As we all bunker down during the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic it’s more important than ever to ensure our homes remain healthy. 'Sick building syndrome' results from the build up of toxins relased by synthetic building material. This is more of an issue in sealed office buildings than it is in our homes but hey, unless you live in a Yurt your home is still made of synthetic materials and they're still releasing toxins. So in these times of corona crisis, replace your friends with plants!
It’s long been known that indoor plants not only make a room look and feel better but also create a healthy living environment. Plants increase oxygen levels and remove toxins produced by synthetic materials as well as our own bodies. They can also prevent the build-up of dangerous mould spores and act as a natural humidifier, reducing the spread of airborne disease.
What is Sick Building Syndrome?
Modern buildings are designed to be energy efficient; this can block the flow of air to and from the outdoors. Added to this, artificial building materials such as glues, plaster, paint and synthetic fabrics release toxic chemicals such as benzene, toluene and formaldehyde, a process know as 'off-gassing'. Not to mention us humans who also exhale ‘bioeffulents’ which add to the toxicity of the air that we literally live and breathe in.
The air-purifying properties of plants
Many plants have the ability to absorb chemicals through tiny pore like structures on their leaves called stomata, the same sturctures are used to absorb CO2 for use in photosynthesis. Once absorbed by the leaf these chemicals are either metabolized, broken down for use elsewhere in the plant for example to create complex chemical compounds such as alkaloides or translocated to the roots and exuded where they are then broken down by soil microbes. The more plants you have in a space, the more stomata you have therefore the greater the air purifying power!
Indoor plants as a defence against mould spores
Wet and poor ventilated areas of the home create the perfect environment for the build-up of mould. Moulds reproduce via spores, tiny reproductive particles that can easily become airborne. These mould spores, if inhaled can be harmful to our health. Asthma sufferers in particular can be severely affected by mould spores.
“Dangerous air-borne microbial levels were found to be 50% lower in a plant filled room”.1
Indoor plants that have evolved under the canopy of damp rainforests have created a natural defence against the build-up of mould. These plants emit ‘allochemicals’ to attack competing organisms like mould. Selecting the right indoor plant is key to reducing airborne mould spores in the home. So choose a plant that has adapted to life in the humid, low-light environments of the tropical forest understory. These include ferns and many plants in the Araceae family (Philodendron, Anthurium, Monstera e.t.c).
Plants, the natural humidifier
Many allergy sufferers use humidifiers to reduce dry air in the home. Dry air can cause irritation of the sensitive membranes in the nose and throat leaving sufferers more suceptible to the effects of air pollution and attack from airborne pathogens. Whilst humidifiers need to be cleaned regularly to ensure bacteria doesn’t grow inside the machinery plants can naturally increase humidity of their immediate environment by releasing water vapour through their stomata. Unlike your humidifier your plants are increasing the humidity while cleaning the air!
Which plants are best for air-purification?
As general rule plants with a greater leaf surface area have a greater ability to purify air than others. The types of chemicals removed from the air also vary from plant to air-purifying plant. According to the NASA clean air study Philodendron plants were among the most effective at remioving certain toxins from their surroundings.
To help you out we've collated some of the best plants for creating clean air in your home. Consider these your new best friends to hang out with during your self-isolation. Plants love to listen so you can share all your self-isolation stories with them too!
Sources: 1. Interior Plants: Their influence on airborne microbes inside energy efficient buildings.