Make your home healthy
The good news is that a thorough spring cleaning can make your home healthier for you and your family. So throw open the windows, gather the troops and follow this room-by-room approach to getting rid of the nasties.
If anyone in your family has allergies or asthma, make decreasing the dust mite population in your home a top priority. An allergy to dust mites is responsible for some of the respiratory problems associated with dust, says Dr. Susan Waserman, an allergist at McMaster University in Hamilton. Common symptoms include nasal congestion, asthma and itchy, watery eyes. Since most beds contain millions of these microscopic critters, the bedroom is a good place to start your cleaning.
How to get rid of dust in the bedroom
1. Flip and vacuum the mattress and consider getting a mite-proof mattress cover.
2. Wash all bed linen, including duvets and blankets, in warm water using the presoaking cycle.
3. Vacuum carpeting and rugs weekly. A vacuum equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA)filter, which removes 99 per cent of dust, or a central vacuum system that's vented to the outside work best.
4. Wipe all surfaces with a damp cloth—a dry cloth will just release the dust back into the air. Nothing beats a good microfibre cloth and water for cleaning, advises Reena Nerbas, author of Household Solutions 3 with Green Alternatives. "One quick wipe lifts off dirt, grease and dust without using any cleaning chemicals."
5. If you haven't replaced your pillows in the past two years, now's the time to do it. A two-year-old pillow can be composed of up to 10 percent dust mite feces and carcasses—yech!
6. Clear the room of dust-collecting clutter, including old magazines, books and knick-knacks.
7. "Avoid mothballs like the plague when you're putting away your winter wollies," advises Adria Vasil, author of Ecoholic Home. "They're loaded with naphthalene, a possible carcinogen." Try moth traps that contain natural moth pheromones (available at home improvement store).
Page 1 of 5—The smaller the bathroom, the easier it is for pollution concentrations to build up. Check out our expert advice on how to keep your bathroom squeaky clean on page 2.
In the bathroom
The often smaller and more confined space of the bathroom makes it easier for pollution concentrations to build up. Moisture and humidity, and chemicals from personal-care items and bathroom cleaning products are major health culprits in this room.
How to keep your bathroom clean
1. The shower and bath as the third germiest place in the home (behind kitchen cloths and sponges, and kitchen faucets). Wipe down your bathtub and shower walls once a week with a disinfecting cleaner. Go easy on the antibacterial products, say the experts -- overuse of cleansers containing triclosan may be contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant germs. Plain white vinegar warmed in the microwave will do the trick, says Adria Vasil, author of Ecoholic Home. "Spray it on, let it sit for five minutes, and it'll melt away dirt and soap scum that can harbour germs."
2. Spray hydrogen peroxide on the ceiling above the shower to prevent mould and mildew from forming after long, steamy baths and showers.
3. The greatest risk of infection in the bathroom comes from surfaces you touch frequently—the toilet handle and seat, faucets and door handles. Give them a thorough wipe with a disinfectant as often as possible.
4. Soap dishes are bacterial breeding grounds, so consider ditching them—along with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic shower curtains, which can release asthma-triggering volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. Look for non-PVC shower curtains—Ikea carries a much safer alternative, for example, made of polyethylene vinyl acetate (PEVA). Or invest in a glass shower door that will last forever.
5. If a family member has allergies or asthma, consider moving personal-care products —hair spray, perfume and nail polish remover, for example—to a second bathroom or your bedroom. Or start phasing in nontoxic alternatives.
6. When you're washing the floor, give the area around your toilet bowl extra attention, especially if some family members forget to lower the lid before flushing.
7. Bathroom cleaners are among the harshest around, so start gradually switching to healthier chemical-free cleaning products that won't irritate your eyes, nose, throat and lungs, advises Vasil. For more information, read the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia's reputable Guide to Less Toxic Products at lesstoxicguide.ca.
8. Clear away some of the clutter in your bathroom by purging your medicine cabinet of expired or unused medication, and winter cold and flu remedies.
Page 2 of 5—Did you know your kitchen sink is more contaminated with bacteria than a toilet bowl or a garbage can? Find out how you can get rid of those germs lingering in your kitchen on page 3.
How to clean the living room
This multipurpose room gets lots of traffic and may get dirtier, dustier and more cluttered than other areas of your home. Start your cleaning at the top and work your way down, then vacuum last, advises Cheryl Mendelson in her cleaning tome Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. Don't overlook ceiling fans, because the tops of the fan blades collect lots of dust. A special ceiling fan duster with a telescoping pole handle will make the job easier.
1. Take down draperies and curtains, and clean them according to the manufacturer's instructions. Air out permanent-press fabrics before hanging them, because they're often treated with formaldehyde. Consider using a dry cleaner who has switched to a wet-wash or perc-free method.
2. Dust blinds and miniblinds, and wash the windows.
3. Unplug and dust all electronics, including the TV, DVD player and stereo (a microfibre cloth works well). Don't forget to vacuum around cords and vents where dust bunnies tend to breed.
4. Brush Fido or Fluffy regularly to to minimize dander and shedding (and cut back on the time you have to spend vacuuming and dusting).
5. Spruce up your space with a few indoor plants. "Houseplants are amazing air purifiers," says Vasil. Your best bets include peace lilies, spider plants, Boston ferns, weeping figs and philodendrons.
6. Treat germy stains on furniture and carpets with a nontoxic product like Pink Solution. "It's made with a paste of natural enzymes and it gets rid of every stain I've every encountered," says Vasil. Available at Costco or pinksolution.ca.
How to get rid of bacteria in the kitchen
Kitchen counters and sinks are breeding grounds for germs. In fact, your kitchen sink is more contaminated with bacteria than your toilet bowl or garbage can. Scrub the sink down every couple of days with a scouring pad and a mixture of half a cup of borax and four litres of warm water. Use the same solution to wipe down all the kitchen work surfaces too, along with areas you frequently touch, such as door and cupboard handles, faucets and the microwave.
1. When you're tidying up your kitchen cupboards, replace any Teflon-coated pans (made with a chemical that’s considered a likely carcinogen) with healthier alternatives such as cast iron, good quality stainless steel or the new green cookware, which is made with a safe ceramic coating.
2. Clean out the fridge, discarding any mouldy food. Check best-before dates and toss any products that have expired or look the least bit questionable.
3. Damp sponges and dishcloths are a hotbed of germs. Throw them in the washing machine at the end of every day or run them through the dishwasher's entire washing and drying cycle.
4. Keep your trash can germ and odour-free by sprinkling some borax or baking soda in the bottom after you've scrubbed it.
5. Replace your water filter to prevent bacteria from building up. Studies have shown that the levels of bacteria present in water that has passed through an improperly maintained home-filtration device may be up to 2,000 times higher than the bacteria levels in unfiltered water.
Page 3 of 5—Basements are usually damp, which gives dust mites lots of opportunity to grow. Check out how you can get rid of basement dirt and improve the air quality of your home on page 4.
How to clean the basement and laundry room
Basements are often damp, which gives mould and dust mites lots of opportunity to grow, says Waserman. Dry and repair any water damage from leaks, and clean any mould with hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar or a chlorine bleach solution. Use a dehumidifier to prevent excessive humidity (no more than 50 per cent relative humidity in summer and 30 per cent in winter). You can monitor your home's humidity with a hygrometer, available at hardware or home supply stores.
1. Change your home's air filters every three months to help reduce dust and pollen and improve the overall air quality of your home.
2. Instead of using chemical fabric softeners, switch to reusable dryer sheets that will reduce static and soften clothes without leaving a chemical residue that can cause asthma-like symptoms and irritate skin.
3. Take any paint cans or other volatile products you're storing in your basement to the local municipal hazardous household waste depot. They can leak fumes, even if they are covered.
4. Don't forget to clean the lint trap of your dryer. "It can be quite toxic as it can contain pesticides from outdoors, lead and other heavy metals," says Barbara MacKinnon, president and CEO of the New Brunswick Lung Association.
4 hot spots for germs in your home:
The best way to get rid of germs is to be diligent about cleaning all surfaces where bugs may linger, says Dr. Henry. Don't neglect these commonly overlooked areas.
1. Cellphones. Your phone harbours more germs than the average toilet seat, so make sure to clean it daily with a disinfecting or sanitizing wipe.
2. TV remote. Everyone in the house handles it (and coughs and sneezes all over it), so make sure you wipe it down regularly.
3. Computer mouse and keyboard (and kids' electronic devices). Wipe away germs with a lightly dampened microfibre cloth.
4. Doormats. Nearly two-thirds of the dust in our homes is tracked in from outside. Place mats at all entranceways (inside and out)—and remember to shake them off and wash them regularly.
Page 4 of 5—Ready to tackle cleaning your home? We share our top music picks to pump up while you clean on page 5.
Our favourite tunes to clean house with:
1. "I have a handful on my iPod: 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go' by Wham!, 'Younger Men' by K.T. Oslin, 'Jump (For My Love)' by The Pointer Sisters, Abba's Gold: Greatest Hits album, and '9 to 5' by Dolly Parton.” - Doug O’Neill
2. "I love anything with a hyperactive rhythm, such as M.I.A. or Girl Talk, to get me pumped up and in the chore zone." - Julia McEwen
3. "The Flying Club Cup by Beirut. It makes me feel like I'm in another place in time, and not cleaning my toilet." - Erin Poetschke
4. "I like to throw on some '80s disco; my bathroom gets scrubbed clean and I get to relive my glory days with Donna Summer belting out the tunes." - Donna Paris
5. "My husband and I like to put on the oldies station while we do housework, especially on Sunday mornings when they play The Beatles for two hours. It makes the work go more quickly when you can sing along." - Lisa Fielding
6. "'Frenzy' by Screamin' Jay Hawkins." - Sarah Jane Silva
7. "I introduced my daughters to some Journey tunes on a recent clean-up and we had a blast. But when I do chores with my hubby on the weekend, it's Etta James." Kathryn Dorrell
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