Ah, springtime! Time to throw open the windows and sponge, sweep, swab, squeegee, scour, scrub and scrape your home into a speckless state of perfection. Or, at the very least, it’s probably a wise idea to stash away the snow boots and give the contents of your fridge the seasonal once-over.
Spring cleaning also provides us with the opportunity to zero in on and ideally improve the indoor air quality (IAQ) of our homes. For many, the aim of spring cleaning is to achieve a state of spic and span nirvana that’s capable of knocking the socks off even the most fastidious mother-in-law or anyone else who relishes nothing more than detecting – and gleefully pointing out – spots that, whoops, you “missed.”
To reach this state, we often find ourselves employing products to help give our homes a spotless, mother-in-law-proof glow. Yet at the same time, these same products can compromise indoor air quality and, as a result, our health and overall wellbeing. In fact, air pollutants are two to 10 times higher indoors than they are outdoors. The household cleaners that we spritz and spray during zesty spring cleaning sessions – and throughout the year – are among the culprits.
Below are five suggestions on how to breathe easy and improve the indoor air quality of your home this spring, while also leaving it dirt-free and in apple pie-order.
Nothing says spring like inhaling an invigorating whiff of “alpine meadow” after going to town on the kitchen with a surface cleaner. However, those reassuring scents that signal a state of clean are rather dirty in composition: there are more than 3,000 petroleum-based chemicals used to manufacture fragrances found in household cleaners and other consumer products. Overwhelmingly, these chemicals, often responsible for triggering asthma, allergic reactions and a host of respiratory ailments, are not listed on the product packaging.
So how to avoid? When restocking your arsenal of cleaners and laundry products, opt for unscented/fragrance-free varieties. Or, go with an eco-friendly scented cleaner produced by a company that’s transparent about what exactly goes into each bottle. Generally, the scents found in these products are naturally derived and safer. The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning is a good place to start your reconnaissance work to learn more about cleaning products free of artificial fragrances and other dubious chemicals.
Just as swapping out synthetically scented products with fragrance-free alternatives can help to improve indoor air quality, so does concocting your own cleaners. Added bonus? You’ll save a few bucks. There are numerous reliable recipes available for effective DIY household cleaners that employ items that you may already have around the house: baking soda, white vinegar, lemon juice, salt, hydrogen peroxide, and more. And if you’re still hung up on scent, adding certain essential oils not only boost the stain-removing and sanitizing abilities of the cleaners, but also make the proceedings a bit more olfactory-friendly.
And with the cash saved from making your own cleaners using common pantry staples, why not treat yourself to a bunch of fresh-cut flowers that will pretty things up and truly introduce the real smell of spring into your home?
Is your trusty vacuum cleaner, the most crucial of all spring cleaning tools, about ready to bite the dust instead of suck it up? Use this unfortunate occurrence as an opportunity to invest in a vacuum that harnesses HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) technology.
Although they’re great at removing clumps of dust and dirt, traditional vacuums with standard filters also do a bang-up job of recirculating tiny-teeny fine particles (pollen, animal dander and dust mite feces for example) around your house. This, of course, is bad news for those suffering from asthma and allergies. Vacuums with HEPA filters, however, remove 99.97 percent of allergens of .3 microns. In other words, they suck up pretty much everything. Although more expensive, HEPA vacuums can help to dramatically improve indoor air quality – just be sure to look for true HEPA filter models and not “HEPA-like” models.
Most of us have been there: On our hands and knees with a bucket and bottle of harsh chemical cleaner trying to restore the kitchen floor to its former, sparkling glory. Vacuum cleaner-esque in appearance and Italian in origin, vapor steam cleaners not only de-germ, disinfect and eliminate dirt, mildew, mold spores and a variety of allergens from hard sealed surfaces such as floors, countertops, and tile … many models work their deep cleaning and, most importantly, dust mite-killing magic on upholstered furniture, bedding and carpets as well. Their one not-so-secret nontoxic ingredient: tap water and not very much of it.
Aside from being more effective than noxious chemical cleaning solvents, vapor steam cleaners work fast, zapping household contaminants before there’s any chance of cross-contamination. Plus, as the preferred cleaning tool in hypoallergenic environments, no air quality-compromising fumes or sticky residues are left behind.
To combat poor air quality in your home year-round, a quality air purifier is a solid first line of defense, whether it’s a HEPA model to trap airborne particles or has a carbon filter to eliminate chemicals, odors, and the like. Naturally, no thorough spring-cleaning job would be complete without checking in to see if your air purifier’s filter needs replacement (check with the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding filter replacement or cleaning).
That said, there are other filters and screens around your home in addition to air purifiers that you should remember: furnace filters, air conditioner filters, dryer lint screens, vacuum cleaners, range hood screens, bathroom exhaust fan grilles, etc. And once you’ve finished cleaning or replacing all the filters in your home, why not introduce nature’s preferred pollutant filterer, a houseplant, to your shiny, sparkling and IAQ-improved abode?
This article was written for UL by Mother Nature Network, 2013.