12 Houseplants to Refresh Dry Indoor Air
By Adrienne Santos-Longhurst
Plants are awesome. They brighten up your space and give you a living thing you can talk to when there are no humans in sight.
Turns out, having enough of the right plants can also add moisture (aka humidify) indoor air, which can have a ton of health benefits.
Yep, the right amount of humidity in the air can:
- relieve dry skin and lips
- prevent dry throat
- soothe dry sinuses and nasal irritation
- prevent nosebleeds
- reduce the likelihood of infections and allergies
Plants increase humidity in the air through a process called evapotranspiration.
Water from the soil makes its way up through the roots of the plant, through the stems, and up to the leaves (transpiration), where it's evaporated into the air through pores on the leaves, called stomata.
Ready to work on your green thumb? We'll cover which plants to get and which ones to avoid, and even throw in a few pro tips to help you make the most of your plants.
Spider plants are one of the best plants you can buy for increasing indoor humidity, according to research from 2015.
Even NASA agrees. It did a study in the '80s that found spider plants are able to remove toxins like carbon monoxide and formaldehyde from indoor air.
Perhaps the coolest part of all? They're super easy to grow.
Their stems grow long. A hanging container is best so the plant has room to cascade.
Spider plants grow best in bright, indirect sunlight, so try to keep them near a window that gets a lot of natural light. Aim to keep the soil moist, but not soggy.
Research shows that a jade plant can increase the relative humidity in a room. Most of its evapotranspiration happens in the dark, making it a good option for increasing humidity during darker months of the year.
To help keep a jade plant thriving, keep it in a bright spot, like near a south-facing window. As for watering, how much you give it depends on the time of the year.
The spring and summer is its active growing time, so you'll want to water it deeply, and wait till the soil is almost dry to water it again.
In the fall and winter, growing slows or stops, so you can let the soil dry completely before watering again.
Palms tend to be great for adding humidity, and the areca palm — also called the butterfly or yellow palm — is no exception.
They're relatively low maintenance, but they do require lots of sun and moist soil. Keep them near a window that gets a lot of sunlight. Water them enough to keep their soil moist, especially in the spring and summer.
They can grow up to 6 or 7 feet tall and don't like crowded roots, so you'll need to repot it every couple of years as it grows.
English ivy (Hedera helix) is easy to care for and gives you a lot of bang for your buck because it grows like crazy.
It's also been shown to have one of the highest transpiration rates. This makes it a good option for increasing relative humidity AND removing carbon monoxide from indoor air.
A hanging basket is best for this small-leafed ivy. It'll grow as long and lush as you let it. To keep it controlled, just prune to the size you want.
English ivy likes bright light and soil that's slightly dry. Check the soil to make sure it's almost dry before watering again.
The lady palm is a dense plant that's low maintenance when it comes to sunlight and water needs.
It does best in bright light, but is adaptable enough to grow in low-light spots, too, though at a slightly slower pace.
Lady palms like to be watered thoroughly once the surface is dry to the touch, so always check the soil before watering.
The rubber plant isn't as finicky as other indoor tropical plants, making it really easy to care for. Rubber plants also have a high transpiration rate and are great for helping clean indoor air.
Rubber plants like partial sun to partial shade. They can handle cooler temps and drier soil (perfect for people who tend to kill every plant they bring into the home).
Let the soil dry before watering again. In the fall and winter months, you'll be able to cut watering in half.
The Boston fern has air-purifying properties that add moisture and remove toxins from indoor air. Did we mention they're lush and gorgeous, too?
To keep a Boston fern healthy and happy, water it often enough so the soil is always moist, and make sure it gets a lot of indirect sunlight by placing it in a bright part of the room.
Occasionally misting the fern's leaves with a spray bottle of water can help keep it perky when you have the heat blasting or fireplace going.
Peace lilies are tropical evergreens that produce a white flower in the summer. They usually grow up to around 16 inches tall, but can grow longer in the right conditions.
A peace lily feels most at home in a room that's warm and gets a lot of sunlight. It takes its soil moist.
No need to stress if you forget to water it on occasion. It'll handle that better than being overwatered.
If you have cats, you'll want to keep this plant out of reach or avoid it. Lilies are toxic to our feline friends.
Golden pothos is also called devil's ivy and devil's vine because it's pretty much impossible to kill. You can forget to water it and even forget to give it light for long periods, and it'll still be green whenever you finally remember.
That said, it thrives in brighter spaces and does like some water. Let it dry out between watering.
Its trailing stems grow as long as you want it to, so it's perfect for hanging planters or setting on a higher shelf.
The higher the better if you have pets, though, since some of its compounds are toxic to dogs and cats… and horses, if you happen to live in a big apartment with really relaxed pet rules.
Dwarf Date Palm
Dwarf date palms are also called pygmy date palms. They're perfect as far as plants go. They're basically mini versions of the palm trees you see on tropical postcards.
They can help keep a room's air clean and increase humidity, and are super easy to maintain.
They can grow to be anywhere from 6 to 12 feet tall with bright, indirect sunlight and moist — not soaking wet — soil.
They also prefer a slightly toasty environment, so avoid placing them near a drafty window or source of cold.
The corn plant won't give you an endless supply of corn — just leaves that look like corn leaves and the occasional bloom if you treat it nice. It also helps humidify indoor air and remove toxic vapors.
Maintenance is easy. Let the top inch or so of soil dry before watering, and keep in a well-lit room where it can get a good amount of indirect sunlight.
This is another high-transpiration palm that doesn't take any real skill to grow. You're welcome.
Parlor palms like partial sun, but can manage in full shade, too, as long as you keep the soil consistently moist with a couple of waterings per week.
To help it grow, make sure it's got enough space in the pot by sizing up every year or two, or whenever it starts to look crowded.
Plants to Avoid
Plants are generally good for your environment, but some do have the opposite effect when it comes to humidity.
These plants tend to draw moisture in instead of letting it out. This doesn't happen instantly, and a couple of plants won't have enough of an effect to really zap the moisture out of your home.
Still, if you're looking for maximum moisture, you may want to limit these.
Plants that fall into this category are those that require very little water to survive. Think plants that you find in dry climates, like the desert.
These include plants like:
- aloe vera
- euphorbia, also called "spurge"
If you really want to take advantage of all the moisture and purification these plants offer, here are some tips to consider:
- Size matters. Plants with bigger leaves typically have a higher transpiration rate, so go bigger to humidify and purify a room.
- The more the merrier. Have at least two good-sized plants per 100 square feet of space — more is even better.
- Keep 'em close. Group your plants closer together to increase the humidity in the air and help your plants thrive, too.
- Add pebbles. If you're dealing with dry indoor air, put your plants on a pebble tray with water to create more humidity for your plants and your room.
The Bottom Line
If you're looking to combat dry air in your home and have some space, consider stocking up on some houseplants. Just keep in mind that this is one area where less definitely isn't more.
For a noticeable impact on the air in your home, try to have at least several plants in each room. If you only have room for a few plants, try to go for larger ones with big leaves.
- 5 Common Houseplants That Clean the Air for a Healthier Home ... ›
- 20 Plants That Improve Air Quality in Your Home - EcoWatch ›
By Matthew J. Landry and Heather Eicher-Miller
When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn't rank very high.
Why It Matters<p>This is not just a matter of growling stomachs. This is a straight-up education and health issue.</p><p>When students don't really know if they'll be able to get enough to eat, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. For instance, it can affect <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359105318783028" target="_blank">academic performance</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sleep quality</a>. It can also lead to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318783028" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">poor mental and physical health</a> outcomes for college students.</p><p>Food insecurity can also result in disrupted eating patterns if there is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627945/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not enough food or the variety</a> or <a href="https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">quality of what someone eats</a> is low.</p>
Campus Food Pantries<p>Previous strategies by <a href="https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/696254.pdf" target="_blank">colleges and universities</a> to fight hunger in their student bodies have varied widely. They include campus food pantries, emergency cash assistance and nutrition education through noncredit classes or workshopse.</p><p>These strategies were put to the test during the spring 2020 semester, when nearly <a href="https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Hopecenter_RealCollegeDuringthePandemic.pdf" target="_blank">three in five students</a> said they had trouble meeting their own basic needs during the pandemic.</p><p>College food pantries saw <a href="https://www.utrgv.edu/newsroom/2020/05/01-utrgv-student-food-pantry-seeing-recent-increase-in-demand-during-covid-19.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">big increases</a> in demand. Others said they <a href="https://www.theprospectordaily.com/2020/09/22/uteps-food-pantry-is-running-out-of-food/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were getting less donated food</a>. This made it even harder to meet the rising food needs of students.</p><p>Campus food pantries largely rely on local or regional food banks, which have been dealing with <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/2020/10/04/indiana-food-banks-call-more-food-stamps-meet-publics-need/3523683001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">greater demand</a> than they are able to meet during the pandemic.</p><p>The many students who are attending college remotely will, of course, have less access to campus resources like food pantries.</p>
Federal Help<p>Other potential ways to get more food are government programs like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility" target="_blank">Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program</a>, known as SNAP. Yet the majority of able-bodied students are not eligible. Long-standing restrictions, like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students" target="_blank">college SNAP rule</a>, prevent full-time students from receiving these benefits.</p><p>Such regulatory hurdles were created under the assumption that most students can rely on their parents to get enough to eat. However, college students have vastly different levels of financial support. Some students can rely on their parents for everything and others cannot rely on their parents for anything.</p><p>Decreased reliance on parental financial support is <a href="https://ir.library.louisville.edu/jsfa/vol47/iss3/5/" target="_blank">especially common</a> for first-generation students and students of color, who now make up <a href="https://1xfsu31b52d33idlp13twtos-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Race-and-Ethnicity-in-Higher-Education.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">45% of enrolled college students</a>.</p><p>Under normal circumstances, many college students might rely on part-time jobs to pay for their food.</p>
Short-Term Solutions<p>Universities and colleges can make it a priority to ensure students are aware of all available campus resources and services. They can also potentially help students apply for federal assistance benefits.</p><p>Campus food pantries are not a fully effective and efficacious solution for the scale of college food insecurity, but they can be a good interim solution to increase access to food for students.</p><p>Campuses without food pantries can start one, making use of resources the <a href="https://cufba.org/resources/" target="_blank">College and University Food Bank Alliance</a> provides. Schools with food pantries can try to get them to <a href="https://www.swipehunger.org/5campuspantry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reach more students</a>.</p><p>Universities and colleges can also lean on one another for support. The <a href="http://wp.auburn.edu/endchildhungeral/alabama-campus-coalition-for-basic-needs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs</a> is a great example of this. It brings together 10 universities across the state of Alabama collectively working to address student food insecurity.</p>
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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Towards the end of the final presidential debate of the 2020 election season, the moderator asked both candidates how they would address both the climate crisis and job growth, leading to a nearly 12-minute discussion where Donald Trump did not acknowledge that the climate is changing and Joe Biden called the climate crisis an existential threat.
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