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Allergies got you down, or do you have a cold that's lingering? Here's how to make sure your home is not the source, with our best tips for keeping your home clean and healthy.
Did you know that the quality of indoor air can be two to five times worse than outdoor air? But it's not the only health hazard lurking behind your front door. Those seemingly harmless dust bunnies may contain airborne toxins that can aggravate respiratory problems, as can many of the products we clean with, says Barbara MacKinnon, president and CEO of the New Brunswick Lung Association and vice-chair of environmental issues for the Canadian Lung Association. And disease-causing bacteria and germs multiply rapidly on everything -- door handles, chopping boards, you name it.
Make your home healthy
The good news is that a thorough clean 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 percent 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 (Centax, 2009). "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 (Vintage Canada, 2009). "They're loaded with naphthalene, a possible carcinogen." Try moth traps that contain natural moth pheromones (available at home improvement store).
How to clean the basement and laundry room
Basements are often damp, which gives mould and dust mites lots of opportunities 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 percent relative humidity in summer and 30 percent 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.
Ready for more tips? Discover 15 ways to clean the germiest rooms in your home.