You’ve probably heard that houseplants improve air quality, but recent studies show that the air-purifying benefits of indoor plants are slim.
The general consensus that plants purify the air first came from an article published by NASA in 1989. Their studies involved keeping plants in small, airtight, plexiglass chambers.
While they were able to obtain positive results of the plants cleaning the air in the experimental chambers, these results did not accurately represent average living conditions – however, that didn’t stop these statistics from influencing many articles on indoor plants and affect on air quality…
Mythbuster! An update on recent studies of the health benefits of indoor plants:
A 2019 article written by Sarah Gibbens from National Geographic discusses a study by Michael Waring on plants and indoor air quality.
Waring, who is an indoor air quality expert from Drexel University, concluded that the rate at which Volatile Organic Compounds, or “VOCs” are removed from the air by plant life was infinitesimal when compared to regular air exchange mechanisms.
So what are VOCs? Volatile Organic Compounds are compounds that become vapors or gases easily and can be released from an array of different sources. For example burning fuels like gasoline, wood, coal, or natural gas, or typical household products like paints, cleaners, disinfectants, cosmetics and hobby products have VOCs.
Waring came to this conclusion by making a calculation for each plant (from the NASA study) to find the “clean air delivery rate” (CADR). He was then able to use these calculations as standard results to compare how the “air-filtering” plants performed against opening a window, or using a mechanical air purifier. He calculated that the amount of indoor plants you would need to impact the air quality is around 10 plants per square foot—which is more than we’d typically want in our homes.
Even if plants are unable to cleanse our air, there are other ways to reduce VOCs in your home.
How to Cleanse the Air At Home
VOCs are around us everyday, from our furnishings, to the household cleaners we use and the cars we drive. You know that “new car smell”? Those are VOCs, my friend. Although this thought of the VOCs around us can be alarming, there are a couple of things you can do about it.
Select the Right Furniture and Materials
In the design world, products are constantly improving and new manufacturing techniques are being created to lessen their impact on our health and the environment. Furnishings, paints, varnishes, cleaning and hobby products will list if they have zero or low VOCs.
If researching these details of furniture and products doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, interior designers, such as ourselves at McCarter Design, are skilled at finding the perfect furniture and materials for you—and we’re happy to help.
Utilize Air Filters to Purify Indoor Air
Mechanical air purifiers with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are extremely helpful with cleaning the air. Not only can these air purifiers help you with airborne chemicals, they also remove pathogens and microbial spores from the air. As a HEPA filter gets dirty, it actually becomes more efficient. Pricing for HEPA filter air purifiers range in cost from $60 to $2,500. I think we can all agree that breathing easier is worth the investment.
Now that we’ve cleared the air, let’s get back into plants. Though their own air purifying benefits are low, there are numerous other positive reasons plants belong inside your home.
Mental Health Benefits of Indoor Plants
Even though plants do not offer much help with improving air quality, they are still very beneficial to our mental health.
A 2009 study on the effect of plants on mental health by Dr. Qing Li, an Associate Professor at the Department of Hygiene and Public Health of Nippon Medical School in Japan, showed that plants emit phytoncides (aromatic compounds) that when inhaled, influence biological reactions, similar to aromatherapy.
Plants can decrease stress levels and anxiety and encourage healthy habits. Even the act and responsibility of taking care of a plant can help awaken a person to the world around them. In this time when people are very focused on their own needs, taking care of a plant can help you think outside of your normal day-to-day life.
Plants in your home can lead to a brighter, positive mood. Think of the flowers given to a significant other, and how happy the person is to receive them. Also, seeing a fresh bouquet in your home shows that you made the extra effort to add an aesthetically pleasing arrangement. In addition to the psychological benefits of indoor plants, plants can offer physical benefits too!
Physical Benefits of Indoor Plants
In an article titled, “Ornamental Indoor Plants in Hospital Rooms Enhanced Health Outcomes of Patients Recovering from Surgery”, written by Seong-Hyun Park & Richard H. Mattson, a clinical trial was performed yielding positive results from placing plants in recovery rooms.
This clinical trial was performed in a hospital setting for patients recovering after the same operation. This trial involved placing plants in half the patient’s rooms, while leaving the other half as control rooms.
The results of the trial showed that the patients who had a plant in their room reported feeling less pain, anxiety, and fatigue, than the patients in the control rooms. These same patients also experienced lower systolic blood pressure.
Now that you know how plants improve your mental and physical health, let’s discuss what low maintenance plants options are available.
Low Maintenance Houseplants for Reducing Stress
Our top recommendation for plants in your home is:
The fiddle leaf fig, also known as Ficus Lyrata, is a beautiful broad-leaved plant that flourishes in bright locations without needing direct sunlight. Make sure the plant is watered well during the summer and relax the watering during the winter.
A close second:
The rubber plant. These plants can grow up to 100 feet tall in their native lands, but the ornamental variety can be pruned to keep a more appropriate height for your home. The leaves on this plant look similar to the leaves on a Magnolia tree. This plant needs lots of light, but not direct sunlight. It requires frequent watering during the summer to keep the soil moist, and the leaves wiped with a damp cloth, or misted. It may only need watering once or twice during the dormant season. If the air is dry, mist the plant more frequently.
The Monstera Adansonii, more commonly known as the swiss cheese vine, is a fun broad-leaved plant with lots of holes in the leaves. This plant thrives in a dimly lit setting and only needs to be watered once a week.
Mother-in-law’s tongue, also known as the snake plant, does well with light watering. It’s variegated yellow and green leaves are a colorful accent for any room.
Indoor Plants as Decor for Interior Design
We hope this piece was educational and helpful in your decision to bring the beauty of live plants into your home.
We know it can be daunting to add the care of plants to your “to do” list, but considering the benefits nature has to offer, it is well worth the effort! For more educational articles and helpful tips regarding the home and interior design, visit our blog.
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