We’ve been thinking about indoor air quality a lot lately at KIWI. (See Editorial Director Sarah Smith on Greenguard and Miele .) When trying to get rid of indoor air pollutants, we tend to think in terms of human behaviorHow can we adjust the way we construct and inhabit our indoor environments to avoid polluting them?but it turns out part of the solution is simply to bring the outdoors in.
Common houseplants can help remove pollutants from the air, according to a study published by NASA in the late 80s. Yes, that NASA. Even before the 70s energy crisis spawned the construction of low-ventilation, cheap to heat, and eventually, very polluted buildings, NASA was leading the world in indoor air quality research because they were particularly interested in the health effects of living in a sealed environment made of synthetic materials. Just as we were beginning to understand “sick building” syndrome, NASA was preparing for “sick space station” syndrome.
The basic premise of the finding is that plants ‘inhale’ some of the pollutants in the air, along with the carbon dioxide needed for photosynthesis, and ‘exhale’ clean oxygen, acting as a filter. The houseplants NASA studied had the advantage of being tropical plants, which evolved in low-light environments and are therefore extra efficient at trapping gases. The astronauts put it best:
“Since man’s existence on Earth depends on a life support system involving an intricate relationship with plants and their associated microorganisms, it should be obvious that when he attempts to isolate himself in tightly sealed buildings away from this ecological system, problems will arise. [...] If man is to move into closed environments, on Earth or in space, he must take along nature’s life support system.”
The study is admittedly a little vintage, and has yet to be followed up or replicated. However, those of us who talk to our orchids can confirm that houseplants will improve your indoor quality of life overall.