Can house plants cause damp?

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I’ve had a bit of a dilemma this year. We live in an old, damp house, so at Christmas, I treated myself to a dehumidifier. Crazy, I know.

And then I somehow acquired dozens of houseplants that would require humidity.

Suddenly the humidity was a good thing, and the dehumidifier was the evil, life-sucking monster that has been retired to the big cupboard in the master bedroom reserved for Christmas trees, old school artwork, and other detritus waiting to be chucked.

But what about in winter? Will the dehumidifier be dragged out again (probably). But will having the houseplants make the damp inside even worse?

***small disclaimer – our house doesn’t suffer badly from damp, we just have to remember to keep cupboard doors open etc. otherwise mould grows.

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So, do houseplants cause damp?

In short, no. I conducted a bit of research (googled it) and whilst some sites do claim that houseplants can cause damp, it’s unlikely to be the primary cause.

In long, possibly, but only if you have a jungle’s worth of plants that you’re overwatering a lot.

EDIT: I have 100+ plants. I’ve noticed a few things:

1 – I’ve had to use the dehumidifier significantly less this winter

2 – Rooms with fewer plants were damper (this is probably because the damp rooms were too cold to put plants in)

3 – Previously damp rooms that I filled with plants were less damp. I used to air dry clothes in the spare room and open the winter to let out the water. The plants now absorb the water so I don’t have to open the window. I measured the humidity with a hygrometer (what a geek) so I have the numbers to prove it.

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How do I check if my house has high humidity?

One sure sign is that you have mold growing – it’s common in older houses, especially in naturally humid rooms like bathrooms and kitchens.

You can get little sensors that will tell you how much light and humidity a room has, as well as the temperature. You can pick them up pretty cheap – I have a link to them on my resources page.

If you already have a dehumidifier (or humidifier), it should tell you on the display how humid your room is.

For reference the humidity in my house is about 65%. It’s decreased from 75% since getting the plants, but obviously there could be other factors at play. I’m pretty sure the plants have reduced the humidity though.

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What does cause damp?

  • Poor ventilation

This is common in older houses. Make sure you’re airing the house out regularly, ensure that you have an efficient fan in the bathroom and open a few windows (yes, even in winter – if only for a few minutes) to allow air to circulate.

Be aware of anything that can add to the issue, such as drying clothes in the house. Don’t dry clothes on radiators.

By the way, if you suffer with dry air, drying clothes on the radiator is a great way to increase humidity. I’ve started doing this again after years of fearing mould, and my plants love it. No mould. I swear the plants have got rid of it.

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  • Insufficient heating/insulation

Heating your home will reduce condensation, and the insulation will keep the heat inside.

I find that cold rooms are the biggest cause of damp and mould. I know that this is a pain if you have a badly insulated house, because, er, I have one. And since it’s a rental there’s not much I can do about it.

Since most house plants won’t survive in cold temperatures, they won’t be the problem. As I mentioned before, our dampest rooms don’t have plants in them in winter, because they’re too cold.

We got a dehumidifer to combat cold, damp rooms. I was worried that it would dry out my plants, so I made sure that the doors were kept closed.

And then I used the dehumidifier water to water the plants.

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  • Water getting in

Leaky gutters or pipework can cause water to leach into your home.

Plants are unlikely to have an impact on this UNLESS you have English Ivy. Ivy can work its way into brickwork, so if you have it on the outside of your house, keep an eye on it.

I know a lot of you will keep English Ivy as a house plant and I….don’t. Not because I think it’ll get into my walls and cause damp, but because it’s irresistible to pests.

I don’t need the drama.

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Can houseplants help with dehumidifying?

Ok, yes they can.

A bit.

From the research, I’ve done, there are plants that like humid conditions and will absorb moisture from the air HOWEVER, these plants will not solve your damp problem overnight.

It’s also worth noting that humidity-loving plants tend to come from tropical climates. Damp tends to be more of a problem when it’s cold, so when you most need your moisture-sucking plants, they’ll not be in the mood for sucking up water.

Sorry.

If you live in a hot, humid, environment though, there are plants you can grow indoors that may make the humidity a little more bearable.

From my experience over the winter, I think house plants definitely do reduce the humidity levels in your house. Like, significantly. But before you run out and buy a load remember that:

  1. If you live in a temperate climate, your bathroom is likely too cold to keep plants in over winter, so if it’s the bathroom that’s damp, plants are unlikely to help.
  2. I have over 100 plants. No wonder they made an impact. I’m just glad they helped, rather than caused more problems.

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Which plants will absorb water from the air?

I know we’ve already been through this, but I want to make it crystal clear – unless you have a lot of houseplants, they’ll have a negligible effect on the humidity of your home.

You know what would be really useful?

A table of how much moisture each plant absorbs from the room, but I don’t have that data. Perhaps I could conduct an experiment (unlikely though, I wouldn’t even know where to start)

But if you love houseplants and have too humid a home, why not give it some extra help?

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Peace lily

Peace lilies love to be moist all the damn time.

I’ve never actually kept one because BIZARRELY my boyfriend doesn’t like them.

Weird, no?

He prefers cacti over other plants, but he has no opinion on the others except for peace lilies. Was he attacked by one as a child? What the hell’s going on there?

UPDATE: he found a variegated one he liked, and we grow them in the fish.tank (roots in the water, leaves above)

Peace lilies are also fine with medium light, so they’re not bothered about being too near a window.

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Orchid

I inherited an orchid from Becky the Overwaterer, and I’m determined to get them to bloom. I got them a lovely clear pot and some potting medium especially for orchids, and now we’re just going to wait (im)patiently.

I’ve never really been one for orchids. I’m a foliage girl myself.

But actually they’re growing on me. They do have pretty foliage – it’s not their fault we fixate on their flowers -, they’re basically parasites, and they’re about the most widely-spread plant in the world. There’s a kind of orchid on every continent except for Antartica (although you get them in the Arctic Circle, so it’s not like they couldn’t live in Antartica. They just don’t want to).

Oh, and they bloody love a bit of humidity.

But hate being wet.

We love a picky bitch.

Seriously though, I’m so excited for it to bloom. I’d be grateful for any tips.

My hoya is putting out a flower spike. I’m trying not to get too excited but wheeeeeeee.

orchid, spider plant, and diffenbachia
The orchid is on the left, pre repotting. the spider plant in the middle is thriving elsewhere and the Dieffenbachia is dying. He isn’t happy anywhere D:

Aloe

Google informs me that aloes are great for absorbing humidity.

That’s cool and all, but I’m surprised. I mean, they don’t tend to live in humid environments so why make moisture-sucking leaves?

I suppose it means they can make the most of the available water, but I’d sacrifice big-ass leaves for massive roots that bore down and find water.

I love my aloes (one is thriving, one is recovering from being overwatered for its whole life) but they’re not those of us small of house.

Whilst they don’t really have spines like a cactus, their leaves are pointy and boy do they grow fast. Once my outgrows the table he’s on now, I have no idea where he’ll go. He might just have to go on the floor in the middle of the living room.

Boston fern

If you’re after a bathroom plant, this is the one.

I bought an extremely sad specimen from Sainsbury’s for the princely sum of £3.50 and he’s gone mental in my bathroom – he’s actually outgrown my windowsill and has to go and live downstairs with the washing machine.

Personally, I think my fern is the best at absorbing moisture.

Why?

He’s the only one that really seems to thrive in the bathroom. He’s still fine where he is now, but he’s not as…green? Maybe it’s psychological.

He’s still growing a lot, so he’s happy enough, but not quite as happy as before. I need a bathroom windowsill six feet long and three feet deep, tbh.

Perhaps I’ll bring him up to the bathroom whilst I’m showering. He’ll like that.

My asparagus fern doesn’t seem to give a shit. Since moving to the washing machine he’s not really changed. Turns out Asparagus ferns aren’t actually ferns. Never mind.

Since there’s such a marked change between my fern in the bathroom, then surely he must be enjoying moisture. And I assume the form that enjoyment takes is absorbing it. Then he must be making a difference. You get me?

boston fern and calathea
the calathea doesn’t seem to give a shit where it lives. Highly recommend.

Conclusion: will houseplants make my house damp?

No, not unless a) you have hundreds or b) you chronically overwater them so that the potting medium is always wet.

If you’re an overwaterer, read why that’s a bad thing here. Seriously, read it. Overwatering is the second most common cause of houseplant death.

Many blogs claim that it’s the number one cause of plant death, but SURELY it must be general neglect and being forgotten about.

This winter I may have to experiment with running the dehumidifier, and just making sure to check that my plants aren’t all shrivelling up and dying.

Everyone may have to move downstairs so that I can dehumidify the upstairs.

It’s looking increasingly likely that my living room will feature a fucking massive aloe vera in the middle of the floor.

I could maybe get a table to put him on. Make it look a bit more profesh.

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6 thoughts on “Can house plants cause damp?”

  1. Had a great time reading you!! Living in Central America, I’m trying to get rid of humidity during rain season… Your article is very useful… and hilarious Thanks!!

  2. Loved reading this. I have to thank you for making smile (am sitting in living room, feeling low because of the exteme humidity thats ruining my furniture, picture frames, wardrobe, clothes and boots I could go on and on…oops I have lol) I am having to sand, seal and protect it again n again and its making me friggin, piggin upset!

    My rented place is built into an old wall that is also built under ground, there is a spring/ teeny tiny stream that flows under the place and also happens to be in the spot where the run off from near by cairn drains away (thats hell of a lot of water! Oh and its also in a valley too! But I adore the place and my garden too, , its beautiful and stunning but very bloody HUMID !

    Levels are constantly between (on a good good day) 75) and (on a bad bad day which is quite often) 93 !!!!

    Dehumidifier and ventilation does not touch the sides at all.

    Decided to research planta that could help and found your post. Thinking maybe a big ‘fuck off aloe (sitting in the middle of floor ) and many many other plants might help …even if only to make me feel like I am not living in sometimes cold sometimes hot sauna!

    Thanks for the post and for giving me a boost and stopping me from packing up and finding a normal place to live (which I would despise )
    I’m going to buy me some kick the ass out of humidity plants

  3. Oooo you need Hoya! They like a lot of humidity but hate having wet soil. They’re also not spiky like aloe!

    I’m glad I could make you smile.

    Your house sounds so cool – we can make this work!

  4. How in the world can you say plants soak up the humidity? Have you heard of transpiration? I too have over 100 plants and the moisture level bbn in my home has risen because of it. It has not gotten dryer. I guess what you are saying sort of makes sense that plants draw up the moisture. But how can theny do both?

  5. Why can’t they do both? Human skin can absorb water (though luckily only a bit and only so far into the skin) and release it too.

    Stomata can absorb water as well as expelling it, though they absorb less than they release. It varies from plant to plant too – some plants can absorb more water than others.

    This only considers the biology of the plant though, and when assessing the amount of moisture in you home due to plants you have to consider plant care.

    Factors such as how often you water, what potting mix and pot you use, and the temperature of your home will all affect moisture levels more than the actual plant. Light levels will probably have the biggest effect. People with a lot of moisture loving plants like ferns and calathea with have higher levels of moisture than people with loads of succulents.

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