A healthy home starts with getting rid of dirt, pollutants and mold
by Anna Herman
The typical shoe carries more bacteria than a toilet seat. If avoiding tracking unhealthy germs and pollutants into your home isn’t incentive enough to free your feet when you walk in the door, just think about how much less cleaning you’ll have to do on a weekly basis.
A clean home, according to one study by Indiana University, was one of the biggest indicators of how active and healthy a person is. Regular cleaning can also extend the life of your fixtures and furnishings, and can save you money with the investment of just a little elbow grease. And remember, energetic cleaning burns calories!
Most of us no longer rely on smoky wood fires to heat our homes, or sooty candles to light the dark night, but modernity has given us plenty of other pollutants to worry about. You may hate scrubbing the tub, but at least one study has shown that they carry more staphylococcus bacteria, a cause of serious skin conditions, than garbage cans.
Health-damaging critters are all over our homes, and our greatest defense is to kick them out.
It’s time to make a plan of attack for spring cleaning.
You spend a full one-third of your life in bed. Much of that time is spent drooling, sweating, sloughing skin and hair and otherwise offering up food to miscellaneous molds, bacteria and bugs. There are tens of thousands of dust mites in the average bed, which, if you are prone to allergies, should be addressed often. Everyone should wash pillows, comforters, blankets and bed trimmings at least annually. Yes, pillows can, and should, go in the washing machine and dryer. Mattresses are now generally constructed such that they don’t need flipping. If your mattress has padding on one side, that side stays up. Most experts agree that mattresses should be rotated, end-to-end, once per season—especially if bed mates are uneven in weight, or if you sleep alone, so the mattress wears evenly over its lifetime. While you are taking the trouble to rotate your mattress, take a bit of extra time to wipe down and vacuum bed frames, headboards and under the bed.
Consider enclosing your mattress and pillowcase with washable covers. This will protect you from allergens and can be removed if stained to protect the mattress. Start this season with some bedbug prevention methods in place—mattress covers and bedbug interceptors are inexpensive ways to reduce the risk of sleeping with this increasingly common pest.
Bedroom carpets and drapes may not get the full brunt of winter salt and snow or spring mud, but are nonetheless a reservoir of dust and dirt. Modern vacuums are generally sufficient to remove most particulates, but it is quite satisfying to shake and/or beat a carpet outside. Hung over a clothesline or porch rail, even a freshly vacuumed carpet will emit clouds of dust and dirt when whacked with a broom. Picking up the carpets also provides a great opportunity to sweep and mop the floor beneath.
Bedroom shades and drapery should be removed and cleaned—soap and water, a run through the washing machine, or a good shake outside, depending on the material. Fabric curtains and drapes may need professional attention.
Improve your view by washing your windows and screens. Cleaning outside windows on upper floors is a job for professionals, but it is worth doing every year or two. You can take on the inside of bedroom windows with simple homemade vinegar-based glass cleaner.
All old houses were once painted with lead-based paints. Most homes have this old paint safely encapsulated by later layerings of new paint. The one spot in many homes that is still a source of lead paint dust is inside window frames, where there is friction from the opening and closing of windows. Especially if you have young children at home, wash inside all window frames and sills that you open and close regularly with cleanser formulated to hold or neutralize lead. Keep the possibility of lead dust in mind when contracting for painters and other spring home repairs.
Clean all light fixtures inside and out. Wipe down the blades of the ceiling fan. While you are looking up, take a dust mop with damp microfiber and get the cobwebs in corners and above window frames.
You will have earned a good night’s sleep.
Vents and Filters
Does your refrigerator have a water filter? Your coffee machine? Is there one under your sink? Does your furnace have a filter? Does your air conditioner have replaceable or washable filters?
Set your calendar with periodic reminders of the various filters in your home.
Check all your filters and replace or wash them regularly. Clogged air filters use more energy to circulate air, and both air and water filters may actually add particulates back into the system if they are too full.
Dryer vents fill with lint and should be cleaned annually. Why not now? This is a sure way to easily prevent the surprisingly common—and devastating—dryer vent fires.
It’s a small room. Take an hour and empty your bathroom and scrub down every surface. Expired medicines should be disposed of in household trash. Put pills and capsules into a sealed bag containing used coffee grounds or cat litter—it makes them less appealing to anyone who might find them—and recycle the bottles. Do not flush medicine down the toilet; pharmaceuticals should stay out of our rivers.
Now get yourself a jar of inexpensive white vinegar and get busy. Add a cup or two to your toilet bowl and let sit for at least 15 minutes before scrubbing to remove mineral deposits and buildup. Use a splash of vinegar on a rag to sanitize and clean the seat and bowl and water tank.
Clean shower heads that have been clogged with mineral deposits with undiluted white vinegar. Place 1/4 to 1/2 cup vinegar in a plastic food storage bag, and secure the bag to the shower head with a rubber band. Let stand for two hours to overnight, then rinse and buff the fixture to a shiny finish. Remove and replace or wash shower curtains (a spray bottle filled with vinegar and water works well here). Examine tiles and grout for signs of mold or mildew and tackle this with—yes—more white vinegar and a toothbrush. Rinse well with hot water.
Sink fixtures will shine and sparkle with some rubbing with a damp white vinegar rag. Pour remaining vinegar down the drains of the sink and tub, following in 15 minutes with boiling water to clear all loosened gunk.
Wet a few balled sheets of newspaper and use them to wipe down the mirror and windows. Then open a window for a few minutes to air out the vinegar smell, which lingers so briefly.
Sinks and faucets take daily abuse and deserve some TLC. If you have a garbage disposal, give the ice cleaning trick a try. Turn on cold water, and, in the garbage disposal, add two to three trays of ice cubes, which will freeze and solidify gunk, allowing the blades to chop and wash away the remains. Add a half lemon or two once the ice cubes are ground, and your garbage disposal will be clean and smell fresh.
Mineral deposits will likely build up in the faucet aerator and spray attachments. Aerators can usually be removed and soaked for 15 minutes in white vinegar and then scrubbed if needed with a toothbrush, rather than being replaced. Spray attachment heads can be placed in a bowl of vinegar and then used with very hot water to flush out bacterial buildup and grime.
The condensing coils in your fridge need regular cleaning to perform efficiently. Unplug your fridge, and unhook the water line to the ice maker, if there is one. Slide the fridge out from the wall if the coils are in the rear and brush or vacuum accumulated dust. Newer models often have coils tucked in underneath, so consult your owner’s guide or website for coil access info for your specific model.
While you are in the kitchen, wipe down inside your oven with baking soda and water. Empty out the food pantry and get rid of—donate or compost—food you will never actually eat. Toss spices that are more than a year old.
Kitchen trash and recycling bins are best cleaned outside on a sunny day. Use mild dish detergent and hot water for sticky residue and/or white vinegar for disinfection and odor removal.
Once you get started, you will find more nooks and crannies to wipe down and tidy up. Give yourself a break. Open one of your clean windows, knowing a few chores are complete, and enjoy the warm breeze with a cold beer. There are more weeks of spring and always more chores.