With so many people living in urban areas, the air that humans breathe is no longer as oxygenated and full of terpenes as it was when early human hunter-gatherers roamed the land. Though industrialization and urbanization have provided countless benefits to society, they have also robbed the atmosphere of beneficial compounds that provide a range of health benefits.
However, by adding indoor plants back into daily life, individuals can breathe cleaner, healthier air from the comfort of their own home. Additionally, the use of aromatherapy in the home with a diffuser or aromatherapy on the go with a portable diffuser can further add to these benefits.
In 1982 the term “forest bathing,” or Shinrin-yoku was coined by the Japanese Forest Service. The term was created as an incentive for people to spend more time in the forest where they would reap the health benefits in the forest by breathing in the clean air filled with beneficial plant compounds.
The science behind the benefits of forest air goes back to plant compounds called secondary metabolites, which are not necessary for basic plant processes but important for their long-term survival in their environments. Additionally, many of these compounds, especially terpenes, have been shown to be beneficial for humans, especially upon inhalation.
Forest bathing allows individuals to experience the benefits of these secondary metabolites, in addition to the other stress-relieving benefits that have been linked to the forest. Currently, the practice is becoming increasingly popular and is backed by a large body of research.1
How Indoor Plants Change Air Quality
Though forest bathing is beneficial, it is also difficult for many individuals with hectic work or school schedules. Because of this, using indoor plants and essential oils to change air quality in the home is a more convenient alternative that also provides a range of health benefits.
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According to clean air study from NASA, introducing plants into the indoor environment could potentially remove toxic agents from the air, in addition to neutralizing the effects of sick building syndrome, a group of the work-related symptom with no clear explanation.2
Though some aspects of this study have been criticized over the years, the finding that indoor plants have the potential to improve air quality has been evidenced by subsequent studies.
It’s not necessary to turn the office or home into a forest to reap the benefits of healthy indoor plants. In fact, it’s a simple as a matter of adding in the right plants to help purify the air. Just a few plants placed strategically around the home or office can provide a range of benefits.
Best Houseplants for Clean Indoor Air
There are many plants that have been shown to improve air quality in homes and offices. Highlighted below are some of the top air-purifying plants discussed in the NASA study.
The Spider plant has been shown to remove formaldehyde and xylene from the air. Additionally, it’s easy to care for and grow, and eventually sends off little shoots, or “spiders,” which are the offspring of the mother plant. The happier the plant, the more offspring it sprouts off.
This plant loves bright and indirect sunlight and can be either hung from a hook in the ceiling or placed on a shelf, the higher up the better.
This plant is also referred to as a “weeping fig.” It also loves indirect sunlight and can grow anywhere from two to 10 feet tall. Ideal for a corner, this plant is easy to care for and has been shown to purify the air from formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene.
Alternatively, place this plant outdoors during the warmer months as long as it’s not placed in direct sunlight or exposed to frost. This plant functions best on the floor in a large container.
If you’re into ferns, you might like this option. The Boston fern thrives in moist locations such as bathrooms or laundry rooms where there may be excess moisture. It has been shown to cleanse the air of formaldehyde and xylene and works well as a plant on a shelf or hanging from a plant hanger. If it’s not moist enough, you can mist it with a water bottle.
This succulent is an unusual twisted and turning plant that reaches for the ceiling. Preferring drier conditions, it only requires occasional watering and thrives in hotter climates. It has been shown to purify the air of formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, and trichloroethylene.
This plant grows quickly and can become as tall as 12 feet. It loves full sun and bright light and has been shown to purify the air of benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. It requires minimal care and is pet-friendly. The bamboo palm is ideal for a focal point, sunny window location, and even a corner.
No home is complete without the well-known aloe vera plant. In addition to acting as an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory when applied topically, it also purifies the air of formaldehyde.
This intriguing plant is also referred to as “dragon tree.” It thrives in lower light, making it an ideal choice for bedrooms where lights may be kept lower or dim office lighting. This plant has been shown to clean the air of xylene, formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene.
It’s available in as many as 40 different varieties. It’s very important to note, however, that it’s toxic to dogs and cats upon ingestion, so it should be placed outside the reach of pets.
Look around anywhere, and you can see how plants are incorporated into landscaping, office spaces, and other public locations. From the doctor’s offices to the dentist, to your favorite restaurant, you’re likely to see plants. They’re soothing and relaxing, and while you’re enjoying their beauty, they’re working hard to purify the air you’re breathing.
Plants have been around longer than man himself, and offer valuable health benefits. From nourishing the body in the form of herbs, fruits, and vegetables to improving the air quality, plants are an ideal addition to any home or office environment.