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5 June is observed as World Environment Day (WED) annually. First held in 1974, World Environment Day has been a platform for raising awareness on the environmental issue such as marine pollution, human overpopulation, global warming, sustainable consumption and wildlife crime.
World Environment Day 2021 will launch the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration - an action committing to protecting the ecosystems, which supports millions of people's livelihood.
The theme of World Environment Day 2021 is 'Ecosystem restoration,' and will be hosted by Pakistan (the countries change every year). In 2020, WED was hosted by Colombia, in 2019 by China, and in 2018, it was hosted by India, where the Indian government pledged to eliminate all single-use of plastic in India by 2022.
In the event of the global celebration of the environment and its improvement, let's take a look at how you can improve the air quality in your home with the help of indoor plants.
Why Is Indoor Air Quality Important?
Just as we assess the air quality outside our home before stepping out, it is important to assess the indoor air quality too. Breathing quality indoor air is critical for good health; as we spend a significant amount of time indoors, either in the home, office or other types of buildings, especially now during the pandemic, there are chances that we can breathe in gases, chemicals, and other pollutants can cause headaches, eye irritation, allergies and fatigue .
Experts say that, on average, a healthy person breathes 20,000 times a day - which is more than enough to stress the importance of indoor air quality . Did you know that the air inside our homes can be up to 5 times more polluted than the air outdoors?
On a general level, there can be up to 900 toxins polluting the quality of our indoor air, and over 81 per cent of people are at risk of respiratory or dermatological conditions due to poor indoor air quality .
Best Air-Purifying Plants For Your Home
One of the major issues we face in our homes in space is the lack of airflow, which allows for indoor air pollution to build up and cause health issues like asthma or sick building syndrome .
According to a 1989 study by NASA, it was discovered that houseplants could absorb harmful toxins from the air, especially in enclosed spaces with little airflow . Well, it is true that plants are not as ‘effective' as air purifiers, but they are more natural, cost-effective, and therapeutic.
Here is a list of air-purifying plants you can buy in India:
1. Aloe vera: Apart from cleansing the air of benzene and formaldehyde, the aloe vera plant also absorbs carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. An added benefit is that aloe vera gel contains antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties .
2. Peace lily: Top in NASA's list of indoor air purifying plants, peace lily cleanses the air of benzene and formaldehyde and is said to effectively remove indoor pollutants emitted by electronics, furniture and other household items .
Caution: Peace lily is toxic to cats, dogs, and children. For some people, it can cause burning, swelling, and skin irritation.
3. Golden pothos: Out of all the air-purifying plants in India, golden pothos is one of the most effective air-purifying plants to combat toxins like formaldehyde, xylene, carbon monoxide and benzene . It does not require much maintenance as it grows easily.
Caution: The plant is toxic to animals.
4. Azalea (rhododendron Simsii): This flowering air purifying indoor plant grows well in bright but cool areas that do not get direct sunlight. It helps counter the ill effects of formaldehyde from plywood and foam insulation .
5. Warneck dracaena: Commonly termed Dracaena, this leafy plant is best for your bedrooms or living rooms. It is shown to filter the air from pollutants such as xylene, benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene . The soil this plant thrives in should be damp but not soggy since overwatering might turn the leaves yellow and does not need direct sunlight.
6. English ivy: Another commoner in almost all Indian homes, English ivy can help lower airborne faecal matter particles and filters out formaldehyde prevalent in the air. One study had shown that English ivy could remove over 55 per cent of the toxins in the air . English ivy is a bit heavy maintenance and, if not properly maintained, can attract pests.
Caution: English ivy is known to cause problems in dogs, farm animals, and humans when eaten.
7. Bamboo palm: Almost all Indian homes have a bamboo palm, if not English ivy. The bamboo plant, also known as the Butterfly Palm or Areca Palm, is said to filter benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene . It needs moist soil and placement in an area with good air circulation. Bamboo palm is pet friendly. The plant requires regular pruning as it grows rapidly.
8. Spider plant: The green spider plant safe and non-toxic for pets and small children and grows easily. Spider plant is said to have the ability to eliminate xylene and formaldehyde present indoors . Water your spider plants two to three times a week.
Some more indoor air-purifying plants are as follows:
- Snake plant
- Weeping fig
- Indian basil
- Money plant
- Chinese evergreen (toxic)
- Heart-leaf philodendron
- Gerber daisy
- Areca palms (non-toxic)
- Chrysanthemums (toxic)
- Rubber plants (toxic)
How Do Plants Improve Indoor Air Quality?
As studies point out, plants can help increase mood and productivity, enhance concentration and memory and reduce stress and fatigue . NASA had pointed out in their findings that two or three plants in 8 to 10-inch pots for every 100 square feet or 15 and 18 houseplants in a 6 to 8 inch in diameter container within an 1800 square foot house can help with the cause.
Most indoor pollution occurs from household products such as carpets, glues, ovens,cleaning solutions, refrigerators, and synthetic materials such as plastic, fibre, and rubber . Air purifying indoor plants are said to have the following benefits:
- Lowers toxic carbon dioxide levels by processing it into oxygen
- Lessens the levels of certain pollutants, such as benzene and nitrogen dioxide 
- Reduces airborne dust levels
- Keeps air temperatures down 
- Keep your floors clean by vacuuming and mopping
- Avoid synthetic cleaners or air fresheners
Some studies had argued against NASA's findings that houseplants can help improve indoor air quality. The study had mentioned that, while plants can help remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced within your homes, the chemicals are removed at a slower rate than running a mechanical air purifier or opening a window .
Therefore, it is important to remember that indoor air purifying plants should be used to improve the air quality system, along with air purifiers, open windows, and/or exhaust fans.
A University of Washington environmental engineer, Stuart Strand, has experimented with genetically modifying plants to remove VOCs from the air better, and more studies on the same are being carried out .
Caution: An increase in plants can also affect humidity and promote mould growth in your home - which can be prevented by letting the water drain into a pan or a tray and by removing excess water regularly. If you or anyone in your home has pollen/plant allergies, go for the allergy-safe options.
Note for houses with pets: If you have dogs or cats at home, research well before choosing the air purifying plant as they could be toxic to your fur babies.
Other Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality
Apart from keeping indoor plants, here are some ways to improve air quality and reduce air pollution in your homes:
- Change your AC filter
- Invest in an air purifier
- Check the air ducts
- Use cooking vents
- Keep your rugs and carpets clean
- Control humidity in your home (a humidifier can be helpful)
- Keep the windows open whenever you can
On A Final Note…
Indoor air pollutants can have serious long term health effects on our bodies. While the plants mentioned in the article can help improve indoor air quality to an extent, it is equally important to install proper ventilation systems and get them checked if you find yourself or anyone in the home falling sick from respiratory troubles too often.