RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Winter isn't easy on most of us. Piles of ice and snow greet us weekly, and short days make brief periods of sunshine even harder to come by. That, combined with bitterly cold temperatures, means most of us wind up staying inside our well-sealed energy-efficient homes, rather than get outside for fresh air. And that could put your lungs at risk. There are a wide variety of toxic chemicals lurking in your home, and while you can take steps to minimize them, one the most prevalent chemicals in your home isn't easy to get rid of. Formaldehyde, a volatile organic compound that is emitted in low levels by a variety of household building products and furniture, may cause cancer in humans and has been known to trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions when present in high levels. A common component of glues that hold pressed-wood or particleboard furniture and cabinets together, it's also emitted by natural gas stoves, carpet glues, flooring glues, caulks, sealants, paints, furniture finishes, and the water- and stain-repellent finishes applied to upholstery and clothing.
Government regulations have reduced the amount of formaldehyde that is used in insulation and particleboard furniture, but the sheer number of potential formaldehyde emitters found in the average home makes the chemical difficult to avoid. The good news is, you have a cheap, easy, green tool at your disposal to get rid of it. In 1989, NASA scientists tested a variety of houseplants for their ability to remove formaldehyde from the air, and one of the authors, B.C. Wolverton, later published the findings in a book titled How to Grow Fresh Air (Penguin, 1996).
Following is a list of their top formaldehyde removers, as well as a few other plants that clean the air and may bring a little sunshine into your winter. But before you head to your local greenhouse, ask your friends if they can give you any clippings or root cuttings. Not only are they free, but it's also difficult (if not impossible) to find organically grown houseplants. Greenhouses are breeding grounds for aphids and other plant pests, and as a result, growers commonly use herbicides and fumigants.
Here are 7 plants that will scrub your air: