Top 5 Plants for Indoor Toxins

In 1989, NASA teamed up with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) to study the affects of houseplants on indoor toxins, with a goal of improving the quality of indoor air. Their goal was cleaner space station air, but their findings proved useful for our well-insulated, energy efficient homes, as well. On this rainy, winter day, it’s good to know our houseplants (3 per room is recommended, but 1 makes a difference) are helping to keep our homes free of toxins while we sip hot chocolate with our feet to the fire.

Below is NASA’s chart of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), or household toxins, common to most homes. We all know being outside in nature is great for stress reduction, and filling our lungs with fresh oxygen, so bringing plants indoors just makes sense. Now, with NASA’s study, it makes even more sense.

Houseplants can absorb unwanted indoor toxins through their leaves and roots, thus purifying indoor air. The benefits keep piling up: Stress reduction, fresh oxygen, and purified air.

NASA Volatile Organic Compounds

Here are 5 easy-to-grow houseplants with super “cleaning powers.”

1. Peace Lily. These are great starter plants for beginners. The deep, green leaves give every room a pick-me-up. They manage well in low, natural light, such as light from a north or north eastern window. They tell you when it’s time to water. (They start to droop, and then immediately after watering, perk up–though that is stressful for the plant, and not recommended). They’re also one of the few plants that remove all five indoor toxins, making them pretty much a have-to-have plant. And, bonus: They have nice white blooms.

2. Mother-in-Law Tongue. There’s a reason this plant is found in restaurants and bars. Like the Peace Lily their light requirements is also low, natural light. They aren’t super thirsty plants, and the variegated cultivar works best for cleaning up the toxins. It absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen during the night (most plants do so during the day), so the bedroom is a perfect place for these plants for a clean-air boost while sleeping. These plants remove four of the indoor toxins, leaving only ammonia for the Peace lily to clean up.

3. English ivy is a beautiful plant indoors. Outside, it’s invasive and destructive. Indoors it thrives well in medium, natural light, as in a south east window. It can be an interesting topiary, used in hanging baskets or added to other containers for trailers. It is most efficient for removing formaldehyde found in many household paper products.

4.Red-Edged Dracaena. This evergreen can get large in the right conditions (8-15′ tall and 3-6′ wide), but is relatively easy to care for. It tolerates sun or shade but prefers relief from a hot afternoon sun. It does well with moderate water, (is fairly drought tolerant) and handles almost any soil conditions. It removes indoor toxins that seep indoors from lacquers, varnishes and gasoline.

5. Aloe Vera. A sunny, kitchen window is all this succulent plant needs (bright, natural light, such as light from a southern or western exposure). Little water, it propagates easily to give to friends, the gel inside its leaves is great for burns, and it removes chemicals from cleaners and paints. Can’t really say no to that.

Other studies, done by the American Horticulture Society, are proving still more useful benefits when you add plants as part of your indoor decor. Click here for a complete list of NASA’s suggested plants (Remember some of these plants are toxic to pets. Here’s a list for those plants.)

The Entitlement of a White, American, Southern, Christian Girl

When sad or uncomfortable things happened to me, I was able to steady myself with retail therapy, lunch out with friends, dinner with family, a random tv show or movie. All sorts of “normal” things returned my mindset from anxious, grieving, disappointed or whatever, back to “normal” again. It was akin to the old bury-the-head-in-the-sand ploy and it worked fabulously. Without realizing it, there was an unconscious (or maybe not so unconscious) part of me that was thinking, “I’m a white, American, Southern, Christian girl. What could happen to me?”

Even this week, as my plane circled to land in Asheville, where the smoke from the forest fires was so bad the pilot was forced to take a couple of “go’s” at it, I was simultaneously pleading with God to get that plane on the ground, while reminding him that this, THIS, wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I’m a white, American, Southern, Christian girl.

Do I think God is impressed with this?

My oldest and dearest friend, Donna, died in July of this year from brain cancer. She was my age, and we were college roommates at Furman University. We met freshman year, the first day of enrollment, in our dorm room. That day began a lifelong friendship. You know the kind. The real deal together-through-all-the-bad-and-good-stuff-friendship.

Had I been Donna, my astonishment that this was actually happening to me, would have been off the charts. My astonishment that it was happening to my best friend was off the charts. God, I said, you can’t be serious. This is Donna, as in my Donna. As in, who am I supposed to talk too if Donna isn’t here? As in, we’re taking the grandgirls to the beach when they’re old enough (I have 3, she has 1 with 1 on the way–5 little girls and their grandmas). As in, she’s 57, not 87. We’re going to be 87 together.

I reminded myself that this was happening to her, not me, but God wasn’t hearing me. I’m so accustomed to my privileged and undisturbed life, I assume God will keep it going, though he may need a gentle nudge now and then. My nudging didn’t work, and I’m still trying to get my bearings in a world without Donna in it.

Circling in that plane, I reminded God I still had so much to live for, and I though I didn’t say it, I fear I implied it: Remember Lord? It’s me. The Southern, Christian girl? I don’t die in plane crashes. Things like this that don’t happen to people like me. Remember? (Just like brain cancer wasn’t supposed to happen to Donna.)

Then I read the news about the soccer team and the Columbia plane crash. Wow. Just wow.

My thinking is getting interrupted with reality. Donna did die, and I started following a 7 year old girl on Twitter (@AlabedBana), who is reporting live from Aleppo (via her mom), and last I read her house was in rubbles and she was trying to read Harry Potter to distract herself from her friends dying. She tweeted a picture of her dead friend, maybe age 4-5? I guess distractions do serve a purpose.

My Sunday School class thinks that the millennials don’t know hard work and believe everything should be handed to them. They refer to the millennials as a bunch of whiny babies. It’s a common topic. They feel certain Donald Trump will set those kids straight now that he is PEOTUS. (When he stops on whining on Twitter, perhaps?) I don’t follow their logic, but I’m not worried about it because I’ve got problems of my own.

My own entitlement has reared it’s embarrassing head, and yes, it involves a lot of whining. Disgust reigns.

Somehow, my thinking got very entitled. I believed that being me meant I didn’t go through what others do. And, in many ways, I don’t. I’m clueless as to what a 7 year old and her brothers do when their house is bombed. I’m protected from that, and I’m more grateful than I can say, but there was a time when I didn’t and couldn’t hear Bana’s voice. My lunches and friends drowned out her bombs, her friend’s dying and her Harry Potter books.

My plane did land, easily and without incident, but it could just have easily crashed. Why was I on the plane that didn’t crash when others were not? Why am I a white, American, Christian girl living a protected and privileged life who somehow fell under the delusional thought that I was entitled to it? Why didn’t I find it odd that some people went hungry, or without water, or that babies were born while wars waged over their mother’s heads? I didn’t find it odd because it wasn’t happening to me.

Here’s what happens when you raise your head and look around: The distractions cease to work. The voices are no longer murmurings in the background of life. They take front and center. The bombs seem like they are literally overhead, and you find yourself asking for courage to speak, to rail, to scream against all of it. You look at yourself and you no longer see a white, Southern, Christian girl. You see the world and everyone in it.