The air we breathe in our homes and workplaces has a pretty significant effect on our well being. It is estimated that people in developed countries spend 87% of their time in enclosed buildings (and about 6% in their cars).  Whether at home or at work, we are breathing in air that contains potentially harmful toxins and mold.

Common chemical toxins in the home may include:

  • Formaldehyde (found in carpets, upholstery and paint)
  • Benzene (found in plastics, synthetic fibers, lubricants, rubber, pesticides)
  • Trichloroethylene (in paint removers, cleaning products, adhesives).

These pollutants are all considered human carcinogens, and even short term exposure can cause a range of serious issues depending on your level of resilience. Symptoms could include dizziness, headaches, nausea and irritation to the eyes, nose, mouth and throat but may also impact skin and mental function.

In the 1980s the NASA Clean Air Study found that the certain plants can improve indoor air quality and reduce formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene and other pollutants (such as xylene and ammonia) by absorbing these toxins through their leaves. As part of this research NASA produced a chart of air filtering plants, which has been summed up beautifully in this infographic on lifehacker.

One of our favourite indoor plants is the peace lily, which was found in a subsequent study by NASA scientist Bill Wolverton to reduce mold spores in the home, in addition to reducing a number of major pollutants. Mold can have a severe effect on our health causing recurring sinus infections, unexplained allergies, chronic inflammatory conditions and other serious illnesses.

Another plant found to directly reduce mold spores is English Ivy. In a 2005 study, English Ivy was found to reduce 60% of airborne-mold from the air, just six hours after being introduced to a moldy environment. After 12 hours the reduction in airborne mold toxins was 78%, making this a great option for damp areas in the home.

How many plants do I need?

The NASA study recommends a minimum of one plant per 100 square metres of your home, however at Functional Self HQ we have at least one per room. The Website Sustainable baby steps have a wide range of plants to improve air quality, as well as how to care for them.

For more information on the potential problems with mold and our health, we recommend the Bulletproof documentary – Moldy the movie.