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Take Two Plants and Call Me in the Morning

Libi Astaire

Houseplants aren’t just pleasant to look at. They can also clear the air of pollutants and create a happier, healthier environment in your home. Read on for top picks.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Space-Age Cleaners

We have NASA’s early astronauts to thank for our awareness of indoor air pollution. Astronauts have to be in top shape to be accepted into the space program and are given medical examinations before every liftoff. The NASA medical team was therefore stumped when their “right stuff” astronauts started complaining about “wrong stuff” such as fatigue, irritability, sore throats, coughs, and an inability to concentrate during their space flights.

Eventually, the culprits were discovered: all those wires, plastics, electronics, fabrics, and even soaps crammed inside the relatively tiny spaceships were causing cold and flu symptoms. That research was backed up by studies inNorway, where much of the population isn’t just earthbound but also homebound or “office-bound” during the country’s long and frigid winters.

Both NASA and researchers from theUniversityofAgricultureinNorwaycame up with the same solution to the indoor air pollution problem — houseplants. Here are two of NASA’s favorite nontoxic air cleaners:


Spider Plant

NASA gave the elegant spider plant top marks for ridding air of the formaldehyde that is emitted from common household items like upholstery, curtains, floor varnishes, furniture, and paints. It also absorbs mold spores and carbon monoxide, making this a great choice for reducing headaches and many breathing-related problems caused by indoor air pollution. To keep your spider plant’s long and grassy leaves healthy, find it a home that’s not in direct sunlight and water once a week, or even every two weeks, since it prefers to be a bit dry.


Boston Fern

Those gracefully arched fronds and frilly leaves aren’t just for looks. The Boston fern is another nontoxic way to remove formaldehyde, mold, and other pollutants from your home’s air. It can also soothe dry skin, since it acts as a humidifier. But to work efficiently, it needs a cool place with indirect light and high humidity. During the winter months, when heating systems dry out the air, try lightly misting the plant once or twice a week. And unlike many houseplants, the Boston fern likes its soil to be moist, so be sure to give it a drink before the soil becomes dry.


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