October 16, 2008 at 12:29PM
by Deirdre Dolan
For many renters, ensuring that your new apartment is painted with safe, zero-VOC paint before you move in is tricky. Landlords don’t want to spend the extra money, and you have no leg to stand on in terms of getting them to. As a renter myself, I worked out a deal with my landlord-to-be when we signed the lease that I would pay the difference between the paint they would have used on our apartment, and the more expensive no-VOC brand they agreed to paint with instead.
A Daily Green reader with a young child who just moved back to New York City sent us the following question:
I just moved into a new rental apartment that was freshly painted and it smells. What should I do to get rid of the VOC's and the smell? Should I run my HEPA filter? What are the dangers of VOC's? I've been keeping windows open as much as possible and it's just the doors that were really newly painted so I'm trying not to freak out completely!
I turn to the Green Depot’s in-house expert Paul Novak for all green home-related questions. I have spoken to Paul a number of times over the years, and he is always thoughtful and helpful. He points out that very few paints/sealants/coatings are truly 100% non-toxic, but he makes it is business to identify the least toxic options out there.
For the reader’s smelly paint situation, Paul would say that she should first wipe everything down with hydrogen peroxide to cut surface oils. He then advises repainting with a no-VOC paint, or with something called AFM Safecoat Hard Seal to seal in any potential off-gassing.
Depending on how bad the smell remains, Paul would also recommend using an air filter. We always hear how great proper ventilation is, but Paul’s bottom line is an apartment in New York City is going to be filled with less-than-fresh NYC air, and that an air filter is a huge help. (An added benefit is that using one in a small space will allow for so much less dust that you’ll ending up needing to clean way less.)
Paul is a big fan of the AllerAir Air Tube Air Purifier, which provides carbon and HEPA filtration, and takes care of the gaseous pollutants and volatile organic compounds that vaporize into the air from cleaning supplies, adhesives, paints, and other household items. It’s a big investment ($439.98), but it’s quiet and portable (only 18 pounds). For other air filter options see the Green Depot’s full line here.
Green Depot’s website also provides the following list of basic steps you can take to improve indoor air quality:
1. Clean and vacuum regularly to remove dust, dirt, and particulates that build up indoors; be sure to change vacuum filter bags or clean dirt cups often, to ensure that the dust and dirt doesn't end up back in your home.
2. Use the power of nature to help clean the air indoors – buy some plants! Plants remove chemical quickly from the air, and can actually thrive on substances that can be harmful to people.
3. Use materials that and furnishings that are non-toxic – including wall finishes, caulks, adhesives, upholstered furniture, and carpeting.
4. Use natural cleaning products, which contain no volatile organic compounds or toxic chemicals.
5. Invest in good HEPA air filters to help purify the air in your home, and be sure to change filters often.
6. Remove your shoes when you come indoors, and prevent a host of dirt, dust and other particles from spreading throughout.
7. Never smoke indoors.
8. Check air and furnace filters at least every two months, and replace or clean regularly.
9. Encase your mattress and pillows to protect against dust mites.
10. Take steps to ensure that your home remains mold-free.