Here are some tips to home gardening with the added benefits of improving air quality in your home and the quality of your life.
Indoor Plants for a Healthier and or Happier Home
According to the USA Environmental Protection Agency, the air we breathe indoors can be up to five times more polluted than the air outside. Indeed, indoor air pollutants have been ranked among the top five environmental risks to public health: Stagnant indoor environments allow pollutants to build up and stick around in greater amounts than we humans should be breathing in. Given that people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors, air quality matters .
A NASA Study, widely quoted, recommends the following plants amongst others: However, that study seems to have limited follow-up and therefore the actual effectiveness of these plants may be problematic. But working on the basis that if they filter out any pollutants this is good, and, based on several experimental studies, the presence of potted plants has been found to be helpful in many different settings including work, school, and hospitals. In particular, plants have been shown to: Lower blood pressure (systolic), Improve reaction times, Increase attentiveness, Improve attendance (at work and school), Raise productivity (at work), Improve well-being, Improve perceptions of the space, Lower levels of anxiety during recovery from surgery, Raise job satisfaction..
True Indoor Plants that are Hard to Kill
Spider (Ribbon) Plant
Pollutants removed: : ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene
Spider or , as they are called in Australia, Ribbon plants, reflecting that Australian feel they have enough spiders in their gardens, are among the easiest houseplants to grow, making them a great choice for beginners or forgetful owners. A fan of bright, indirect sunlight, spider plants will send out shoots with flowers that eventually grow into baby spider plants or spiderettes. Just dip the shoots in root powder press into soil in a new plant pot – and once the roots are established snip the shoot between the two plants. You will soon have enough new plants to gift all your friends to cleaner air. In the spring and summer growing season you can almost see these plants grow.
Pollutants removed: ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene
The Peace Lily is another of NASA’s superstar.. Easy to grow, these plants will flower for much of the summer. Just be aware that those flowers (like all flowers) do contribute some pollen and floral scents to the air, so you may want to avoid having a room full of them. Put peace lilies in a shady spot and keep the soil moist without overwatering. These are a bit more passive from a gardening point of view – nice and hardy and forgiving of small neglects. The moisture given off by these striking flowers can boost a room’s humidity by up to 5%. This suppresses airborne microbes which can lead to allergies, and also helps relieve those irritating dry noses and throats that keep you awake all night.
Snake Plant / Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
Pollutants removed: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene
If its not Spiders its Snakes – it hard to be an Australian. I will not even go into the other name – who knows.
This is one of the hardest houseplants to kill. Although it does need to be watered occasionally, it generally prefers drier conditions and some sun. This plan, unlike a lot of other plants, t also emits oxygen at night time whilst simultaneously taking in carbon dioxide.
Pollutants removed: benzene and formaldehyde
Listed as one of NASA’s top air-improving plants, the fantastic Aloe works much like the Snake Plant – it emits oxygen at night, making for a more restful slumber. It’s also one of the easiest plants to grow and maintain – it tolerates ‘neglect’ well and so doesn’t require frequent watering. Keep it on your window sill as it does need a lot of direct sunlight.
If you believe in it - you can also use the gel from the Aloe Vera leaves as a topical treatment for minor cuts and burns, insect bites, dry skin and lots more!
Dubbed the ‘plant of immortality’ by the Egyptians, it reproduces easily so if you buy one you’ll soon have an Aloe plant for all the rooms in your house, given its size its perhaps better on a terrace than indoors.
So Where are these Toxins coming from in the Home ?
Furnishings, upholstery, synthetic building materials, and cleaning products all contribute to the air toxins in your home. But here are a few that might surprise you:
Candles: While the candle industry insists that the final product is inert, studies ave shown that burning paraffin candles can release high amounts of benzene and toluene — both known carcinogens — into the atmosphere. And even if you buy a high-end candle, it doesn't make it any safer. Candles from most retailers are mostly made from paraffin. Add to the mix the artificial dyes and synthetic fragrances often used in candles, especially those for aromatherapy. The recipe varies from candle to candle, but the fragrances and dyes often contain toxic plasticizers and solvents. If you can't live without your candles, consider those made of beeswax or vegetable oils, and with natural dyes and perfumes. George Thurston, Ph.D., an associate professor of environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine urges people to be prudent about lighting any kind of candle -- whether it's paraffin, beeswax, or soybean -- in an enclosed space. "Just lighting a match to start a candle creates sulfur pollution in the air," he adds. "It's one of the big sources of sulfur in the indoor environment, so using a lighter would probably be cleaner."
Few scents are as comforting as warm laundry pulled from the dryer, thanks to the olfactory magic of fabric softener sheets. But have you ever wondered what's in those dryer sheets? That waxy feeling when you touch them is a surfactant compound that coats your clothes to keep them soft. The compound is also positively charged, which helps remove static. It’s often comprised of a mixture of quaternary ammonium salt (which is linked to asmatha), silicon oil or stearic acid (derived from animal fat). When these ingredients heat in the dryer, they liquefy, coating the clothes. In essence, your fabrics aren't really softer—they're just coated with a fatty film to make you think they are. A study published in the August 2011 issue of the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health
, shows that scented laundry items often contain numerous carcinogens and toxins not listed on the packaging, including acetaldehyde and benzene. The University of Washington researchers called the air vented from machines that used scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets toxic.
Carpets and Flooring. As much as you may love that “new carpet smell,” that famous scent is actually the off-gassing of hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including toluene, bromine, benzene, formaldehyde, ethyl benzene, styrene, and acetone. Routine exposure to these chemicals are known to cause headaches, throat and eye irritation, allergies, confusion, and drowsiness. Synthetic carpets that contain nylon and olefin fibers are typically the worst offenders. In homes, the most significant sources of formaldehyde are likely to be pressed wood products made using adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins. Pressed wood products made for indoor use include: particleboard (used as sub flooring and shelving and in cabinetry and furniture); hardwood plywood paneling (used for decorative wall covering and used in cabinets and furniture); and medium density fiberboard (used for drawer fronts, cabinets, and furniture tops). Medium density fiberboard contains a higher resin-to-wood ratio than any other UF pressed wood product and is generally recognized as being the highest formaldehyde-emitting pressed wood product.
In most cases it's virtually impossible to find out what's really in your mattress. Mattress manufacturers are not required to label or disclose which chemicals their mattresses contain. They may even claim that their mattresses are safe, when they are not. As reported by Mother Jones:1
"Major manufacturers such as Simmons, Sealy, and Tempur-Pedic won't divulge their flame-retardant formulas, which are considered trade secrets … A best guess at what's in today's mattresses comes from Ryan Trainer, … [president] of the International Sleep Products Association, an industry group. He says most companies use 'various types of barrier fabrics' such as cotton treated with boric acid or rayon treated with silica — both relatively benign chemicals — as well as fire-resistant materials such as modacrylic fiber (which contains antimony oxide, a carcinogen) and melamine resin (which contains formaldehyde)."
Mattresses may off-gas such chemicals, which means they slowly "leak" out over time. Studies looking into the health risks of sleeping on a chemical-laden mattress are hard to come by, but we do know that such chemicals themselves pose hazards.
Most mattresses sold on the Australian market are made from petroleum-based polyurethane, and are treated with flame retardants. The good news is that wool naturally repels fire, and if you opt for an organic wool futon, such as those from Blessed Earth, you’ll even be avoiding pesticides. There are also some non-toxic and anti-microbial latex mattresses and pillows, such as those from Zentai and Natural Bedding. Even a 10-year-old toxic mattress can still off-gas. If you can’t afford a new mattress, cover your current one with a non-toxic mattress protector or comforter of 2.5 cm thickness to keep you from breathing in VOCs. Be sure to recycle any old mattresses www.recyclenearyou.com.au
What are the risks of VOCs and Off-Gassing?
The most hyped danger surrounding mattresses made of memory foam remains “VOCs” and “off-gassing”. The two terms refer to the same phenomenon of chemicals breaking down and dispersing into the air, which some have attributed to allergic reactions, breathing issues and toxin buildup. Memory foam and all polyurethane-containing and otherwise manufactured products can have a “new” odor, usually most noticeable the first few weeks
To minimize any potential odors or discomfort, you can also follow a few guidelines after buying a memory foam bed. The best way to reduce odors is to unpack the mattress and remove all plastics as soon as you receive it. If you cannot air out your bedroom very well and the mattress has a strong smell, you may wish to set it in a garage or arable room for a few days with plenty of circulating air and ventilation. If the mattress cover is removable, take it off or unzip it to allow the foam to breathe. Don’t move the mattress into your bedroom until the odor has dissipated enough to no longer bother you.
Memory foam remains the highest rated mattress category overall in terms of owner satisfaction due to advantages like the ability to contour to sleepers, pressure point relief and support for natural alignment. Although concerns about household chemicals and toxic ingredients are valid, when it comes to today’s mattresses, they are largely unsubstantiated. There is no research available that says memory foam is unsafe, and authorities like the EPA and ACC concur that finished polyurethane foam is non-toxic.
Cleaning Products. Cleaning your home is important to air quality, as it removes dust, mold and other particulates from the air. However, many conventional household cleaning products often include harmful chemicals.
Even cleaners labeled “green” or “organic” may contain ingredients that can cause health problems. Notably, natural citrus fragrances can react with the air to produce dangerous pollutants indoors.
But conventional cleaning products are still far worse, as they may contain alcohol, chlorine, ammonia or petroleum-based solvents, all which can have negative effects on health, irritating the eyes or the throat or causing headaches. Some cleaning products release dangerous chemicals, including VOCs that can contribute to chronic respiratory problems and exacerbate allergies, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Products containing VOCs include most aerosol sprays, chlorine bleach, rug and upholstery cleaners, furniture and floor polish, and oven cleaners.
Chlorine bleach is particularly nasty. Mixing it with any acidic cleaner like ammonia or vinegar can create chlorine gas (yes, the same gas used in chemical warfare) which can cause immediate health problems, even death, when inhaled.
If you want to keep your air clean while you clean, consider using less toxic, less expensive products such as hydrogen peroxide (for sanitizing, stain removal and bleaching), tea tree oil and water (for mold removal and as a disinfectant), and white vinegar (for cleaning glass, counters and tile).
Air Fresheners. While they may cover up bad odors, air fresheners can actually make indoor air much worse by emiting toxic pollutants at levels that may lead to health risks. Many clean-air advocates compare their toxicity to that of secondhand smoke.
There's plenty of research to back up those claims. Scientists at the UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory discovered that many top-selling fresheners contain significant amounts of ethylene-based glycol ethers, which are known to create neurological and blood effects, including fatigue, nausea, tremor, and anemia. These ethers are classified as hazardous air pollutants by the EPA and California Air Resources Board.
Many air fresheners also contain phthalates, a common family of household chemicals often used to soften plastics. You'll find phthalates in many plastic household products and toys, but they're also used in air fresheners to support the fragrance. As the manufacturers of air fresheners don't need to disclose all their ingredients, it's difficult to pinpoint which products contain them. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors and can be specifically harmful to infants and children who do not have developed endocrine systems. Phthalates have notable effects on the developing male sex organs and are linked to abnormally developed male genitalia, poor semen quality and low testosterone levels.
Air Purifiers. Knowing that the air in a home may contain dangerous pollutants, consumers have invested in air purifiers to remove the toxins. However, some air purifiers release large amounts of ozone into the atmosphere, which has a pleasant, sweet scent (similar to what you might smell after a thunderstorm). If you’re interested in buying an air purifier, we recommend you use Good Housekeeping’s guide to help you with your decision.