Fixes for a Non-Toxic Apartment
Maybe you’re not ready to buy, you’re still in school, or live in a big city. Maybe you just don’t want the responsibility of owning. Our housing is paid for by my husband’s master’s program, so owning isn’t an option right now. This can be frustrating when you’re as crunchy as we are. In fact, I’ve lived in rented apartments for the last 12 years!! Since college I haven’t had the option of pulling up old carpet, updating an air conditioner or gardening.
Luckily, this summer we were able to rent a house on an acre that my parents own. So we’re now able to have a mini-homestead on the land and can make more changes than ever before!!
But for those of you who are don’t have super-lenient landlords, there are some simple (and cost effective) fixes to green up your space, reduce your chemical exposure, reduce your carbon footprints and stay healthy.
Deep Clean The Natural Way
Carpeting in often your only option in rentals. And who knows how long it’s been in there. You can rent steam cleaners at many grocery & home improvement stores.
Skip the carpet cleaning solution (which is INCREDIBLY toxic). Steam does most of the work by itself. You do not need those synthetic chemicals, I promise.
Instead use this recipe
1 cup vinegar
3 cups water
* baking soda and salt sprinkled over the carpet before steaming for stains and odors
Get Your Water Right
Since we don’t have the option of putting in a house-wide filtration system, point of use and counter top systems will be the way to go. The BEST counter top for the money is Berkey! I use this Berkey Light because it’s smaller for our little kitchen and it is the most budget friendly of ‘serious’ filter options. You can also add an addition arsenic/fluoride filter which I consider essential.
Very few filters out there offer fluoride removal and this was really important to me. My husband swears that he’s gotten smarter since cutting fluoride. Whether or not we’re smarter, fluoride is linked to dozens of health issues such as hypothyroidism, nervous system damage, bone loss and muscle weakness.
For the shower we opted for this Culligan shower head filter. It’s such a fantastic price. Chlorine is a gas that evaporates and is inhaled when you use water around the house. Showers exaggerate this process. I fill up the baby bathtub with the shower head EVERY TIME. Tiny bodies absorb more chlorine gas because they breath faster and I don’t want chemicals all over Munchkin’s skin.
In college I got chlorine poisoning from teaching swim lessons. I was rushed to the ER and was sick for weeks – trust me you do not want this stuff in your body.
Try not to think about what your air conditioning ducts look like. Instead, get some plants! This is the cheapest and best way to clean your air! Succulents such as aloe are amazing – with the added benefit of being very useful for skin irritants and burns. Other great choices are snake plants (which are super hard to kill-trust me), Boston ferns and wax begonias.
I have a deep love for Salt Lamps. They clean the air and glow in the most relaxing way. Cuddling up and reading to the light of my salt lamp with a cup of tea is a guilty pleasure of mine. It’s very spa-like.
Traditional air filter units are also great. The price point on good HEPA filters will probably price most people out though. Good units can run you $200-$400 and you will have to replace the filter regularly. “HEPA-Type” filters can remove allergens and some pollutants from the air and are a good place to start. Expect to spend around $40 plus occasional filters. I’ve had this little guy for 7 years and love it.
Your landlord will let you paint! Yay! Now before you buy check the label. Most large brands are now offering low or no-VOC paint. Make sure you are using low VOC primer as well. And just because you get the low VOC paint does not mean you don’t need good ventilation and should not stay overnight in the room for 24 hours if possible.
New couch? New bookshelf? Keep in mind new furniture will off-gas for a while. Mattresses and couches are the biggest offenders. Consider buying couches used or buying the floor model that hasn’t been wrapped in plastic in the back. Organic mattresses are pricey but now widely available online (and by all accounts are amazing). If the price is a no-go, all you need is a waterproof mattress cover!
When it comes to wood furniture like bookshelves AVOID plywood and particle board. They are super cheap -for a reason. They are bound with petrochemicals and lots of nasty stuff. Look for solid wood, metal or even hard plastic is a better choice.
Seal Up and Unplug
Call me Goldilocks – I HATE being cold and I HATE being hot. I am pretty much only happy if it’s between 75 and 78 degrees. Rentals are not typically known for their amazing insulation and comfortable temperatures. I’ve lived in some of the draftiest places you can imagine, especially my cheap student housing in Indiana and the upstairs of a 110-year-old house here in Nashville. This gets expensive and wastes TONS of energy when you’re a big baby about controlling the temperature like I am.
To keep it comfy without replacing widows – seal up! There are dozens of sizes of weather stripping. You will find one to fit even the smallest of cracks. If you can see light through the door or window, you can fill it and stop air leaks. It’s super cheap and will make a huge difference. For winter, buy widow shrink film insulation kits. You tape them over a window and use a hairdryer to shrink the plastic and seal in the air. NO heat leaking out and NO cold air seeping in.
Electrical outlets are major sources of air leakage. You can buy little foam insulators that go under the plate that work great and cost a few cents each.
Plug Wifi, TV’s and other electronics into power strips and simply slip the power strip off at night. No phantom power used overnight. Cheaper and nicer to the planet. And you neighbor can’t steal your internet.