Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
Our well-insulated, airtight homes keep our utility bills down, but they can contribute to less-than-ideal living conditions. "Sick building syndrome" is a term that the Environmental Protection Agency uses to describe "situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building." Symptoms of SBS, which may include headache, dry cough, itchy skin, fatigue and difficulty concentrating, are alleviated by simply leaving the building.
NASA/ALCA Houseplants Study
In the mid-1980s, a 2-year study by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) tested the effect of common houseplants on harmful chemicals found in building materials, paints and cleaning products. Science class taught us that plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen via photosynthesis, and the NASA/ALCA study showed that houseplants can remove benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air.
The study recommends using at least 15 quality houseplants to improve the air quality of an average (under 2,000 square feet) home. For best results, each plant should be grown in a container that is at least six inches in diameter. Most of these plants can be found at your local nursery or even at big-box stores such as Lowe's and The Home Depot.
10 Air-purifying houseplants
Native to Europe and western Asia, this clinging evergreen is the vine you often see climbing the walls of stately old homes. Outdoors, English ivy can grow as high as 98 feet, but it's easy to keep cropped to a reasonably sized houseplant.
Bonus^English ivy reduces benzene levels in the home.
This evergreen climber is native to Central America and the Caribbean. It can grow to more than 10 feet and boasts glossy heart-shaped leaves and occasional white flowers.
Warning^Don't let your cat eat it.
This easy-to-grow flowering herb is native to tropical Africa. As a houseplant, it's most common in its variegated form. You'll enjoy watching the flower clusters grow at random ranges along the stems, which typically reach 24 inches.
Bonus^ Spider plants reduce formaldehyde pollution.
There are about 40 species of the beloved peace lily (which is not actually a lily). Spathiphyllum rids your home of benzene, formaldehyde and more. The broad green leaves and surprising white flowers require little light and water to survive.
Warning^The peace lily is toxic to human and animals… so do not eat it!
Ficus, aka weeping fig, is the official tree of Bangkok. As a houseplant, it thrives with moderate watering and bright sunlight — turn it regularly so that all of the leaves get their fair share of sunshine.
Bonus^The ficus effectively removes formaldehyde from the air.
There are 110 species of the tropical dracaena (a word derived from Ancient Greek's drakaina, or "female dragon"). For best indoor air effects, look for dracaena marginata, or "red-edged dracaena."
Tip^It tolerates low-light conditions, so it's perfect for windowless rooms and basements.
The bamboo palm, or butterfly palm, native to Madagascar, is not really bamboo at all! This appealing plant, which can grow to a height of almost six feet, was included in NASA's study and found to effectively filter xylene and toluene from the air.
Bonus^The bamboo palm transpires a great deal of water each day, making it an excellent humidifier.
You may recognize the sansevieria trifasciata as the snake plant. Native to tropical Africa, this evergreen perennial plant features dark green leaves with light-green banding. Some cultures use this plant as a protective charm against evil.
Bonus^ The mother-in-law's tongue needs only one watering every couple of months.
Also known as devil's ivy, this plant is native to the Solomon Islands. You can grow this as a vine supported by a pole or stake or keep it small (18 inches tall is a healthy height). Golden pathos will shed an alarming number of leaves when you move it from one place to another, but that is normal.
Easy Care^This likes moderate sunlight and not-too-moist soil.
The flowering Chinese evergreen is native to tropical regions throughout Asia. The stems of this perennial herb may grow erect or in a creeping fashion. The silver and green variegated plant is the most common.
Caution^This juice of this poisonous plant can cause skin irritation or rash.