You’ve probably come across the NASA Clean Air Study already. The study found that certain indoor plants not only help provide oxygen through respiration but that these plants also take out the dangerous chemicals in our indoor air as well. When the study was all said and done, NASA put out a convenient list of indoor plants that they tested.
Three of the plants used in the study were palm trees, showing stellar results. The chief scientist of the NASA study, B.C. Wolverton continued his studies and even wrote a book about the subject, discussing 50 houseplants in detail.
When asked which of the 50 houseplants in the book he thought were the best plants to improve indoor air quality, the top 3 in Dr. Wolverton’s list were all palm plants.
So, what exactly makes a palm plant improve the air in your home so successfully?
Let’s take a look at what a palm plant can do for your home and how it can become your very own natural air purifier.
Provides oxygen to the air.
You already know about photosynthesis. Most plants take up the carbon dioxide we breathe out, process it and give off oxygen back into the surrounding air. That’s great news because that happens to be exactly what human lungs need to breathe.
Besides this obvious fact, indoor air is especially needy of oxygen. That’s because our homes are full of things that can give off carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide forms when there is a lack of oxygen, in a process called incomplete combustion. It’s also known as a “silent killer,” meaning that it’s difficult to detect but highly dangerous. In today’s homes that are built to be more insulated than ever, carbon monoxide build-up is even more dangerous.
Carbon monoxide can be a danger in a home when your appliances, gas heaters, furnaces, or fireplaces are blocked, faulty, and unable to vent to the outside. When that happens, carbon monoxide slowly begins to accumulate inside the home. Indoor plants can provide some oxygen to alleviate incomplete combustion so that carbon dioxide can form instead of carbon monoxide.
Can even eliminate carbon monoxide.
Rather than providing more oxygen to the indoor air, some indoor plants are able to even directly eliminate carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide molecules. The butterfly palm, or Areca palm (Dypsis lutescens or Chrysalidocarpus Lutescens), is especially potent at this.
While it can be difficult sometimes to find an indoor potted plant that is non-toxic to both dogs and cats, the Areca palm is safe to use. Because it is a tropical plant, it requires to be watered often. It was also recently found in a study of several plants that the Areca palm is one of the best plants to remove carbon dioxide from the air around it. By the way, the Areca palm is one of the plants that continue to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air at night more frequently than during the day.
In case you’d like an alternative, the bamboo palm plant (Chamaedorea seifrizii) is also able to filter our carbon monoxide from the air. The Areca palm requires a generous amount of light to grow, while the bamboo palm doesn’t require nearly as much light. The bamboo plant is generally accepted to be non-toxic to dogs and cats, although in rare cases some have claimed that it may be toxic to pets, especially the berries that it produces.
Note of caution: While an indoor plant can certainly help you filter out some carbon monoxide, carbon monoxide is still a dangerous gas that needs to be monitored with a carbon monoxide detector.
Removes dangerous VOCs.
When talking about indoor air quality, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are typically one of the primary concerns. VOCs are usually chemicals that are used in manufacturing to bind, press, soften or shape certain products. The problem is that these VOCs tend to be released into the air over time in a process known as off-gassing.
Even though off-gassing is strongest during the manufacturing process itself, it can continue in your home for months and even years. Once you add up all the things that release VOCs in a home and the amount of surface area that can off-gas, VOCs can have a major impact on indoor air quality (IAQ).
You might be asking, where are those VOCs exactly? You’ll find them inside building materials like the VOC-containing latex paint and the drywall behind it (read this post if you want safer paint on your walls.). Flooring is also known to commonly off-gas VOCs, and so can the kitchen cabinets and some furniture pieces. And did I mention cleaning supplies also contain VOCs?
As you can probably tell by now, your home has a lot of surfaces that can off-gas VOCs. Here are some commonly found VOCs and the palm trees that can help you eliminate them.
If your home smells like a jar of pickles, chances are, there’s formaldehyde in the air. Formaldehyde is commonly found in plywood, pressed wood, particle board, and medium density fiberboard (MDF). It’s used as an adhesive inside those products and sometimes on the outside to give them that glazed finish.
A 2015 report by “60 Minutes” found extremely high levels of formaldehyde in laminate flooring. Formaldehyde is also found in inexpensive furniture and kitchen cabinets.
Besides those “wood alternatives,” formaldehyde is also a common byproduct of exhausts and smoke. If you regularly use your fire-burning fireplace or have a smoker in the home, chances are that formaldehyde levels are higher than average in your home. Aerosol cans can also be a source of formaldehyde, like spray paints and hairsprays, for example.
Most VOCs cause mild irritations like coughing, wheezing, skin rashes and allergic reactions. However, it has been named a carcinogen, so it can become serious at high levels and prolonged exposure.
When researching formaldehyde and house plants, you may come across this Wolverton study as well, which also found just potent indoor plants were at removing air pollutants. This research looked into formaldehyde absorption by plants in detail.
Palm trees that can eliminate formaldehyde:
- Dwarf date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) – also known as the pygmy date palm or robellini palm. The Wolverton research found this plant specifically to be one of the best at removing formaldehyde from the air. While this plant grows rather slowly in height up to only about 4 to 5 feet (great for low ceilings!), it does require quite a bit of space in width. It does not require continuous light. It is non-toxic to dogs and cats.
- Areca palm.
- Bamboo palm.
The study found that the Areca palm plant can remove 938 micrograms of formaldehyde from the indoor air.
Other VOCs in your home it helps with
Benzene is more associated with fumes in your home. Automobiles and cigarettes both emit benzene, along with some paint supplies. It also could be lurking in some plastic and rubber products in your home. A bamboo palm can remove benzene from the air. The NASA study found that Areca and dwarf date palms cannot remove benzene from indoor air. However, the Wolverton found that the Areca palm can.
Although not on the NASA list, you may consider the broadleaf lady palm (rhapis excelsa) instead. This is another palm that scientists say can remove benzene from the air. The Wolverton study also found it to be the best plant to remove ammonia from the air.
Trichloroethylene is a solvent that gives your home a sweet aroma. But don’t let that fool you – it’s still a dangerous VOC. It’s usually used as a degreaser and a refrigerant. Its inhalation can have dire effects on the central nervous system. Here again, the NASA study’s findings show that only the bamboo palm can help remove this particular VOC. The Wolverton study offers the broadleaf lady palm again as an alternative to fighting this particular VOC.
Another VOC that has has a sweet odor, but consequential effects on the central nervous system is xylene. It’s also abundantly produced as a solvent. All three types of palms – Areca, dwarf date, and bamboo – have been shown to remove this VOC from the air. In fact, the Wolverton found the dwarf date palm to be especially efficient at this!
And as for the Areca palm, it was able to remove 654 micrograms of xylene from the air per hour according to the study.
How many Areca palms you’ll really need
Even though the air-purifying properties of this tropical plant are undisputable, in reality, you’ll need a lot of these plants in your home to achieve meaningful results.
It’s recommended to place at least one or two Areca plants (in 10- to 12-inch round pots) per each 100 square feet section of a home or work area.
However, it’s very possible to even need more than that. That’s because research studies like these are done in closed, controlled settings, and doesn’t take into account a change in natural sunlight coming in through the windows, or the air conditioning system’s airflow.
But don’t let the number of plants deter you – you can purchase a few Areca plants, then supplement it with other potent air-purfying methods. For example, you could add activated charcoal to the plants’ soil, or use an air purifier.
Don’t forget about mold
As with most plants, they respire just like we do, releasing oxygen as mentioned above. The rate at which a plant respires, or exchanged oxygen, is known as the transpiration rate. The Areca plant has an espectially high transpiration rate, producing 1 liter (or 1 quart) of water every 24 hours.
While this may be great to help you relax and reduce stress, it can also create mold in a home if it gets out of hand.
So, if you plan on bringing in at least half a dozen of these plants into your home, don’t forget to also have a way of measuring humidity levels. This can be done with an inexpensive hygrometer.
The NASA study found three particular palms to be efficient at improving air quality. The Areca, dwarf date, and bamboo palm are all great natural air purifiers that not only can remove the dangerous chemicals in the air, but also improve indoor air quality. Although the bamboo palm seems to fight off a wider range of VOCs based on NASA studies, its berries may be toxic to pets. Also, don’t forget to consider the lady palm as an alternative.