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Air Purifying Houseplants for the Dorm Room

By Edited Oct 5, 2016 2 7
Dracena Fragrans

There are many problems to be faced when living in a dorm, or even in an off-campus apartment. This kind of housing may have been constructed long before environmental regulations, and even new buildings may contain many irritants and pollutants that may affect your or your child's health. In addition, with so many people living in a confined space, what may be trivial amounts of toxins with only a few people living together, add up to enormous amounts of toxins when the products of several hundred people are added together. However, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has come to the rescue, with a variety of house plants that have been scientifically proven through their own research to clean the air of common household pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, and many other chemicals. All these houseplants are easy to grow and require very little care, certainly within the capabilities of most college students to maintain. A little water, a little light, and your or your child's health can be protected from irritants and pollutants.

If you are worried that you (or your child) may not be able to keep up with watering a house plant because of the pressures of school, one very simple and inexpensive solution is to invest in a few Aqua Globes. These bulbs will normally keep a plant watered for seven to ten days, and so a regular routine of weekly filling the Aqua Globes should ensure healthy houseplants in the dorm room all semester long

I have a ton of Aqua Globes and I swear by them. These handy gagdets look great and take the hassle out of watering plants.

Not only does NASA's own research support the use of houseplants to filter and purify indoor air, but other environmental scientists in other countries have addressed this problem, too (for example, this great TED talk on houseplants and indoor air in an office building), and the toxins we are exposed to in our everyday household products has even been featured on PBS.

To filter out these harmful chemicals to which we are ordinarily exposed, such as benzene, which has been shown to cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, headaches, tremors, and confusion, and is emitted by such products as detergents, furniture wax, paint, glue, and tobacco smoke, you can add a few of these common house plants: English Ivy (Hedera helix), Gerbera daisies, Chrysanthemums, Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa'), Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii), or Mother-in-law's Tongue or Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata).

Dracena Fragrans in Bloom

Dracenae are attractive plants, easy to grow, thrive in low light, and do a great job of filtering the air.

Some of these house plants, particularly the peace lily, Gerbera daisy, and bamboo palm, also filter out trichloroethylene from the environment. Even very low levels of trichloroethylene have been shown to cause nervous system effects, liver and lung damage, and abnormal heartbeat. Trichloroethylene is often used in degreasers, spot removers, typewriter correction fluid, adhesives, paint removers, inks, furniture varnishes, and carpet cleaners. As you can imagine, these products are plentiful in the dorm environment, where there are numerous rooms with these products in them!


Pothos (Devil's) Ivy

Pothos ivy is so easy to grow, you can even grow it in an empty beer bottle.

Formaldehyde exposure is another major cause for concern. Although any product that contains formaldehyde contains only a small amount of this chemical, when all those amounts are added together the formaldehyde exposure may be overwhelming, and may be enough to trigger the onset of multiple chemical sensitivies. Once an individual develops multiple chemical sensitivies, thorough and drastic lifestyle changes will be needed to accomodate their needs. Formaldehyde is present in almost all synthetic fragrances (not only in perfume or cologne or aftershave, but also in shampoos, conditioners, soaps, deodorants and antiperspirants, laundry detergents, room fresheners, cleaning products, cosmetics, etc.), particle board (from which many pieces of furniture is made), synthetic carpet, any kind of fabric made from synthetic material (including clothing, bedding, linens, upholstery fabrics, mattresses, mattress covers, pillows, and many more), many paper products and household cleaners, and cigarette smoke. Add dozens of products used by each individual, multiplied by the number of individuals living in a dormitory, and you will quickly realize that formaldehyde exposure is a very serious problem for people living in dormitories! As if that were not bad enough, formaldehyde breaks down into formic acid (what ants use to make their bites painful) and carbon monoxide, which can be fatal in high enough concentrations.

Sanseveria (Mother-In-Law's Tongue)

Mother-in-law's Tongue is wonderful for filtering formaldehyde from the air, and thrives on neglect.

To filter formaldehyde from the air, consider buying houseplants such as Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii), Mother-in-law's tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata), Dracaena warneckei (Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii'), Peace lily (Spathiphyllum 'Mauna Loa'), Red-edged Dracena (Dracaena marginata), Golden pothos (Epipiremnum aureum), and the familiar Green spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum).

Other plants that filter out harmful chemicals that may be present in smaller amounts are Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens 'oxycardium'), Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum), Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), Philodendron selloum (the botanical name is the same), and Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum).

As you can see, all these chemicals are present abundantly in such environments as dormitory rooms, and since even the air in a normal home may be up to fifteen times as polluted as outdoor air, it stands to reason that with numerous people living in such a confined space, and each person using a number of products that emit these harmful chemicals, the levels of pollutants from all these sources combined will be much higher even than at home.

Peace Lily (25175)

The Peace Lily needs light to bloom, but otherwise is easy to grow and care for.

Since colds and allergies are the two most common reasons that students cite as their reasons for missing class, it simply stands to reason that removing all the respiratory irritants and pollutants from the air in their dormitory rooms is the way to ensure higher attendance, and therefore, higher grades. These house plants can be bought for a few dollars each, not only in nurseries but also in large stores, hardware stores, and even at the grocery store -- much less than an air filtering system -- and houseplants have been shown to provide significant psychological benefits as well. The NASA studies recommend that you start with plants in at least six inch pots. So get down to your local nursery, hardware store, or anywhere else that sells plants, and get started purifying your or your child's dorm room air today. You (or your child) will be rewarded with better health, better mood, and better grades!

Miracle-Gro AeroGarden Ultra Indoor Garden with Gourmet Herb Seed Kit
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If you really can't keep your plants alive any other way, the Aerogarden is the ultimate in lazy gardening. With the "grow anything" kits, your child can not only have a source of fresh food, but clean the air, too!


Aug 25, 2010 7:55am
We sometimes forget the power of a little houseplant. Every student living on campus should read this. Great article!
Nov 29, 2010 7:00pm
I have never been good at keeping house plants alive (even with the aqua globe which is pretty darn pathetic of me), but this article definitely makes me want to go out and get some more plants!
Mar 14, 2011 5:51pm
Great article on the benefits of houseplants.
Sep 18, 2011 2:45am
I didn't realize how much houseplants can improve indoor air quality. Thanks for the information!
Dec 17, 2011 1:35am
A houseplant can really improve the atmosphere of a room. Bamboo is an easy plant to care for.
Aug 1, 2012 2:03pm
A pothos vine is one of the most low-maintenance plants you can keep. You can grow a cutting out of a beer bottle half filled with water.
Nov 15, 2014 10:48am
It's wonderful that you highlight the easy-care plants. I love Gerbera daisies. No only do plants help clean the air, they are good for our emotions and set a pleasant mood in the room. Thumbs, pinning, etc.
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