MadSci Network: Botany

Re: What type of plants are used in everyday household products?

Date: Wed Dec 5 01:27:22 2001
Posted By: David Hershey, Faculty, Botany, NA
Area of science: Botany
ID: 1007523222.Bt

The field of plant uses by people is called economic botany, and there are 
several textbooks in the field that your school or public library may be able 
to get via interlibrary loan. Check or for economic botany 
titles. The book by Lewington is an excellent popular book on the subject. 
Another field on the traditional uses of plants by native peoples is 
ethnobotany, and there is lots of info on ethnobotany on the internet. 

Supermarkets are filled with thousands of food products from plants including 
most processed foods, cooking oils, spices, fruits, vegetables, nuts, dry 
beans, popcorn, flour, sugar, pasta, baked goods, etc. It is fairly easy to 
determine the plants in processed foods because they are listed on the food 

The plants used in household products are not always as easy to identify 
because manufacturers are not always required to identify their ingredients on 
the label. However, plants are still in a wide variety of household products. A 
search engine such as should help you indentify plant uses in many 
products. If you have a product you suspect has plant ingredients, look it up 
or look for the company website and email them if their website does not 
provide an ingredient list. Below are a few plants and plant products used in 
homes. It is not an exhaustive list but should get you started.

Jute is used for twine, rope, carpet and linoleum backing, insulation, paper 
manufacture, burlap bags, and other woven products. Cotton is used in some 
carpets as well as for all sorts of cloth products such as clothing, towels, 
curtains, napkins, upholstered furniture, etc. and even finer papers. Linen, 
made from the flax plant, is used for fine tablecloths, handkerchiefs and 
napkins. Oil paints often contain linseed oil, also from the flax plant. Potato 
or corn starch is often used for sizing paper and fabrics. The most widely 
manufactured synthetic fiber, rayon, is made from cellulose.

All sorts of plants are used for fragrances in soaps, perfumes, shampoos, and 
household cleaners, including cinnamon, lemon, rose, jasmine, papaya, etc. 
Basic household cleaners include lemon juice and vinegar, the latter made from 
plants such as apples. Lemon is particularly popular in dishwashing liquid and 
furniture polish. Pinesol cleaner does indeed contain pine oil. Turpentine also 
comes from pine trees. Carnuba or carnauba wax from the carnauba palm is used 
in fine waxes for cars, furniture and floors and as a coating on dental floss, 
disposible cups and plates, lipstick, and Chapstick. 

Coconut oil is found in soaps, shampoos, and suntan lotions, and is used to 
make glycerin, which is found in a variety of products including toothpastes, 
cosmetics and soaps. Ammonium lauryl sulfate, a key shampoo ingredient, is 
derved from coconut. Coconut fiber, called coir, is used for door mats, 
bristles and brushs among many other uses. Coconuts shells are also used as 
cups and bowls and carved into knicknacks.  

Toothpastes usually contain plant flavorings such as peppermint, spearmint, 
cinnamon, wintergreen, or menthol. One brand even contains cloves, myrrh, and 
grapefruit seed oil. Natural brooms are made from a type of sorghum, a grass.

Bamboo is sometimes used for furniture and handles of various objects such as 
garden rakes. Woods of many kinds are used in furniture, flooring, molding, 
house framing, paneling, handles, knicknacks, etc. Leather has been 
traditionally tanned using tannin obtained mainly from tree barks, particularly 
oaks. Candles can be made from bayberry wax.

Corn is used in thousands of food and nonfood products such as adhesives, 
aspirin, cosmetics, crayons, chalk, degradable plastics, disposable diapers, 
dyes, leather, firecrackers, paper plates and cups, etc. Corn silk is used in 
some kinds of makeup.

A wide variety of household items are made from paper including napkins, paper 
towels, tissues, toilet paper, books, magazines, newspapers, cardboard, 
notepads, wax paper, calendars, etc. Many printing inks are derived from 
soybean. Cellophane also comes from tree cellulose. Wood is used for a wide 
variety of miscellaneous products such as matches, pencils, knicknacks, knobs, 
handles, etc.

Baskets, cane chair seats, wicker furniture, blankets, cloth bags and many 
other woven products are made from plants. Cork, from the bark of cork oak, is 
used for flooring, wine bottle stoppers, insulation, buoys, fishing floats, 
hotmats, bulletin boards, and cork black used by artists in painting.

The invention of velcro was inspired by the spiny cocklebur fruit. Plants 
provide a large number of natural dyes and natural rubber. A wide variety of 
craft and decorative items for homes are made from dried flowers, leaves, 
fruits or cones. Houseplants and cut flowers are widely used as home 


The Many Uses of the Coconut

A zillion uses for corn


Writeups and illustrations of economically important plants

Printers shift to environmentally friendly soybean ink

Plant Fibers

Velcro Invention

Lewington, Anna. 1990. Plants for People. New York: Oxford University Press

Simpson, Beryl Brintnall and Conner-Ogorzaly, Molly 2000. Economic Botany: 
Plants in Our World 3rd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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