your view of the Oriental Pearl Tower is not very visible today. You check the air quality app on your phone, see that this afternoon the numbers are trending orange, rummage around for your PM 2.5 mask and then finally decide to hit the road.

If you’re not accustomed to it yet, one of the most frequently talked about aspects of life in Shanghai (and in China) is the air quality. In 2016, the UN reported that 4.2 million people died from ambient air pollution, a heartbreaking statistic and so much so that the UN committed one of the Sustainable Development Goals to include combatting air pollution (SDG 11). But what many of us don’t usually talk about is household pollution or indoor pollution.

So then, what is indoor pollution?

We are quite familiar with the substances that are dangerous to us in the air outside. But inside, there are also certain toxins that we should be aware of. The UN provides a definition for indoor pollution as pollution resulting from use of cooking fuels like kerosene, coal or charcoal. However, indoor pollution can also include other chemicals in the air, released from carpets, glues, cleaning solutions and other synthetic materials like plastic, fiber and rubber. Breathing in large quantities of these chemicals over time may lead to health issues such as respiratory infections and certain heart diseases.

Plants in the House

You may think the plants you see inside buildings or office spaces are just for show. That’s true, plants can brighten up a dingy office. But some plants have also been shown to help indoor spaces through absorbing harmful toxins in the air, thereby reducing indoor pollution. On top of that, they’re relatively inexpensive and natural!

Through their natural processes, certain plants take in toxins and transform them into nutrients.

Common compounds found inside the house like formaldehyde can be filtered from the air by various plants. Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas with a strong odor. We get exposed to off-gassed formaldehyde in our daily lives usually from resins in composite wood products e.g. hardwood, plywood and other household products like paints, lacquers and finishes. Some preservatives in cosmetics and consumer products like dishwashing liquids may also contain traces of formaldehyde.

Xylene is another toxin that is common around the house. Primarily used as a solvent in printing, rubber and leather industries, you may be exposed to xylene through gasoline, rust preventatives and paint, particularly in poorly ventilated spaces. Other toxins responsible for indoor pollution are benzene, ammonia, toluene and trichloroethylene.

Which Plants in the House?

We provide for you a quick list of easy-to-find plants that you can spruce up your office and health with at the same time.

Aloe Vera 芦荟

Keep them in warm, well-lit places, like next to your kitchen window. Not only will they help you tackle formaldehyde, they also have anti-inflammatory properties for those unexpected household wounds. Notice some brown spots on the plant? They appear when the amount of harmful toxins in the air become very high.

Rubber Plants 橡皮树

Originally from India, these plants enjoy bright, filtered light. Weekly watering in the summer should be adequate and fortnightly watering in the winter. Remember to keep the soil moist. Rubber plants are known to absorb carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene among others.

Flamingo Lily 红掌

Looking for a splash of color? Try the Flamingo Lily. Don’t forget to provide a lot of bright indirect sunlight and watering twice a week. Humid conditions also work for this plant so both the bathroom and kitchen will be suitable. Formaldehyde, ammonia, xylene and toluene can be eliminated from the air through this colorful plant.

Chrysanthemum 菊花

A little tougher to take care of but you will be rewarded with not just fresher air but beautiful yellow blooms. Make sure the chrysanthemums get good air flow and a lot of bright but indirect sunlight. Other general plant care advice we’ve found is watering with warm water right near the soil and maintaining soil dampness. Their purifying abilities kick in only when the flowers bloom, so you have to be patient in taking care of it. Once the yellow flowers appear, say bye to formaldehyde, xylene, benzene and ammonia in the room.

Spider Plants 吊兰, 挂兰

Like its namesake, this plant seems to crawl right out of the pot. Great as hanging plants, the spider plants are also very easy to take care of. They like indirect sunlight and are known to survive even the toughest environments. A water two or three times a week should be sufficient. Let them help you tackle formaldehyde and xylene in your house!

We want to note that certain plants may not be suitable for pets in the house, as some of the toxins in the plants can be dangerous to animals. Also do some thorough background research to make sure you pick the right plant for your space. Although these plants have purifying qualities, we want to point out that they are not a 100% guarantee for air purifying.

But still it wouldn’t hurt to have some greenery to lighten the mood in the room!



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