You're concerned about air pollution, right? Did you know that the air inside your house is usually more toxic than the air outdoors? And I'm not just talking about the 10 minutes after your husband walks out of the bathroom.

Lots of volatile organic chemicals (VOC's) float through the air of an average home. Stuff like formaldehyde (mmmm, remember that smell from when you dissected a fetal pig in high school biology?), benzene, toluene, acetone, ammonia, and xylene. Where do VOC's come from? Paint, caulk, carpeting, ceiling tiles, adhesives, varnish, fabrics, upholstery, dry cleaning, etc. All those wonderful synthetic products that make life livable. Unfortunately, they also make it die-able, as long-term exposure can cause a raft of health problems, including cancer. Grumpy is not in favor of cancer. Let me state that right now.

Houseplants to the Rescue

So how do you rid your air of VOC's, other than by leaving your windows open year-round (possible only in San Diego, I think)? Houseplants! Houseplants are nature's air purifiers. In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, houseplants do a marvelous job of absorbing VOC's and rendering them harmless.

You don't need to turn your home into a tropical rainforest either. One or two nice houseplants in a typical 15' x 15' room will do the job. To learn more about this, Grumpy recently visited the folks at Costa Farms near Miami, Florida. Costa is one of the biggest producers of foliage plants in the country. They supply the big box stores, so chances are if you buy a Boston fern or a peace lily, you're buying one they grew.


The fellow above is Mike Rimland, one of Costa's expert growers. The table with plants is part of a presentation Mike gave to me and other garden bloggers about which houseplants are really good at removing certain chemicals. For example, peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) is great for removing formaldehyde and benzene. Snake plant (mother-in-law's tongue) removes acetone. Anthurium absorbs ammonia. Boston fern removes formaldehyde and toluene. Mike calls them "living clean air machines."

O2 For You


A few years back, Costa Farms unveiled its O2 For You campaign. Its purpose is to educate people about how bad the air is inside the average house, office, and classroom and what a good job just a few houseplants can do to improve it. In addition to purifying air, houseplants also humidify a room to comfortable levels for people. And rooms with houseplants show a considerable reduction in the number of airborne mold spores and bacteria.

Peace lily (the big plant show up top) is one of the best at removing a wide range of pollutants and its tolerance of lower light levels make it great for indoors. Nearly every room in my house sports a peace lily, thanks to one of my wife's old loser boyfriends, who insisted on sending her a new one every year, even after we were married. A lesser man would have chucked those peace lilies, but Grumpy granted them amnesty.

Shout Out to Dr. Wolverton


If you'd like more information about naturally purifying indoor air, Grumpy highly recommends How To Grow Fresh Air (Penguin Books). It's written by Dr. B.C. Wolverton, whose research for NASA on ways to purify air for future moon bases revealed what great additions to the home houseplants are. Besides telling which plants remove which pollutants, it also supplies a wealth of easy information on how to grow many of the most popular houseplants. If I hadn't already received a free copy for being such a huge celebrity, I would buy one right now.

Coming Up Next

The ever-generous Grump will accurately answer a raft of pressing gardening questions that deal with the spring growing season. Miss it and all your plants may die!