Take a tip from NASA and bring home some air-purifying plants
In the late 1980s, in an effort to crack how to build the space stations of the future, NASA conducted in-depth research into how living plants might function as super-efficient biological air filters to mop-up the toxins that accumulate in enclosed environments. And guess what? Not only did they work, soaking up carcinogenic pollutants such as benzene and formaldehyde while kicking out a steady supply of fresh oxygen, but NASA was even able to rank common houseplants according to an approximate “Richter scale” of air-purifying efficacy.
There is now an international space race to figure out how most effectively to grow plants in space in order to provide astronauts with everything from clean air and water to food, and even maintain their mental wellbeing on long voyages in tightly enclosed spaces. This research is considered such a crucial first step to making any long-haul, manned space missions possible, that China recently inaugurated a fully functioning ‘space farm’ lab in Beijing, with NASA publicly pledging to launch its first garden in space. As unlikely as it may seem, to reach for the stars you must start with your hands firmly planted in the earth.
'A single ivy plant can reduce benzene levels by nearly 90% within just 24 hours.'
The good news for Earth-bound astro-geeks is that NASA’s list of houseplants will perform their function as solar-powered air purifiers as well in the confined spaces of hermetically sealed office cubicles and stuffy living rooms as they will in orbiting stations. They are happy to run for years as self-regenerating equipment, needing only light and the occasional addition of water as inputs, and according to the study can be effective from as little as one indoor plant per 100sqft of floor space.
And, hey, they don’t look too shabby either. NASA’s list (below) should get you started…
NASA’s top 10 houseplants
(ranked according to their potential to filter air)
- Peace Lily
- Red-Edged Dracaena
- Variegated Snake Plant
- English Ivy
- Cornstalk Dracaena
- Lily Turf
- Devil’s Ivy