Houseplants can help purify home's air

Winter is a good time to control honeysuckle.

We all know how houseplants add to a home’s décor. But did you know that they can also purify the indoor air?


This is a benefit of houseplants, that for the most part, has been largely ignored, but the health issues are potentially astronomical. We spend as much as 90 percent of our time indoors, breathing indoor air that often contains a diverse range of volatile organic compounds (VOC), many of which are toxic.

Houseplants can absorb those VOCs. To determine the best air-purifying houseplants, University of Georgia horticulturalists Stanley Kays, Bodie Pennisi, and D.S. Wang evaluated 32 plant species. Of the species tested, purple waffle plant (Hemigraphis alternate) best removed VOCs from the air. Other species with superior filtering abilities were English Ivy, Purple Heart, foxtail fern and wax plant.

In the study, the plants were tested for their ability to remove benzene, toluene, octane, trichloroethylene and a-pinene, all considered toxic. Plant specimens were placed in sealed glass containers. The VOC levels within were monitored over a six-hour period.

Poor indoor air quality can trigger allergies and asthma and cause fatigue and headaches. More than 300 volatile organic compounds have been identified as indoor contaminants.

These compounds come from carpet, wood panels, paint, people, pets, and various other sources. Benzene and toluene come from newspapers, schoolbooks, electric shavers, portable CD players, liquid waxes and some adhesives.

VOCs also emanate from home electronic equipment (which we have more of than we used to), furniture, carpet and construction materials.

Most of these compounds are readily absorbed into our bodies. Bad indoor air can result in new house syndrome and sick building syndrome that can cause a diverse cross-section of ailments in those exposed.

Before testing plants, the researchers conducted tests in three older, upper-middle-class homes in Athens, Ga. Older homes are often more drafty than newer homes which are built tighter to better insulate them.

The results were shocking, according to Dr. Kays. All three homes had surprisingly high levels of organic compounds in the air. These were older homes. So if the levels are high there, then it’s probably widespread in newer homes.

Not all VOCs are toxic, according to Dr. Kays, but the lack of information about chemical toxicity and an affordable method of measuring indoor air quality makes assessing their presence more difficult.

The researchers recommend adding a cross-section of plants, one per 100 square feet of living space. Using active charcoal filters in heating and air conditioning systems helps, too.



Remove honeysuckle and other weedy vines from deciduous plants while the plants are still leafless. It’s much easier now to distinguish between the weeds and the desired plants.

If you visit a garden center, keep an eye out for plants with interesting winter form or color. Consider planting similar varieties in your yard so you can enjoy them at home next year. For instance, Winter Daphne is a low-growing shrub that blooms during the winter and can brighten up the landscape.

If bird feeding is a favorite activity for you during the winter, plant trees and shrubs that provide cover and small fruits for them. Consider species such as crabapple, holly, dogwood, and pyracantha that can help lure hungry birds.

Sterilize your used pots, and anything you use around your plants. Use one part household bleach to nine parts water. Soak for about 15 minutes, rinse and let dry.

– Sandy Hodson, Staff Writer



The Aiken Camellia Society will hold its 61st Annual Camellia Show this weekend at Aiken Mall.

It’s free and open to the public from 2 to 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Blooms may be entered for judging from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Blooms must be named according to the American Camellia Society nomenclature. Society members will be available to help identify blooms. More than one flower to a stem will disqualify an entry. Entries must have one or two leaves from the parent plant.

In addition to all the blooms, there will be Japanese flower arrangements and a Bonsai display.

For information, call Lee Poe at (803) 648-8249 or Jim Dickson at (803) 279-9451.

– Sandy Hodson, Staff Writer