By Kate Harveston — Your home is your sanctuary. It’s where you share your most intimate thoughts with those you love and trust. It’s where you rest your head and dream about your goals and aspirations. I don’t know about you, but when I come home at the end of a long day, I want my home to make me say, “Aah.”
Getting the most out of your abode proves challenging if your home makes you feel unwell. Many older buildings suffer problems with lingering smoke from past tenants. Some contain toxic mold. Even newer homes can quickly become unhealthy if untidy habits spiral out of control.
Here are 20 surprisingly simple things I did to make my home healthier, and the best thing is, you can take advantage, too — even if you rent! Here’s what I did.
1. I Ditched My Old Cleaners
I spray my window cleaner on my fresh produce. “What?” you might be thinking. “Are you out of your mind?” Nope, because my glass cleaner consists of good, old-fashioned water and distilled white vinegar. And spraying your veggies with a mild vinegar solution also kills germs and makes produce last longer.
- Glass cleaner/veggie spray. Simply mix one-part white distilled vinegar to four parts water. If you dislike the vinegar smell, you can add a few drops of essential oil to mask the scent. Since mine doubles as fresh produce spray, I leave it out.
- Multi-purpose cleaner. Here’s where I use the essential oil. I mix one-part clear dish soap, one-part vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, three parts water, a few drops of bitter orange essential oil and some grated lemon or orange rind. Be careful to measure the baking soda in this recipe. The first time I whipped up a batch, I failed to measure. Think back to middle school science class when you made a volcano with vinegar and baking soda — oops.
- Appliance cleaner. Here’s where that middle school science knowledge comes in handy. To clean your dish disposal, dump in a generous portion of baking soda, and add vinegar enough to make it foam like Vesuvius. Then, rinse by adding a handful of ice cubes to scrub any remaining grime off the blades. To clean stainless appliances, simply use a bit of full-strength vinegar on a rag, and follow by polishing with a few drops of olive oil for shine.
- Mold remover. For mold, I also use full-strength vinegar. If mold stains prove difficult to remove, use baking soda and water made into a paste, and scrub with an old toothbrush before spraying on the vinegar. You can also use hydrogen peroxide to keep mold from returning if the vinegar smell proves too much in a small space like a powder room.
2. I Whack My Pillows Regularly
Did you know that over time, old skin cells and debris build up in your pillows, even if you wash your sheets regularly? And all that stuff gets transferred to your face, where it can cause a host of blemishes to appear.
Experts recommend changing your pillows every 6-36 months, but since allergies can keep me up at night, I go one better. Once per week when I wash my sheets, I take my pillows out to my balcony and whack them. This releases dust mites and debris outdoors, not to mention relieves a lot of stress.
3. I Cleaned My Air Ducts
I rent, so I have no idea who resided in my home before I did. I don’t know if they smoked, how many pets they had, if any, or if they constantly burned regular candles, which can release toxins into the air. I asked my landlord to pay for a professional duct cleaning and he was happy to. Now, I sleep more soundly knowing I’m not breathing in the dust left lingering by previous tenants.
4. And I Also Cleaned My Carpet
I am not a carpet fan. But since I can’t quite upgrade my landlords’ property, I keep my allergies down by getting my carpets professionally cleaned once per year. Over time, carpets trap tons of dirt and airborne pollutants, and cleaning carpets on an annual basis gets dander and other nastiness out of the pile — where it can negatively impact home air quality.
5. I Keep My Air Filters Clean
Once I had my ducts cleaned, I hit the local hardware store and stocked up on quality hypoallergenic air filters for my entire home, so I’d never neglect a monthly change. It’s much easier to grab a clean filter out of my stash than it is to have to run to the store when the time comes to replace it.
I simply perform this routine maintenance on the first of each month when I pay my rent, making it simple to remember. If you have a heating-only system and you don’t smoke or have pets, you can change filters less often in the summer, but make it a monthly duty during hotter times of the year.
6. I Toss Old Food Quickly (Or Better: Don’t Let It Get Old!)
Old food doesn’t only create interesting-looking science experiments in your crisper drawer. Leaving rotting food to linger can cause bacteria and mold to flourish in your refrigerator. Considering the stuff you keep in there goes in your mouth, that can be pretty unhealthy!
I made Saturday morning my weekly refrigerator clean-out day. I hit the farmers market this day, so it’s easy to take inventory and make a shopping list at the same time. My food needs are small, so instead of making one big grocery shopping trip weekly, I hit the store when I need only an item or two. This helps me to prevent excess food waste and resist any “my eyes are bigger than my stomach” temptation.
7. I Cleaned Out My Gutters
Did you know trees overgrowing your property can cause roof leaks, causing mold and damage to furnishings? As a renter, it’s not my problem should a major repair grow necessary, but why not take precautions to protect my health? Plus, my landlord appreciates the upkeep of the property, which will mean I’ll get my deposit back.
Every six months, check for overhanging branches and debris clogging waterways. If you have a two-story or higher home, consider hiring help to protect your safety.
8. I Organized My Closets
Clutter can seriously drain your mental energy — yes, really! I know every time I opened my cluttered closet, I’d sigh and say, “I’ve gotta get around to cleaning this up…someday.” Then weeks would pass, and I’d continue feeling stressed every time I got dressed. Until one Saturday, I finally decided enough was enough.
I cleaned out my closet and pledged to begin living on a one-in, one-out basis. Every time I purchase a new item, I need to donate an old one. This keeps my closets organized and makes picking out what to wear much easier to boot.
9. I Held a Massive Yard Sale
Once I finished with my closets, I moved on to my cabinets. Before I knew it, I had a massive pile of belongings to discard. I hosted a major yard sale, and while I could have made more, I can’t remember feeling so relieved in recent memory than when I finally called it a day, posted a curb alert on Criagslist and allowed someone in greater need than me to pick up the rest of my discarded items to restore or sell on their own.
If I had it to do over, I would join with some of my neighbors — multi-family sales attract more traffic, plus it’s easier to make signs with a group. I’ve also begun ditching items on online sites like Facebook Marketplace, which requires far less planning and effort. This way, I can de-clutter my home without expanding my household waste.
10. I Invested in Houseplants
If you think back to Biology 101, you’ll remember plants take in carbon dioxide and release energizing oxygen. This alone is reason enough to invite more plants to share your dwelling, but there’s more. NASA scientists discovered plants clean away airborne pathogens and even toxic gasses like radon from the air.
If you lack a green thumb like me, I highly recommend succulents. These tiny pots scream minimalist elegance and require next-to-no care. Other plants easy-to-maintain include snake plants and ficus.
11. I Planted a Patio Garden
Since I rent a townhouse, I lack a separate yard. However, I do have a patio and balcony, so I lined both with plants in pots of various sizes. Not only did this increase my privacy, but it also helped me grow many of the herbs I use in cooking and healing preparations right at home.
Some smaller trees even thrive in large enough containers, so you can use these to highlight corners or improve privacy if you have a similar setup. Many tomatoes grow well in pots, as do beans and peppers. And of course, herbs like oregano and catnip grow well. You can even sprout cloves of garlic and ginger and plant them.
12. I Donated My Bedroom TV
Did you know the blue lights emitted from electronic devices like phones and smart TVs can keep you awake? I wanted my bedroom to be my oasis, so I donated my bedroom TV to a local school. Teachers always benefit from AV equipment, and I slept more soundly and enjoyed more intimacy with my partner after doing so.
Additionally, I swapped out my cell phone alarm for a traditional alarm clock model. It was too tempting for me to resist scrolling social media if I woke up in the middle of the night.
13. I Upgraded My Aromatherapy Game
I adore scented candles. But did you know traditional wax candles not only release particulates but also potentially carcinogenic toxins like benzene into the air?
Instead, I invested in several small (and mad inexpensive) aromatherapy diffusers. I make some of my own essential oils, and others I pick up at farmers markets and health food stores. If I must burn a candle, I burn only soy-based candles which contain natural oils— and I use them in moderation to keep my ducts cleaner.
14. I Replaced Plastic Containers with Glass
I am a recycling and re-using advocate, so for a long time, my food storage cabinet looked like a bit of a mess. Old butter containers, take-out Chinese, etc., all found their way into my food storage. But then I discovered certain plastics release carcinogens, especially if heated in the microwave (oops).
Once I knew better, I invested in glass food storage containers. They look more elegant, and the lids come attached. This also helps me avoid the perennial problem of organizing mismatched containers and stray lids.
15. And Replaced (Most) Paper Towels with Microfiber
I still use paper towels for some things, but they cost the planet a lot of trees, something we desperately need more, not less, of on earth. I bought some inexpensive microfiber cloths at a local dollar store and was delighted when they held up well in the wash. Now, I reserve paper for any cat hairballs or other less-than-ideal cleaning situations that would necessitate me immediately washing my cloths.
16. I Purchased a Drying Rack
My dryer was built somewhere around the year 1920 as far as I can tell, but my landlord cares little for energy efficiency (after all, he doesn’t pay the electric bill). Instead of paying a ton in electric to dry my clothes, I bought an inexpensive rack. I’m not violating restrictions by putting it out on my patio and letting the sun do its thing. Plus, my clothes smell amazing when I bring them in — much nicer than chemically-laden fabric softeners.
17. I Hung Some New Window Coverings
Natural light boosts moods, but I didn’t want it flooding every room of my home. Traditionally, window coverings are considered fixtures that stay with the property when ownership or tenancy passes to someone else. However, I made a written arrangement with my landlord to take mine with me.
I rolled up the dark blinds in living areas and replaced them with gauzy, sheer curtains to let natural light stream in. In my bedroom, I opted for blackout curtains to let me enjoy a siesta in peace and darkness.
18. I Added Natural Soundscapes
Living near a major roadway makes me feel like I’m constantly surrounded by noise. A quality set of wireless speakers allows me to dock my iPhone in the living room and enjoy the soothing sounds of nature anywhere in my house. It blocks out the sound of outdoor traffic and keeps me feeling calm even in the midst of rush-hour traffic.
19. I Painted
Did you know that a humble coat of paint can upgrade your look, prevent rotting walls and even keep your interior cooler if you opt for light colors? Paint costs little, and if you’re not a homeowner, some landlords may be open to this improvement if you demonstrate care. Plus, you can lower your energy bills at least a little bit and keep the inside of your home looking fresh and bright.
20. I Made an Outdoor Space
Sometimes, being trapped inside all day can take a toll on your physical and mental energy. Although I don’t have an extensive yard, I set up a self-care space on my patio to help combat this effect. A comfortable reading chair, a small table to hold my morning tea and a little bit of shade gives me a place to relax once my working hours are over. Plus, I can soak in some Vitamin D and breathe in the fresh air my potted plants generate.
Making Your Home Healthier and More Welcoming
Your home is your sacred space, and you want it to welcome you home at the end of each long day.
If you’re feeling like your home isn’t doing its full job of being the haven you need, try following some of the tips and tricks I’ve used over a long history of moving and renting. You can create a home that’s healthier both mentally and physically.
Reducing clutter, eradicating chemicals and letting in light are tried-and-true ways to let your space soothe you rather than stress you out!
Mold in the house? Check out the CDC’s infographic on mold cleanup below!
Can a dirty house really make you sick? Absolutely. Read about all the ways here.
About The Author
Kate Harveston is a health and wellness writer from Pennsylvania. She is passionate about teaching people how to live more all-natural and sustainable lives. You can find more of her work at sites like Greatist, Care2 and the Environmental News Network, as well as at her blog, So Well, So Woman.