Houseplants are, without question, wonderful additions to any indoor space. Besides providing a sense of beauty and nature to a given house, apartment, or office space, the assertion has long been made that houseplants bring with them many tangible health benefits. But is this true? The short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes, but with the caveat that it is more complicated than previously thought, as Moira Canty breaks down.
The 1989 NASA Research Study
Somewhat famously, in 1989, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in conjunction with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) undertook a study meant to research ways to clean the air in space stations. The study concluded that, besides the well-known advantage of absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, certain common varieties of houseplant can also provide a natural way of absorbing harmful airborne particles. The study made the recommendation of at least one plant per one hundred square feet of space for optimal results.
It is worth noting, however, that this study was conducted under sealed space station conditions. It is also worth noting that having a houseplant every one-hundred square feet is, for most people, a fairly impractical proposition.
Subsequent research into the matter set in typical homes and offices has yielded mixed results, but still shows houseplants to be a generally positive force for indoor air quality. Moira Canty explains that houseplants do help to purify air, just maybe not so much as once believed. The bottom line on the famous 1989 NASA study is don’t count on spider plants and weeping figs to clear a house of every single trace of harmful airborne particles — but that doesn’t mean that houseplants aren’t beneficial in numerous other ways.
Volatile Organic Compounds
In the years since the NASA study, a good deal of scientific investigation has been done into the quality of indoor air, much of it focused on volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are organic chemicals that tend to vaporize or sublimate at or around normal room temperature, causing potentially harmful molecules to enter the surrounding air. Moira Canty says that some everyday examples of VOCs are the benzene molecules emitted from most carpeting, or the formaldehyde molecules emitted from most types of paint. They are not acutely toxic but, they have a long-term compounding effect that can negatively impact human health. Recent studies have found that houseplants, and the microbes dwelling in the soil they are potted in, are one of the most effective ways of absorbing and counteracting the ill effects of VOCs.
Here is a short list of some of the varieties of indoor plants best suited to clean air:
· Spider Plants
· Boston Ferns
· Rubber Plants
· Dwarf Date Palms
· Devil’s Ivy
General Health and Wellness
Beyond their effect on air quality, houseplants have many other helpful attributes. Indoor plants work to regulate a room’s humidity, for example. For those that live in arid climates, houseplants are especially effective in adjusting humidity levels into the range of human comfort (between forty and sixty percent). Houseplants also serve to reduce noise in an enclosed area, as they are natural absorbers of sound. If a home or office contains a lot of hard surfaces, the strategic placement of indoor plants can soften the environment and make things easier on everyone’s ears.
There is also a good deal of evidence that houseplants have a positive effect on mental health. In multiple studies, those who live amongst indoor plants report a greater level of contentment with life than those in control groups who live without houseplants, although the reason for this is not very well understood.
What all of these facts amount to is this: keeping houseplants is a small way of improving not only the beauty of an indoor space, but also the general physical environment. Moira Canty concludes that indoor plants are a fundamental force for good in affecting the well-being, health, peace of mind, and surrounding air of those who dwell in their midst.
Since 2017, Moira Canty has been a volunteer ambassador for OurHarvest.com. OurHarvest encourages local, sustainable, healthy eating. This voluntary position works to raise money towards our parish school (St. Agnes in Rockville Centre) and raise high quality food to be distributed through our food pantry to anyone in need.