People suspect the outside environment to be full of toxins everyday. Pollutants that stream from factories, automobiles and oil rigs seem to be on every corner of every street. Thus, people rightfully fear the air they breathe as well as the water they drink.
What commonly goes unnoticed, however, is the pollution that exists within the indoor environment as well. Today, both the EPA and NASA acknowledge that homes and offices are breeding grounds for air toxins, of which formaldehyde is a primary component.
Formaldehyde in Daily Life
Formaldehyde is known to be present both in and out of doors. It is a chemical widely used in the manufacturing of building materials and various household products. Formaldehyde is also a by-product of combustion and other natural processes. According to the EPA, primary sources of formaldehyde within a home or office environment include the following:
- Building materials
- Cigarette smoking
- Cleaning products
- Facial tissues, waxed papers and paper towels
- Use of gas stoves or kerosene space heaters
- Clothing and draperies
- Glues and adhesives
- Paints and coating products
Formaldehyde exposure is known to irritate the mucous membranes of the throat, nose and eyes. It can also cause allergic reactions when contact is made with the skin.
While eye irritation and headaches are the most common reported symptoms associated with formaldehyde, new research conducted by the EPA reveals that it may also be linked to a rare type of throat cancer. Until that study, the most serious disease affiliated with formaldehyde was asthma.
Studies that Link Indoor Plants with Formaldehyde Absorption
The combined efforts of NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ACLA) resulted in a two-year study that concluded that indoor plants can effectively absorb formaldehyde from the air. According to Dr. Bill Wolverton, a former research scientist with NASA, “Plants take substances out of the air through tiny openings in their leaves. But research in our laboratories has determined that plant leaves, roots and soil bacteria are all important in removing trace levels of toxic vapors.”
A second study led by Korea’s National Horticultural Research Institute also examined the effects of indoor plants on formaldehyde absorption. The Weeping Fig and Fatsi japonica were both examined during the study, results of which were published in the Journal of American Society for Horticultural Science. Researchers determined that within four hours, the plants removed approximately 80 percent of the formaldehyde pumped onto them. In that study, scientists attributed the formaldehyde absorption to tiny slits on the surfaces of the leaves, plant roots and microorganisms living among the soil and root system.
Best Indoor Plants for Formaldehyde
While all plants offer some benefit to air quality, researchers at NASA have concluded that tropical plants are particularly effective at processing gases and chemicals. In cooler regions, these plants are grown indoors, thus making them a likely solution for air purification.
In their natural state, tropical plants grow in dense rainforests without much light, and they have thus evolved with great proficiency at photosynthesis. This process requires the absorption of gases from the air for survival. Moreover, as plants emit water from their leaves, air is drawn to the roots, where root microbes quickly adapt and absorb harmful chemicals.
According to researchers, English ivy is the most beneficial indoor plant for absorbing formaldehyde. Ficus, or Weeping Fig, is also highly recommended. Both of these plants absorb the greatest amount of formaldehyde per square inch of their leaves. As a result of its performance in laboratory studies, Fatsi japonica is a third plant that suitably absorbs formaldehyde from the air.
Researchers caution, however, that three different configurations are available of any plant species. Consumers can opt for the whole plant, the roots or aerial only portions. For the greatest benefit, the whole plant is most recommended.
During NASA’s collaborative study with the ACLA, other indoor plants were also identified as successfully purifying toxic air. Some of them are as follows:
- Bamboo palm
- Chinese evergreen
- Gerbera daisy
- Peace lily
- Pot mum
- Spider plant