Update: Adds promo code nyreec8 for $50 off your first Uber ride and link to my blog about air pollution in Hong Kong.
To kick off the New Year, everyone always intends to become more healthy, don’t they? Striving to give up all those naughty things like smoking or chocolate. Trying to do more exercise. Attempting to shout more quietly at the kids, in public. What my husband and I do is uphold the English tradition of a "dry" January where we fast from alcohol for a WHOLE MONTH!!! Externally, this is a show of force in the name of health but often it’s just to prove to ourselves that we’re not real alcoholics, just highly functioning social drinkers. My husband is very strong-minded and always makes it through to the bitter end give or take a couple of wildcards. I tend to crack by the 5th but figure that’s ok – it’s medicinal – mums need wine to survive the mundanity of managing small kids all day. So to pre-empt my inability to stave off the alcohol, I took my family to Flower Market Road near Prince Edward MTR to expand our collection of air filtering plants. My thought process is that if I will inevitably fail at my New Year's resolution, at least I can succeed in improving our health by bringing cleaner air to our home.
We first started buying air filtering plants 3 years ago when my husband decided to move our family into a “wrapped” building. Armed with scientific studies, including one by NASA, he somehow persuaded a very pregnant me that all would be fine even with the windows and doors sealed.
In this week’s blog, I will explain the benefits of air filtering plants and list a selection that we have in our home. I will direct you to where you can buy them and include the plant names in Chinese characters to reduce the Lost In Translation miming that so often accompanies shopping experiences for expats in Hong Kong. Plus I’ll tell you how much we paid so that you don’t get ripped off – well, no more so than my husband did anyway. Lastly, I will show you how to get home with your kids, your bulky and fragile purchases and baby buggy - stress free!! And so, without any further nattering...
Why buy air filtering plants?
NASA first released their study on air filtering plants in 1989, aimed at ways to clean air and provide oxygen in space stations. The results and subsequent studies by Dr Wolverton suggested that certain plants may provide a natural way of removing chemical toxins such as Formaldehyde, Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs (Benzene, Trichloroethylene), Xylene, Toluene and Ammonia from the air. The first two are carcinogens and are released into your home through many types of new furniture, household cleaning products and paint, amongst others.
There are also studies showing that some of the plants I list below significantly reduce the concentration of mould spores and airborne animal faeces from the air which makes them particularly useful in humid and confined Hong Kong.
We all know plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen during the day. One variety, which we have in our bedrooms, does it during the night.
And lastly, the reason most people buy plants – they are aesthetically pleasing.
What types of air filtering plants should I buy and how many do I need?
The following is the list of the air filtering plants we have in our home, their benefits and how to care for them. In addition, if you're wondering if your air purifiers are cleaning your air of harmful particles, check out the PEEKair air quality monitor calibrated specifically for Hong Kong.Areca palm (Dypsis lutescens) 散尾葵
$160 for a full size plant.
This plant generates plenty of oxygen during the day. It is a great general air cleanser, shown to remove Formaldehyde, Xylene and Toluene in studies. It prefers well drained soil with partial sunlight.
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) 吊蘭
$30 for a medium sized plant.
This plant grows like a weed so is very easy to maintain. It has been shown to remove Formaldehyde, Xylene and Toluene in studies. It likes indirect sunlight and lots of water.
Snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii') 虎尾兰
$50 for a full size plant.
This is one of the best plants for air quality according to NASA. It is rather unique because it releases oxygen during the night making it ideal for bedrooms. In studies, it has been shown to remove Benzene, Formaldehyde, Trichloroethylene, Xylene and Toluene. The plant is tolerant to low levels of light and irregular watering making it virtually indestructible. This plant is toxic to cats and dogs if ingested.
Devil's ivy or Money plant (Epipremnum aureum) 萬年青
$150 for a full size plant, $20 for a small plant.
This plant has been shown to be one of the most effective at removing Benzene, Formaldehyde, Xylene and Toluene. The plant needs indirect sunlight and regular watering. This plant is toxic to cats, dogs and children if ingested.
English ivy (Hedera helix) 常春藤
$60 for a medium sized plant.
This plant is said to be a must for asthma and allergy suffers. Preliminary research shows that it can reduce mould spores in the air by up to 78% in 12 hours and airborne dog faeces by up to 94%. NASA rates it as one of the most effective for removing benzene but it is also shown to remove Formaldehyde, Trichloroethylene, Xylene and Toluene. Parts of this plant are poisonous to humans if ingested.
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum 'Mauna Loa') 白鶴芋
$130 for a full sized plant.
This plant does it all. It has been shown to remove all of the toxins I mention above - Benzene, Formaldehyde, Trichloroethylene, Xylene and Toluene, Ammonia. It is also shown to remove mould spores in the air. Ours are in our bathroom because it has been reported to help keep the shower tiles and curtains free from mildew. It lives best in the shade. Water approximately once a week. We also bought these humidity meters to keep a check on the humidity levels in our bedrooms and wardrobes to stop mould growing. It tells us at a glance when to turn our (noisy) dehumidifier on/off. Super affordable even though they're shipped from ETI in England!!! Purchase at www.peekconcepts.com
Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata 'Bostoniensis') 波士頓蕨
$300 for a full sized plant.
This is another very effective air purifying plant. It has been shown to remove Formaldehyde, Xylene and Toluene in studies. It grows best in bright light and likes damp but not soggy soil. Mist frequently.
Note: Prices on the first four plants are from 3 years ago. Remainder are from Saturday 2nd January 2016. Plant sizes are relative to typical indoor sizes. Wipe leaves regularly with a damp cloth so that they can keep absorbing toxins.
NASA recommends 1 plant per 100 square feet of a typical American home. This means a dozen to two dozen full sized plants for most HK households.
If you have pets or children, remember to check which ones may be harmful to them before buying.
Where do I buy them from?
We went to the Flower Market in Mong Kok. It’s the go-to place for the locals looking for anything to do with horticulture. There are a variety of wholesale and retail shops to choose from, all teeming on to the pavement. Most shops are open from 7am to 7pm every day. If what you are looking for isn’t here, it’s probably not available in Hong Kong.
Get there by taking the MTR to Prince Edward station (red line). Exit via B1 along Prince Edward Road West. When you exit, walk in the opposite direction from the way you exited. You will have a flyover on your right and a police station on your left. Continue until you get to Sai Yee Street, then take a left. Your first right is Flower Market Road. If you are taking a taxi, show the driver this sign.
There are a variety of shops but I buy most of my plants from Brighten (no affiliation) at 28 Flower Market Road. They have a wide variety of healthy looking plants, prices are clearly marked and they accept credit cards. Make sure you sign up for their loyalty scheme where you get a $100 cash coupon for every $1000 spent. They have a shop selling pots and vases further up the road at 8 Flower Market Road where you can use the same loyalty card.
Most shops will be happy for you to leave your purchased plants at the shop for pick up later. They are likely to be the most fragile and cumbersome things you buy so make sure you leave them there.
After you’ve got your selection of plants, it’s time to buy pots. There are a wide variety of pot stores with everything from basic, classic Chinese, to very modern. We opted for the very modern style to suit our home.
Ask the pot shop to help you carry your newly purchased plant pots to the store where you purchased your plants. It’s likely to be only a minute’s walk down the road and they are very likely to help.
The great thing about this trip was that potting the plants entertained the kids for hours too.
Do these plants remove PM2.5 too?
These plants have not been shown to filter PM2.5 particles. We use them in conjunction with our air purifiers. Learn more about the dangers of PM2.5 pollution in my earlier blog post.
Check your air filters with a PEEKair, a PM2.5 air quality monitor designed for Hong Kong households. I move mine from room to room, taking real-time readings of the pollution levels in our home. I can then quickly decide whether our air filters need to be turned up or down. When PEEKair shows that the air is clean, I turn our filters off, keeping my husband happy by reducing electricity bills and extending the life of our HEPA filters. Click the image below to learn more about PEEKair and to read the real-life reviews left by many of my happy customers.
Take a look around our store. For the heath and safety conscious, our range includes water purity testers, body thermometers and safety essentials such as fire blankets, smoke alarms and first aid kits.
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The first source is a great 4 minute introduction to this topic so I have embedded the video.
K Meattle (2009). How to Grow Fresh Air, TED Talks.
BC Wolverton, WL Douglas, K Bounds (July 1989). A study of interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement (Report). NASA. NASA-TM-108061.
BC Wolverton (1997). How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office (Penguin)
Pottorff, L. (2010). Plants "Clean" Air Inside Our Homes. Colorado State University & Denver County Extension Master Gardener
American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology's annual meeting, Anaheim, Calif., Nov. 4-9, 2005. National Parks Service, "What Is English Ivy?"
This blog post should not be taken as medical advice. Consult your doctor if you have medical queries.