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By Karen Alexander, Oncology Wellness Specialist


Improving your Environment with Indoor Plants

We all have walked into a house with indoor plants and felt immediately relaxed. There is something about being surrounded by plants that give us a feeling of peace and comfort. These feelings may have a root in the fact that plants can improve indoor air quality.

A wide variety of household products (paints, wax, pesticides, toys, craft glues, household cleaning supplies, and nail polish remover) may contain chemicals that release gases known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some studies have found that VOC levels average 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some of these gases may have short and long-term adverse health effects. Short-term effects include headaches, nausea, asthma exacerbation, loss of coordination, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Possible long-term effects include liver, kidney, central nervous system damage, and cancer. 

Research shows that plants can be useful to remove common VOCs found in homes by both direct (e.g., absorption) and indirect (e.g., biotransformation by microorganisms and roots in the soil) mechanisms. The removal rate is influenced by VOC concentration, identity, VOCs in mixtures as well as the plant species, light intensity, temperature, genetic transformation and growing media.

Below are three of the most common VOCs and the best indoor plants that can decrease their levels in your home:


Benzene can be found in gasoline and other fuels. Benzene is used in the manufacturing process of plastics, detergents, pesticides, and other chemicals, and is linked to the development of leukemia. Long-term exposure may affect bone marrow and blood production. Short-term exposure to high levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, unconsciousness, and death.

Top 5 plants that purify the environment from benzene:
Barberton daisy
Florist's chrysanthemum
Peace lily
Bamboo palm


Trichloroethylene is a colorless degreasing solvent that is light in odor and is used in typewriter correction fluids, paint removers/strippers, adhesives, spot removers, and rug-cleaning fluids. Both acute and chronic inhalation can affect the human central nervous system with dizziness, headaches, confusion, euphoria, facial numbness, and weakness. Research shows that there is an increased risk of developing kidney, liver, cervical, and lymphatic cancers.

Top 5 plants that purify the environment from trichloroethylene:
Barberton daisy
Red-edged dracaena
Peace lily
Janet Craig (Dracaena Fragrans)
Bamboo palm


Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen and levels are higher in newly manufactured wood products such as flooring and furniture. This chemical can be found in tobacco smoke, some permanent press fabrics and household products such as glues, paints, caulks, paper product coatings, specific insulation materials, cosmetics, pesticides, and detergents. Formaldehyde can be used as a preservative in some foods, antiseptics, medicines, and cosmetics. High levels of formaldehyde exposure may cause some types of cancers. Contact with this chemical may irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and throat.

Top 5 plants that purify the environment from formaldehyde:
Bamboo palm
Boston fern
Janet Craig (Dracaena Fragrans)
Florist's chrysanthemum
Dwarf date palm

Studies show that plants in an office environment may reduce feelings of stress and negativity and can increase productivity, performance, and job satisfaction by 10 percent.

Below are 5 easy steps to improve your indoor air:

  1. Increase ventilation 
  2. Provide maximum ventilation when painting
  3. Never mix household care products unless directed on the label
  4. Discard paint supplies, solvents and special fuels that will not be used immediately
  5. Buy just what you are going to use and discard partially full containers of old or unneeded chemicals safely

Have a wonderful weekend!

Karen Alexander, BSND, MSCN

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