Introduction by SafBaby Founders Sandra Blum and Samantha Fox Olson

Indoor air can be more toxic during the winter months since we don’t get as much fresh airflow through the house with all the windows and doors shut most of the day. Since young children are most vulnerable to toxic indoor chemicals like formaldehyde, we wanted to find out more about the air purifying benefits of indoor plants. Investing in a few house plants is probably the most affordable and effective way to improve indoor air, especially in our children’s bedroom where they spend at least 10 and more hours every night. As parents of young children who like to put things in their mouths, we also wanted to know which indoor plants were dangerous if accidentally ingested.

The expert on this topic is Dr. Bill Wolverton. A retired NASA scientist, he has published more than seventy technical papers, has lectured throughout the world and has authored three books. His newest book is entitled, “Plants: Why You Can’t Live Without Them”. We are excited to have Dr. Wolverton answer our questions and share the information in this post.

The Importance of Plants in Our Indoor Environment

Research conducted during the past thirty years by Dr. Wolverton, as well as other scientists in the U.S., Australia, Europe, Canada, Japan, Korea and India has shown that interior plants can remove airborne chemicals from the indoor environment.

Indoor air pollution is a major suspect in the development of asthma and allergy in small children. Formaldehyde, a particularly harmful chemical to children, is one of the most commonly found chemicals in the indoor environment. Studies have shown that plants are quite effective in removing formaldehyde.

Studies have shown that office worker productivity increases when live plants are present. Studies have also shown that plants placed in healthcare facilities reduce stress and anxiety, while providing a more peaceful, calming atmosphere for patients and staff.

Air quality can vary from room to room. A simple rule is to add as many plants as space and lighting will allow, but strive for a minimum of two plants per 100 square foot area.

Houseplants are more effective in improving indoor air quality in tightly-sealed (energy-efficient) buildings than in highly ventilated buildings. In most cases, it is desirable to use plants to supplement mechanical air filters rather than totally replace them.

How Plants Remove Airborne Chemicals

Plants have two pathways in which they remove airborne chemicals:

  1. Plant leaves absorb and break down chemicals
  2. During the process of transpiration, plants pull airborne chemicals down to their root zone. Microorganisms, living on and around the plant roots, convert the chemicals to food and energy for themselves and their host plant.

Plants produce negative ions that not only reduce the level of microbes in the air surrounding their leaves but make humans feel better.

Research shows that fewer airborne dust particles are found in rooms containing live plants.

The Most Effective Plants For Improving Indoor Air Quality

bamboo palm

Plants having the highest transpiration rates are generally more effective in removing airborne chemicals and microbes from the ambient air.

These plants are among the most effective in improving indoor air quality:

Areca palm
Lady palm
Bamboo palm

Plants grown in hydroculture (soil-free) eliminate mold growth problems and are more effective in removing airborne chemicals than plants grown in soil. Research indicates that plants grown in hydroculture (the use of small pebbles in place of potting soil) can reduce bacteria and mold spores in the ambient air.

Which Houseplants For Your Child’s Bedroom?

Some houseplants that are considered safe to have around small children include:

  • Areca palm
  • Lady palm
  • Bamboo palm
  • Snake plant
  • Swedish ivy
  • Spider plant
  • Yucca
  • Corn plant
  • Boston fern


Placing plants in a child’s bedroom that are deemed safe should prove helpful. For example, a lady palm and snake plant, which both thrive in low-light conditions, would be ideal in a child’s bedroom.
 If plants are grown in hydroculture, it is best to place a screen or some other barrier over the top of the pebbles to prevent children from placing the pebbles in their mouth.

Most houseplants do consume a small amount of oxygen during the night. However, it is an insignificant amount when compared to the overall volume of air in a room. Some plants such as the snake plant, orchid and bromeliad actually produce oxygen at night.

Plants Harmful to Children

Common houseplants that can be harmful to children if they chew on the leaves are golden pothos, English ivy, dieffenbachia, philodendron and syngonium. These are some of the commonly known plants but one should consult a trusted plant grower or medical source if concerned about a particular plant.

About Dr. Wolverton

BC WolvertonDr.Wolverton is a retired NASA research scientist. He serves as a consultant and lectures on the use of natural processes for solving environmental pollution problems. He has a B.S. degree in chemistry; three years of graduate studies in medical microbiology, biochemistry and immunology; one year of graduate studies in marine biology and a Ph.D. in environmental engineering.

Dr. Wolverton has received numerous patents and awards for his pioneering research, including the Federal Environmental Engineer of the Year Award; induction into the U.S. Space Foundation’s Space Technology Hall of Fame; the American Chemical Society’s “Heroes in Chemistry” Award; the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution “Conservation Medal” and the “Award of Excellence” presented by the National Council of State Garden Clubs, Inc.

Dr. Wolverton is recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities in the use of natural processes for environmental pollution control. He has published more than seventy technical papers and has lectured throughout the world. He has authored three books, “Eco-Friendly Houseplants” (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1996); published in the U.S. as “How to Grow Fresh Air,” (Penguin, 1997) and is now in 15 translations.  His second book, “Growing Clean Water – Nature’s Solution to Water Pollution,” was released in 2001 but is now out of print. His third book is “Plants: Why You Can’t Live Without Them” (Roli Books, 2010) and co-authored by Kozaburo Takenaka.

Visit Dr. Wolverton’s website here.

PLANTS: Why You Can’t Live Without Them by B.C. Wolverton, Ph.D. and Kozaburo Takenaka

Cover-Plants-Why You Can't Live Without ThemThough essential to our existence, plants get sidelined in the hustle and bustle of city life. The revolutionary concept of ‘eco-landscaping’ heralds the effort to bring greenery back into the concrete jungles we inhabit. Plants: Why You Can’t Live Without Them explores how our homes and offices can be made healthier and more cheerful with plants.

Air-conditioned rooms, synthetic building materials and inadequate ventilation cause numerous respiratory and nervous disorders. The mere presence of plants has been proved to lessen environmental pollution, increase labor productivity and reduce the cost of health care. Plants also provide medicinal herbs and nutritious food that go a long way in extending our lifespan.

From the freshening up of indoor space, to creating a variety of gardens, and to natural methods of waste recycling, Plants elaborates the diverse means by which to enhance our living.

Produced after many years of scientific research and data collection, this book is a comprehensive study of the amazing benefits of plants, which are nature’s gift to us and provide us sustenance.

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