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My kid’s college dorm is full of particle-board furniture. What kind of plant can I get him to help clear the air? —Melissa Gupnik
You are right to be concerned about the offgassing of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from glues used to bind particle-board, plywood and other pressed woods–as well as synthetic carpeting systems and fabric treatments. A common VOC is formaldehyde, which can provoke eye, nose, skin and lung irritation and is classified as a possible human carcinogen by EPA.
All green plants help freshen indoor air by producing oxygen and absorbing the carbon dioxide we exhale. But when it comes to vacuuming up formaldehyde fumes, some species are standouts, according to former NASA scientist B.C. Wolverton, Ph.D., author of How to Grow Fresh Air With Plants.
Wolverton recommends the following formaldehyde-busters:
- Aloe Vera
- Bamboo palm
- Boston ferns
- Spider plants
For a busy college student who may not be inclined to mist a thirsty Boston fern, you might want to pick hardier varieties such as spider plants and philodendrons (though these do need regular watering and well-drained soil) or aloe veras, which barely need any water at all.
When it comes to cleaning air, the more plants the merrier. Spider plants readily sprout babies, which can be potted and distributed throughout the dorm. Now, if only plants could hoover your kid’s floor and empty the trash...
Mindy Pennybacker regularly answers readers' green-living questions. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.