How To Make Your Home Clean & Safe This Spring
Air Quality Canada
May 19, 2020
5 min read
The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, and for many households, it’s spring cleaning time. In North America and Europe, March was traditionally the month to wash the coal dust off the walls and furniture because the weather was warm enough to open the windows without letting in too many insects.
While most of us no longer rely on coal or wood fires as our main heat source, the ritual of spring cleaning and ventilation is as important as ever, especially since studies show that indoor air is eight times dirtier than outdoor air, a factor that is exacerbated over the winter months when modern homes are kept airtight. In fact, indoor pollution is increasingly recognized by health organizations around the world as a major source of illness.
Despite the feel-good factor, cleaning can stir up dust, dander, and mold spores, making allergens airborne and aggravating allergies. If you compound this with the cocktail of commercial cleaning chemicals used in the average home, you have the perfect recipe for a number of health issues including:
* Irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat
* Increased asthma symptoms and breathing difficulties
* Headaches, dizziness, and fatigue
Fortunately, there are ways you can reduce the risks of indoor pollution to you and your family, ensuring that you start the new season healthy and full of energy.
Be careful when disturbing dusty items
Dust is one of the most common household irritants. Dry dusters or feather dusters send allergens airborne. Instead, use a damp cloth where possible to trap and lock dust on hard surfaces, and for soft items like books, use the nozzle of your vacuum cleaner on a gentle setting to remove dust. Also, be sure to wear a dust mask.
Get a modern vacuum with a HEPA filter
Your old faithful vacuum cleaner might be spewing out more allergens than it cleans up. Use a vacuum that has a HEPA filter, and make sure it has tight seams and seals to prevent dust particles from leaking out while vacuuming. Choose a style that ensures minimal exposure to dust while emptying the canister or changing the bag.
Stop using toxic chemicals
According to the EPA, 72% of toxic chemicals that humans are exposed to are found in the home. Many household cleaning products contain dangerous substances known as ‘Volatile Organic Compounds’ (VOC) - carbon-containing chemicals that evaporate easily at normal room temperatures. These toxic gasses can be found in disinfectants and air fresheners, as well as fabrics, toys, and carpets. They can cause illnesses ranging from breathing issues through liver failure to cancer. Passive exposure to household substances like bleach has a particularly toxic effect on children. VOC’s can build up in your home and the concentration can worsen over time. Proactive solutions include using natural cleaning solutions, ventilation, and having your house tested for VOC’s.
Open your windows frequently or have your ventilation checked
Throwing your windows open and enjoying the fresh spring air is great - as long as you’re not allergic to anything outside. Allergy sufferers are often advised to keep their windows shut, especially when the pollen count is high. One way to prevent allergens from coming into your home is to vacuum along the trims, sills, and edges of your windows and doors regularly and keep a close eye on heating and cooling systems. Get your ventilation checked if the ducts have substantial visible mold growth, there is a large build-up of dust inside the vents, or if your ducts have been infested with vermin. If you don’t open windows often, you should also test ventilation effectiveness by measuring your levels of carbon dioxide, which can be toxic at high levels.
Give Rover a bath
He may be man’s best friend, but his love might be making you sick. Fur, saliva, and dander can cause itchy eyes and a stuffy nose. It is best to bathe pets semi-regularly, vacuum as often as you can, and keep them out of your bedroom so you have an allergy-free place to sleep. Remember companion animals can also be victims of indoor air pollution, so be sure to monitor your four-legged friends for respiratory issues and other symptoms.
Check your humidity
Warm moist air accelerates the growth rates of pests, dust mites, and mold. This can become more of a problem in spring, so keep the humidity in your home at 50% or less. Anything greater than 60% in the summer could lead to microbial contamination. Low humidity also has an adverse effect on health, conditions lower than 35% create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and viruses, and can increase the amount of ozone in your home, aggravating allergies and respiratory problems. When cleaning, pay particular attention to areas prone to condensation and check any furnishings or stored items which might be damp. If your house is overheated and becomes dry in winter, investigate humidifying options.
Wash toys and air out your children’s rooms
A study by Dettol found that over 80% of plush toys harbor harmful bacteria. Not only are they dirt magnets, but 66% of those tested also contained Staphylococcus Aureus, a common cause of skin infections, respiratory infections, and food poisoning. As well as being covered in germs, toys are also often made of substances that emit VOC’s. An independent scientific study showed that every children’s toy tested (even wooden ones) emitted some VOC’s that were cause for concern. Children are particularly vulnerable to indoor pollution because they breathe faster and their immune systems are still developing.
Don’t let mold creep up on you
There are many different kinds of household mold; at Air Quality Canada we test for more than 12 types. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there; it can lurk under carpets and flooring, behind drywall or stored items, in the bathroom, in your wood, under wallpaper, or in your basement. Some mold is nontoxic, other types come with their own specific health issues.
When cleaning mold yourself, it is recommended that you wear a respirator-type dust mask. If you can’t see any mold but you have recently had a recent water leak, or you can identify mold indicators, like a persistent musty smell, condensation, or a squishy floor, we recommend specialist help. You can find out more about indicators of hidden mold here. At Air Quality Canada, we use a number of techniques to find hidden molds, including thermal imaging, air spore tests, and viable petri dish sampling.
Be vigilant about symptoms of indoor pollution