Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Toxic Super Bubbles; Growing our Air with House Plants

So many of us Canadians spend a lot of time indoors during the winter months. With everything sealed up to prevent heat loss, we get a super bubble environment. A super bubble that is usually 100 (and sometimes 1000) times more toxic than the air we breathe outside (Ecoholic Home, 2009). Seriously. Our houses are potentially a super smog bubble.

We have chatted about ways to decrease our indoor toxic exposure by revamping our greening supplies and I have actually just progressed to phasing in water and vinegar (and tea tree and lavender oil) for regular bathroom sink, toilet and counter cleaning.

Another option that doesn't involve completely renovating, ripping out carpets (although if this is an option- DO IT, carpets have a TON of gross crap in them that get spewed up with each vacuum), repainting.... would be house plants.

I will admit that I have killed cacti... by UNDER watering them. Yep, I dehydrated a water-resistent plant. I have slowly improved in my plant keeping skills, but am admittedly a bit of a spaz when it comes to growing stuff. However, if I can grow stuff anyone can.

The trick, I have discovered, is to grow to your light capacity. Andrew and I had houseplants every place we have lived. While in BC we ONLY ever lived in basement apartments, one with the tiny basement windows. I had five plants in that apartment, all low light and they all lived. My favourite- the ZZ plant (which you sometimes see in malls, they kinda look fake...). 

In our apartment here we have a bit more success with 14 plants (wow!), one of which is definitely not happy (the xmas cactus....) and two that are pot bound. Since I'm too lazy though, they remain to be repotted.

House plants are wonderful at clarifying the air, taking in toxins and pooping out nice clean oxygen (ok, maybe not pooing, but ya know..). 

Different plants will filter different chemicals and according to "Plants for your Health" the three most common chemicals found in homes are:

Trichloroethylene: effects similar to alcohol poisoning; headache, dizziness with long term damage to the liver and kidneys. Found in varnishes, lacquers adhesives (like in particle board), dry cleaning and paints.
plants that can help: Peace Lily, marginata, gerbera daisies.

Benzene: can cause drowsiness, dizziness, vomiting and unconsciousness. Has a pleasant smell which is why it used to be in aftershave... (ick!). Found in detergents, synthetic fibres, plastics, tobacco smoke, inks, oils.
plants that can help: English Ivy, Chrysanthemums, peace lily

Formaldehyde: Can cause headaches, watery eyes and difficulty breathing. Is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA. Found in clothes, plywood, carpet, particle board, paper goods, furniture...
plants that can help: Spider plant, golden pathos, philodendron, corn plant, bamboo palm...

I highly recommend checking out the article, there are more specifics on what plants help with which item (furniture vs oil) and am very interested in finding this "How to grow fresh air" book.

Another essential reason for surrounding yourself with plants is to strengthen the connection between us and nature. As many of us live in the city or a town, we often spend our entire days surrounded by concrete and minimal plants. Even Halifax, with many trees, definitely pales in comparison to growing up in rural Nova Scotia. 

Having plants reminds us that we SHOULD remain connected to our Planet, as we are a part of the Sacred Balance. We cannot pretend to be separate and we cannot forget that our actions have direct consequences on our health. 

I love mindfully watering our plants and meditating on them during yoga practice. There is nothing more peaceful than surrounding yourself with LIFE during your practice. I find studios that are lacking in plants barren and sterile. No matter the colour scheme, it is all artificial and contrived until you add plants. 

Have a new studio, or have recently painted (low or no VOC paint I hope!)? Add plants to help decrease the benzene and formaldehyde your yogi-nis are breathing in during their practice. No one goes to yoga in order to inhale carcinogens....

article and photographs copyright of EcoYogini at ecoyogini.blogspot.com 


  1. Hmmm...I have no doubt that house plants would benefit me in all the ways you mention here...but the houseplants themselves might feel differently about the matter...like, the way you'd feel if some serial killer wanted to share your apartment with you...like, they'd probably die of fright the second they saw me contemplating taking them home with me...and don't I have enough blood...or, um, chlorophyl?...on my hands, already?

    ...all I can is, I never meant to hurt anything...it just, y'know...happens sometimes...

  2. Well Minnesotans live in their bubbles as well. I almost opened the windows this weekend because it was a whopping 18 degrees above zero and I need air! Thanks for the ideas, I'm printing the list of plants and will have to see if my not so green thumb will relinquish its power to well intentioned loving care.

  3. We are currently down to 4 plants--2 of which my husband and I constantly battle over. He moves them out of the light, I move them back :-) The lighting in our home is not very conducive to most plants (hence the ahem 6 I've killed since moving in) so I've been contemplating low light plants....your post might just add be the extra incentive to attempt one more. ;-)

  4. Just a note - if you have cats be careful when buying house plants. Some of them are highly toxic to cats and kitties will chew on things!

    So we don't have many plants. We do have spider plants by the computers and unless it's very very very cold we have the windows on vent all winter (although admitted southern UK winters are nothing in comparison to Canada!)

    Spider plants work a treat though!

  5. geez, that is one good thing about living in Florida. I can open the doors/windows and let everything air out. such as right now!

  6. great tips! i also appreciate your low-light recommendations. i've found that if i pick the plants in the furthest corner of the plant store, they might survive. the only ones that survive are bamboo...

  7. I have three plants and a collection of succulents. It is hard for me to keep them all alive, but I've had them for a few years now. I too am feeling cooped up this winter and I can't wait to play in the yard this spring! We'll see how many more plants I can kill... ;)

  8. Thanks for this! I have never been a plant person - love them, just never tried to raise them myself. I just got my first plant this year (it was one of my 2010 goals). It's an aloe plant. So far, so good, although I keep it at my work desk and notice that it attracts little gnatty insects. I don't really want them in my teeny tiny workspace! Any suggestions? Or is the suggestion to get over it? : )

  9. Great post! I admit I have killed a cactus in my day too :(
    Cacti are actually the only plants we have in our apartment...and an out of control ivy! I never thought about how we do live in "bubbles" when it is cold outside! Thanks so much for the information about which plants help in certain situations! Love your blog :)

  10. i only have one house plant, in the bathroom. it doesn't need as much light or watering. but the rest of the house is off limits to plants. the dogs would have chewed the leaves, spilt the dirt, and chewed the pot within a week. little troublemakers.

  11. I love my spider plant, which is supposed to be one of the best air purifers. Also, it's the plant that keeps on giving--it has "babies" which I have repotted, kept for myself, and given many away for presents. (also supposed to be a tolerate plant when it comes to lazy owners;)

  12. Great post. I LOVE our houseplants. It is life/prana in our home with us. I'm like you with taking care of them. Luckily my husband has THE MOST AMAZING GREEN THUMB. I just took some pics the other day because of how lovely they are. We probably have over 40 inside right now and most of them go out in the warmer weather. It is amazing to see the growth spurts when this happens.

    On a side note, have you done a post on green cleaners you can make yourself? I'd like to do that.

    Plus, stop over at my site when you get a minute. I have a little award waiting for you there!

    Have a great day!

  13. Hey ~ you're off the hook on green cleaners! Greenspell just covered me today. Gonna make the all purpose cleaner this weekend! See you and stay warm!

  14. I have to say that living in the tropics I am blessed with year-round outdoor greenery (well, brownery during the dry season, but some things manage to live), and to be honest, I prefer it to stay outdoors for all the hosts of tropical buggies that live there (mosquitoes especially!).

    I do have one indoor plant though: a beautiful bamboo tree! Bamboo loves the indoors and grows really well in indirect sunlight.

    I remember living in colder climes though and what a joy my indoor plants brought me!

  15. The only drawback to houseplants is that they can contribute to the growth of mould in your home....(also any that carry scent/aroma can trigger allergy/asthma)...

    I find baking soda is the best cleaner for bathroom sinks, toilets, tubs!


  16. We have aloe vera plants. I love them because they are easy to care for and useful!

    Also I have an award for you on my blog- http://www.retrohousewifegoesgreen.com/2010/02/i-won-three-awards.html

  17. i love my house plants and i love them even more because they help keep my apartment air clean :) hugs!!

  18. great post, i have a houseful of plants have always loved to be surrounded by their freshness and it is very meditative watering and tending to them :) interesting to see what plants help cleanse the air of these chemicals, it grates on me that we have to be exposed to them, at such levels, at all !
    thanks for the interesting read x


I love hearing from you! So I don't miss a comment, I like "pre-approving" them :)
I ask only that we stay respectful.
Also, please note that this is a personal blog and not a space for advertising your company. I reserve the right to delete "advertising" comments.

**NB: The ANONYMOUS option is the BEST way to comment if you don't have a blogger or established google/gmail account.