So I have this thing with houseplants.
When I go to Home Depot or local nurseries and load up a cart full of plants, I am sure things are getting a little out of hand, partially because I see no one else with near as many plants in their cart and partially because when I say “this is getting out of hand” a cashier will agree with me. But then I bring all my plant babies into my house, name them, and I realize that — if we’re being honest here — I think I might should have bought a few more because my house is nowhere near as lush as the Amazon (the actual place, not the retailer). And if there ever was such a thing as too many plants, give it one more week, and my not-green thumb will cause at least two plant casualties (RIP every orchid I’ve ever owned).
I would love for Zach not to notice the growing amount of green in our living room (it would be even better if he didn’t comment on how many plants I kill), but alas, he has eyes. It’s also kind of hard to miss the small forest I’ve created in our window sill.
So whenever my spidey senses tell me we are about to have the “Bailey, you spend too much money on plants” discussion, I drop some houseplant knowledge and remind him how great they are for our health.
When we’re talking about plants (loljk what losers talk about plants… 👀) most of the discussion is around style (lookin’ at you, fiddle leaf fig), but no one digs in beyond aesthetic or environmental perks to talk about how important houseplants are to our health.
But it turns out, there actually are people who have been talking about this since 1989. And by people, I mean NASA. In case you have no idea what the Milky Way is (not the candy bar kind), NASA is comprised of people who study space and like to design actual experiments and not the social experiments I refer to when I invite my two single friends over for dinner and set up shop with a bottle of wine to watch what happens (™ Bravo).
Back to NASA. They all know indoor air quality is a legit concern, and the folks at the EPA cite indoor air quality as the “cause [of] thousands of cancer deaths and hundreds of thousands of respiratory health problems each year” (more info here). This doesn’t even include outdoor air pollution. Even undetectable amounts of volatile organic compounds (AKA VOCs — think paint, your wood/laminate floors, the chems from your dry shampoo, etc.) can be hazardous since our houses aren’t open-air vortexes with amazing ventilation. And thank goodness by the way, because the last thing I need is for my dog-walking neighbors to see me perched up on the couch eating “charcuterie,” which is really just the grown-up version of a lunchable, watching political thrillers on Netflix sans pants.
But plants help absorb these VOCs. So because I don’t foresee me ever abandoning dry shampoo, I am calling on houseplants. As it turns out though, some houseplants are more effective than others at sucking up these harmful chemicals, and there are also ways we can increase their capacity to do this.
The first and most obvious way is to not kill them. Easier said than done, I know. Thus, all the houseplants I’m mentioning are going to make that easier on us (not lookin’ at you, fiddle leaf fig). If a plant requires water more than once a week, it’s not on this list because #needy.
Mother in Law’s Tongue // AKA Snake Plant
This is the big Kahuna of houseplants that improve indoor air quality. With 5-6 of these in your house, you would virtually eliminate the need to ever leave and get fresh air (note: not advice). They are literally the easiest things to grow and need basically no water for a few weeks and can do well without much light. There are lots of varieties of snake plants, but the only things to keep in mind are 1) overwatering is bad and 2) don’t put a tiny plant in a big pot; they like being crowded and tucked into the soil tightly. When you do water, give them a quick rinse and let the water run through the dirt quickly and drain.
Ficus Elastica // AKA Rubber Plant
There are many different varieties of Ficus (lookin’ at you Fiddle Leaf Fig), but one that’s effective for removing formaldehyde is this one. Everyone knows formaldehyde from middle school science class, and while it’s super useful for preserving frogs (yeah, ew), it’s not very great for your long-term health. The only problem is that it’s naturally occurring and found in both wood and laminate floors. This particular ficus also comes in a green color, but I have the burgundy and I’m obsessed with the dark leaves against my white walls. I keep it alongside a window and will occasionally set it outside for a day every couple of weeks to get additional sun, but just as the other houseplants, I give it minimal water.
Philodendron Brasil // AKA heart-leaf philodendron
This one likes a decent amount of water, but is pretty low maintenance. I keep this one in a window sill and any time it’s feeling a bit unhappy, it will turn yellow, so I just snip the yellow leaf, give it some water, and call it good.
Dracaena // AKA dragon tree
Turns out there’s a bunch of types of this plant, all of which I can’t pronounce. The easiest way to kill them is to overwater, which is pretty easy actually. You’d think I’d google the care instructions after I killed the first one, but lol. Once I got to my third one, I realized I had been paying too much attention to it and I needed to treat it the same way I treat people’s advice to completely cut out carbs — ignore it. It chills in our living room on the same wall as our sliding glass door, so it gets an okay amount of light, and I haven’t watered it in 2 weeks. When I do, I just set it in the sink, give it a quick douse (the water will zip right through the soil because it is seriously so dry), and then let it drain completely before moving it back to its happy place.
There are a lot of other varieties that are great for indoors, but these are the ones I’ve kept the longest with the least amount of issues. If you’re interested in the original NASA study, you can find it here. Also, here’s a low quality video with high-quality information and a book on the topic if you’re more into that.
If you’re not into reading studies though, here’s the highlight reel:
- low light plants are better at reducing VOCs than their bright-light counterparts
- the most effective plants studied originate in tropical or subtropical climates
- don’t let your plant’s foliage cover the soil; if it does, trim it back because the dirt also has VOC-absorbing properties
Give me a shout if you have any of these in your crib or if you have some plant knowledge you want to share!