Alleviating Sick Building Syndrome with Plants in Your Apartment

Have you ever experienced a noticeable difference in the frequency or severity of allergies, illnesses or just feel hindered by a constant malaise? Has this change corresponded with a recent move into new rental apartments?

It could be the result of something called ‘Sick Building Syndrome,’ which is caused by poor indoor air quality. Volatile organic compounds, molds and a lack of proper ventilation can all contaminate indoor air and endanger your health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conducted numerous studies over the past 25 years that have identified 107 known carcinogens in modern offices and homes.

Some of the more commonly reported symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome are:

  • Headache
  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Fatigue
  • Respiratory illness
  • Dizziness and nausea

Fortunately, the good folks at NASA are on the case; they been studying which plants can remove and filter volatile organic compounds and other carcinogenic materials from the air.

Some common pollutants are formaldehyde, which is used in pressed wood furniture, xylene, which is found in varnishes paints and benzene, which is found in rubber, detergents, lubricants, dyes, and pesticides.

A rather comprehensive list of plants that can reduce the amount of pollutants in the air can be found here. These plants can help to remove some common pollutants around your apartment and serve as decor.

Some excerpts from that list are pictured with descriptions of basic care below:

Chinese Evergreen

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These plants are great to put in the bedroom or bathroom of your apartment; they adapt well to different levels of humidity and light, but you should be careful not let the room temperature get below 60 degrees fahrenheit.


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Aloe is also a very easy plant to care for. It should be kept somewhere in your apartment where it will get a good amount of light. You can even forget to water this plant; the most common problem is typically watering it too much, which is indicated by soft and dull colored leaves.

English Ivy

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English Ivy is a great plant to hang somewhere in your apartment, although south and west facing windows should be avoided, as direct sun will turn the leaves pale.

Bromeliad (Aechmea fasciata)

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These plants should be exposed to indirect light and watered 2-3 times per week.

Boston Fern

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Boston ferns require lots of indirect sunshine and a bright east or west facing window in your apartment is best. During warmer months, be sure to keep the soil moist, but not saturated. In the winter, you can let the soil become dry before you water again.

Of course, having plants around your apartment not only take pollutants out of the air, but also generate oxygen, smell pleasantly and look great. If your apartment tends get stuffy or keeps an unnatural aroma, plants are a great way to eliminate that odor.

I personally have found that basil plants are pretty useful. Since my room is really small, dirty laundry can be overpowering; but, just by keeping a few basil plants on some shelves or bookcases, the room smells like Nana DiChiara’s kitchen and adds some color to an otherwise dull arrangement. There is also some utility in having some fresh herbs and spices around the apartment.

I first saw an article regarding plants making for a healthy apartment at the Green Your Apartment blog, which offers some great tips on how to live an eco-friendly life while renting apartments.

Look for future articles on making your apartment a healthy home in our apartment guide.

Let us know what kind of plants you have kept around the house with success.

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