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How to Make Your Apartment an Allergen-Free Zone: A Step-by-Step Guide

Do you live in an apartment? While your friends and relatives who live in single-family homes certainly face their fair share of challenges related to indoor air quality, you are in a unique position. Not only are apartments generally smaller, which means that higher concentrations of indoor air pollution are bound to accumulate more quickly, they may also be poorly ventilated and have fewer windows. To top it all off, problems that begin in neighboring units can, unfortunately, reach your apartment fairly easily — regardless of the steps you are probably taking to keep your living space immaculate.

What can you do to improve the air quality in your apartment, and reduce your exposure to known allergens, if you live with allergies or asthma? If you’re in search of a new apartment, what should you look for if you’re hoping to live in an allergen-free zone?

What Are the Most Common Indoor Allergens in Apartments?

Allergies can be diagnosed when a person’s immune system goes into overdrive, reacting to substances that do not necessarily cause any symptoms in non-allergic people. This leads to characteristic symptoms that include sneezing, coughing, a runny or stuffy nose, itchy and watery eyes, and uncomfortable sinus pressure. While people can be allergic to a wide range of airborne substances, and not every person with allergies will be sensitized to all common allergens, allergies do often overlap. That means that if you already know that you are allergic to, for instance, tree pollen, you may also react to indoor allergens.

In apartments, the most common allergens are:

  • Household dust and dust mites. Household dust inevitably builds up in any indoor space, and rapidly too. Its main components include both particles that may sound fairly tolerable — such as fabric fibers — and unpleasant things like old human skin cells, insect debris and feces, pollen, and mold spores. When the environment inside an apartment is humid, large amounts of dust mites will join your household dust. These microscopic arachnids are not parasitic, but they do frequently provoke allergic reactions.
  • Pet dander. People who live with moderate to severe allergies will probably not own any pets that cause them symptoms — but living in an apartment building, chances are that your neighbors do. Proteins released by furry and feathered pets’ skin cells may make their way into your home from neighboring units in quantities sufficient to cause you to sneeze.
  • Cockroaches are a common problem in apartment buildings due to the unavoidable presence of neighbors who do not keep their units clean and clutter-free. These pests then spread all over the building through tiny cracks, frequently causing serious allergy symptoms.
  • Rodents. You may not have considered that apartments can develop rodent infestations, too. Both mice and rats are possible, and these animals can spread diseases as well as releasing highly-allergenic urine.
  • Mold. Mold thrives in humid environments and around areas where dampness and moisture have a chance to build up. As mold is present all over the natural environment, the spores may be suspended in your indoor air and settle down to start growing whenever they have the chance. Poorly-ventilated bathrooms and kitchens, which are more common in apartments, pose a serious threat. People who air dry their laundry indoors also risk attracting mold — and unless your building management takes steps to immediately fix any and all leaks, lapses in maintenance are additional mold magnets. Mold can be allergenic, but it poses other risks, too. Some mold species are toxic, with the potential to cause serious health complications.

In addition, it is important to note that tree, grass, and weed pollen will also find its way inside, whether through open doors and windows or microscopic cracks in your building materials. People with pollen allergies may try to combat the presence of pollen in their apartments by keeping their windows closed, but that choice is a double-edged sword. If you don’t open your windows regularly, indoor allergens will accumulate that much faster.

What Other Indoor Pollutants Should You Be Aware Of?

Allergens — which will provoke immediate symptoms in allergic people, while others will feel completely fine — are not the only threat to your indoor air quality. Other, more universally-harmful substances, are a huge danger, too. Volatile Organic Components, like formaldehyde, acetone, benzene, and carbon disulfate, are dangerous chemicals released into the air by a surprising variety of different products.

VOCs are emitted by paint, pain strippers, glue, varnish, and many of the cleaning materials you probably use. They also come from many carpets, mattresses, fuels, tobacco smoke, and even the very materials from which your building was constructed. If your tap water is chlorinated, even this could cause you to be exposed to more VOCs.

Exposure to large concentrations of Volatile Organic Compounds can lead to some of the same symptoms that allergies would also saddle you with — irritation of the nose, throat, eyes, and airways that may trigger coughing and shortness of breath. In asthmatic patients, Volatile Organic Compounds can bring on an attack. VOCs can also lead to nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and nosebleeds. Long-term exposure to certain Volatile Organic Compounds further has the potential to cause kidney and liver damage, damage to the central nervous system, and cancer.

What Should Allergy Sufferers Look for in a New Apartment?

The layout and features in an apartment can allow residents to create a healthy environment with excellent indoor air quality, but they can also do the exact opposite. Whether you are currently hunting for a new apartment or think you may do so in the near future, choosing an apartment that is easier to keep allergen-free can have an extremely positive impact on your quality of life.

The most best apartment for someone with allergies or asthma will feature:

  • As many windows as possible, to make proper ventilation less of a challenge.
  • Exhaust fans in the rooms that easily get damp — the bathroom and kitchen. It is ideal if these rooms are not adjacent.
  • Wood or tile flooring, which is significantly easier to keep clean and dust-free than wall-to-wall carpet flooring, as well as simpler to tend to after a spill or more serious water damage.
  • Excellent building management that diligently fixes all problems in need of repair, such as burst pipes, immediately, that keeps HVAC systems up to date, and that would take urgent steps to tackle a mold or pest infestation.
  • A pet-free policy, although service animals will still be permitted in that case.
  • Good neighbors that keep house well.

What Can You Do To Reduce Allergen Exposure in Your Apartment?

Even if your current apartment does not have the most ideal conditions, you can always take steps to reduce your exposure to allergens. Some of those steps can easily be made part of your daily and weekly routine, while others will require an investment:

  • Consider installing and using a true HEPA air purifier, which will filter the vast majority of allergenic particles — such as pollen and mold spores — from the air you breathe.
  • Do your best to keep the relative humidity in your apartment between 30 and 50 percent. Opening the windows and using an exhaust fan while cooking will help, as will avoiding line drying your laundry at all costs, but in some cases, you will need to purchase a dehumidifier.
  • Vacuum and dust frequently. Choose a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
  • Even if you are stuck with wall-to-wall carpets, you can avoid adding extra rugs, decorative pillows, table cloths, and other dust magnets into your apartment. You can purchase dust mite covers for your mattresses, which will also help to protect against bed bugs.
  • Keep your apartment as clutter-free as possible. Clutter attracts certain pests, such as roaches, but it also makes it harder to spot problems such as leaky pipes and mold growth.
  • Calling your building management team as soon as you spot any systemic problems, which include pests and mold.

Does Mold Commonly Grow in Apartments?

Mold is a very common allergen, and an estimated 10 percent of all Americans are already sensitized — meaning that exposure to allergenic mold will trigger bothersome allergy symptoms almost immediately. In those who are not allergic to mold, living in a moldy environment may lead to sensitization. Children who grow up in mold-rich environments have a higher risk of developing asthma, as well.

You may have the impression that mold is primarily associated with older houses, but mold can take hold in any environment that offers water and nourishment. Leaky faucets, an overly humid bathroom, or even condensation that builds up around windows can all attract mold shockingly rapidly. Newly-constructed, modern, and highly energy-efficient buildings may appear to be ideal places to live, but they too pose a risk. In these buildings, the natural ventilation that you would get from the invisible openings found all over older buildings is lost, giving mold a chance to proliferate more easily.

If you do spot mold growth, it is crucial to take action fast — beginning mold infestations are simpler to remediate, and dealing with the problem as soon as possible reduces the risk of long-term health complications. People who smell mold or dampness in their apartments would, on the other hand, also be right to have a mold inspection carried out. You may not be able to see the mold, but if you can smell it, you can bet that it is present. You now need to find out where, what types of mold, and in what quantities.

Call MI&T for a full mold inspection today — or ask your building management team to do so. As a seasoned mold inspection only company, we have no commercial biases. We merely perform an in-depth mold inspection that reveals the origins of the mold infestation, and take air samples that tell you what concentrations of harmful mold spores you have been inhaling. With MI&T’s full mold inspection report in hand, you’ll know precisely what you need to do to tackle the problem, and our clearance testing can verify if your remediation has been a success.