Adding greenery to the home has long been recommended as a way to improve indoor air quality. Flowering plants are a beautiful living piece of home decor that can brighten up any room. However, can they use their leaves and roots to pull harmful pollutants from the air?
A shortlist of plants came to the spotlight because of NASA study done in the late 1980s, which seemed to point to their potential air quality benefits. A top performer was florist’s chrysanthemum, a popular houseplant that seemed to filter airborne chemicals. This article will present the facts: How effective is florist’s chrysanthemum in acting as an air filter? Are chrysanthemums the low-cost, aesthetically-appealing answer to your indoor air quality needs?
What is a florist’s chrysanthemum?
Florist’s chrysanthemums, also known simply as mums, are common, inexpensive perennial houseplants. Thousands of years ago, the chrysanthemum was grown in China as a flowering herb. However, the colorful modern mums that we know and love display a far greater variety of blooms than the daisy-like yellow flowers of centuries past.
Chrysanthemums are attractive gift plants and can usually be found year-round. Because they can live for a long time after being cut, they are widely used in corsages and other floral arrangements. Mums are popular houseplants that can bloom in low light and require very little care other than proper soil and drainage. Their beautiful blooms in a rainbow of colors make them a great option to brighten up any room.
Caring for your chrysanthemum
Chrysanthemums typically bloom for four to six weeks. Caring for your mum is relatively simple, as the plants require little extra effort beyond regular watering. They thrive when they receive bright light during the day and little to no nighttime light. To avoid unwanted fungal growth, make sure that your chrysanthemum’s pot has adequate drainage and that the plant is in an area of your home with good air circulation.
Note: Chrysanthemums are toxic to cats and dogs. If ingested by your pet, these plants can cause diarrhea, skin irritation, excess salivation, vomiting and a lack of coordination, according to the ASPCA.
Can florist’s chrysanthemums remove toxins from the air?
Airtight buildings can be great at decreasing energy consumption by reducing the amount of work than an HVAC system must do to maintain the temperature of an enclosed indoor area. However, this efficiency comes at the cost of decreased air exchange and outdoor ventilation, meaning that pollutant concentrations in the air can build up more quickly and take longer to dissipate than in buildings that are less airtight.
NASA reports that workers in energy-efficient buildings tend to suffer from a similar range of health problems, including eye and skin irritation, drowsiness, headaches, respiratory and sinus congestion, and other allergy-related symptoms—a phenomenon is referred to as “sick building syndrome.”
For decades, people have looked to houseplants to help remove pollutants from the air inside of their homes. Plants are known to absorb gases from the air and transform them into oxygen and other, less harmful compounds. The question is whether houseplants are capable of doing this on a large enough scale to make a difference in your indoor air quality.
In 1989, NASA environmental scientist B.C. “Bill” Wolverton published a report that looked towards the future of energy-efficient buildings and addressed the need for a way to remove pollutants from indoor air without increasing ventilation with outdoor air. (This stemmed from the need to address the lack of fresh air exchange in space stations.) His solution was to add a significant amount of houseplants to the indoor area, stating in his report that “plants can play a major role in removal of organic chemicals from indoor air” (Wolverton, 1989).
Wolverton was also involved in the 1989 NASA Clean Air Study that found that houseplants with low light requirements could be effective in improving indoor air quality by removing airborne chemicals (known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) from the air in energy-efficient buildings. Chrysanthemums were one of the top performers in the study for their ability to filter formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene from the air (Wolverton, et. al, 1989). An additional study published in 1993 found that chrysanthemums were able to filter ammonia and xylene from the air as well (Wolverton & Wolverton, 1993).
How effective are chrysanthemums at removing toxins?
Florist’s chrysanthemums may be able to filter certain pollutants from the air, but are they really a practical solution to improve the indoor air quality of your home? According to the EPA, it is not likely. The studies cited above used small, airtight chambers that could not accurately reflect the air exchange in an actual building. Unfortunately, the number of chrysanthemums that you would need to replicate the study’s results would quickly take over your home. When it comes to improving indoor air quality, increased ventilation and air exchange can make a far more significant difference than the addition of houseplants.
Additionally, adding plants to your home could promote mold growth, according to the CDC. Damp soil cannot only facilitate the growth of unwanted microorganisms, but it can also contribute to elevated moisture levels in your home. A high relative humidity promotes mold and mildew growth, decreasing your indoor air quality.
Additional benefits of adding chrysanthemums to your home
Though the evidence may be mixed about air quality benefits, there may be other pleasing benefits to having chrysanthemums in your home. Chrysanthemums are extremely popular houseplants because of their affordability and ease of care. Their earthy floral scent and vibrant blooms can help freshen up any room, but the chrysanthemum’s benefits do not stop there. Did you know that adding indoor plants to your home can have physiological and psychological benefits as well? Interaction with houseplants can help decrease stress by suppressing sympathetic nervous system activity—known for mediating the “fight or flight” response—and diastolic blood pressure. Additionally, houseplants can promote feelings of comfort and calmness (Lee, et. al, 2015).
Chrysanthemums can also be used to make common household necessities. Some chrysanthemum uses include:
Herbal tea—Dried chrysanthemum blooms can also be used to make a tea that has a mild flavor similar to chamomile. Chrysanthemum tea has been used for centuries for its alleged health benefits, but these claims are yet to be supported by scientific research.
Insecticides—Chrysanthemum plants also contain a natural insecticide called pyrethrin. Dried blooms can be made into an insecticide powder used to control pests such as mosquitoes, cockroaches, beetles, flies and lice.
Other low-cost air quality solutions
Chrysanthemums, though aesthetically appealing, may not be the answer to all of your indoor air quality needs. However, there are many low-cost air quality solutions to remove pollutants and improve the quality of the air inside your home. These include:
Cleaning regularly – This may seem like a given, but there are certain steps that you can add to your cleaning routine to make it more effective in improving your indoor air quality. Vacuum your carpet and upholstery regularly, and wash all bedding and stuffed animals in hot water to help remove animal dander and dust mites. Dust mite covers for your mattress and pillow can also help dust mites from accumulating in your bedding.
Increasing ventilation – Increasing the ventilation in your home is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your indoor air quality, as long as your region’s pollen and pollution levels are low. This helps to cycle the air inside your house and increase the exchange of indoor and outdoor air. Try opening a window or door, using a window air conditioning unit with the vent control open, or using a window or attic fan.
Changing your HVAC filters – When your HVAC filters become clogged with dust, pet dander, mold or bacteria, your HVAC system can start to blow those pollutants throughout your home. Additionally, regularly changing your HVAC filter will help prevent the spread of airborne pollutants in your home, and cause your HVAC system to use less energy and run more efficiently.
Checking for radon – According to the EPA, radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, and the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. overall. Because radon is a colorless, odorless gas, testing is the only way to evaluate your level of exposure. Inexpensive radon test kits can be found online and in home improvement stores.
While the NASA Clean Air Study points out the potential of chrysanthemums to filter airborne pollutants, they may not be up to the job of cleaning the air of your entire home. However, the flowering plants certainly will not hurt your air and can offer a range of other benefits. Combining the use of florist’s chrysanthemums with other simple, cost-effective strategies can significantly improve the air inside your home.
Along with the steps discussed above, an air purifier can offer clean air to your home. Florist’s chrysanthemum is questioned for its specific ability to filter airborne chemicals, called volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) from the air. The Molekule air purifier has been third-party tested to destroy VOCs in the air down to undetectable levels, as well as other pollutants such as allergens like pollen or mold. Along with using the foundational strategies of maintaining your indoor air quality, the Molekule PECO technology can be part a long-term solution for clean air in your home.