Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Dust-busting Houseplants

20151104AThere are many reasons to grow houseplants: they beautify our homes, contribute to our psychological well-being, humidify the air, reduce the frequency and duration of colds and flus, increase the oxygen level indoors, reduce air pollution… and they even remove dust from the air.

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Plants exchange gases through their stomata (tiny pores on their leaves), but also use them to absorb particles.

We forget that although plants get many of the minerals they need for growth through their roots, they also use their leaves as a source of minerals. They absorb the fine particles that float in the air – dust! –, break them down, using them as building blocks for their growth. Among the products are absorbed this way are many that are toxic to humans – formaldehyde, benzene, trichlorethylene, etc. – but also fungus spores and bacteria, not to mention the dander (dead skin cells) that make up 80% of the dust found in most homes. And this action is not entirely passive, either: plants just don’t wait around for dust to fall on their leaves by accident. They produce negative ions that literally attract particles suspended in the air, much like a vacuum cleaner or a magnet.

The result is that the dust level in a typical house can drop by 40% or more in the presence of plants. Even one or two plants per room can visibly reduce the dust, but the more you grow, the lower the dust level.

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That said, plants can’t absorb larger particles found in the air of our homes, notably pet hair. It can eventually accumulate on the leaves of your plants and block their stomata, reducing their filtering abilities. That’s why it’s wise to rinse or wash houseplant leaves from time to time.

Which Plants Can You Use?

Any houseplant will remove dust from the air, but the most effective are those which remain actively growing in winter, such as creeping fig (Ficus pumila), ferns, maranta, umbrella plant, spider plant, peace lilies, African violets and some palm trees, among others.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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