That’s the familiar sound of someone with a London lung.
While most of us know that the air outside can be a toxic mess, not much attention is paid to the dangerous pollution that seeps inside London’s homes and offices.
For the past eight years, the UK has exceeded the yearly air pollution limit set by the EU in a single month. London shoulders most of the blame - the capital’s air is littered with all sorts of nasty stuff, like carbon monoxide from cold engines and nitrogen dioxide from car exhausts.
You may think you’re safe when you’re shut up inside your flat, but studies have shown that indoor air pollution can actually be 2-10 times higher than outdoors. These harmful indoor pollutants are made up of outdoor-derived compounds like CO2 (carbon dioxide) floating around inside, dust-like particles, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted from furnishings, paint and detergents, and other common household objects. As a result, 4 million people worldwide die prematurely due to indoor air pollution.
Londoners are particularly at risk for indoor air pollution: a study commissioned by the Mayor of London found that children inside the city’s classrooms are breathing dangerously high levels of pollution.
How plants can help (and which to buy)
It’s not all doom, gloom, and smog, though. Adding a bit of green to the scene can help clear up the air in your home or office.
Lots of science has shone a light on the cleansing power of house plants; one study, for example, found that the harmful side effects of indoor pollution - such as itchy eyes, respiratory problems, and asthma, to name a few - were drastically reduced by the addition of house plants in a Delhi office building.
Others have shown that, in an average living space, 5 medium-sized plants can increase air quality by around 75% and mental health by 60%. And it's not just the studies - surveys of Brits also show that plants have a remarkable effect on our own health and wellbeing. 43% of Brits say plants make them feel calmer, and 35% report a higher sense of wellbeing. Clearly plants are helping to combat the stress of urban living, with 65% of Brits reporting that gardening make them feel relaxed.
NASA was at it, too: they ran a big study testing the clean-air potential of plants, and found that certain species were super effective in removing common pollutants from the air.
But not all house plants are made equal in the air-purifying game. Here are some of the best toxin-busting superheroes for your home:
Snake plant: Though this easy-to-care-for plant has collected a bunch of nicknames from her fans - including ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’ and ‘viper’s bowstring hemp’ - we like to call her Susie. She absorbs air pollutants during the day and lets off oxygen at night, which is said to help you sleep better.
Jade plant: Our girl Jade (also known as the ‘money plant’) isn’t bothered by the bad stuff - she’s highly effective at removing toxic compounds released by carpets, paints, and adhesives.
Weeping fig: This super popular house plant - who we’ve named Ben - filters out formaldehyde and other nasty toxins from the air.
If you can’t get enough of that clean, clean air, check out the rest of our air-purifying plants here. While house plants won’t completely fix the problem, they can make your environment a little bit cleaner and a little bit greener - and we think that’s a worthy investment.
Want to know more?
Breaking: UK reaches legal air pollution limit https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/press-releases/breaking-uk-reaches-legal-air-pollution-limit-ministers-attend-emergency-air-quality-meeting-brussels/
How to grow fresh air https://www.ted.com/talks/kamal_meattle_on_how_to_grow_your_own_fresh_air
Air pollution worse inside London classrooms https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/24/air-pollution-worse-inside-london-class
How humble houseplants can improve your health https://www.uts.edu.au/about/faculty-science/our-community-engagement/uts-science-focus/medical-and-biomedical-sciences-0
Why is London’s air so toxic? https://www.wired.co.uk/article/london-air-pollution-toxic-t-charge
Garden Trends Report 2018: Healing houseplants https://www.gardenforum.co.uk/media/articles/WGC%20Garden%20Trends%20Report%202018.pdf
Houseplants: to support human health https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=949