Have you – like a million other people – resolved to be more healthy this year? For some, that means spending more time in the gym or saying no to that gooey-delicious brownie. But that isn’t the only Road to Wellville. Here are some simple steps you can take to make you and your home healthier.
The Healthy Hand Washing Habit
We all know that hand washing with basic soap and water kills germs and can prevent the spread of infections. It also prevents the transfer of chemicals from your hands to your mouth. Scientists have found that children ingest more toxins off of their hands than from mouthing things directly.
Hand sanitizers can be convenient but only kill bacteria. Washing with soap and water also kills bacteria and it more thoroughly removes dirt and grime. Furthermore, an FDA advisory committee found that using antibacterial soaps provides no benefits over washing with plain soap and water.
If you like the convenience of waterless hand sanitizers, alcohol-based sanitizers are a better bet than those with other active ingredients. It’s not a bad idea to choose one without fragrance, because when washing with soap and water, lather and dirt are washed off, whereas ingredients in hand sanitizers are left to absorb into your skin.
Breathe Healthy, Breathe Easy
Research conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency found the indoor air can contain higher concentrations of hazardous pollutants than outdoor air. Given that we spend about 90% of our time inside, it makes sense to take steps to cut down on some common allergens … especially if you or a loved one has a respiratory condition like asthma.
Dust is probably the most common allergen found in the average home, and isn’t just unsightly. Dust is the most common cause of indoor allergies. Every home has its own unique mixture of dust that depends on things like where you live, what you cook, if you smoke, the climate, and how many people – and animals – live there. Household dust is a disgusting cocktail of pet dander, fungal spores, soil, carpet fibers, chemicals, and human hair and skin. What’s more, tiny critters called dust mites thrive in dust, adding to the allergen mix (you can learn more about dust mites in this post).
Fortunately, there are some easy things to do to reduce the level of dust allergens in your home.
- Wet or steam mop uncarpeted floors frequently to prevent dust from accumulating (dry mopping can kick up dust that simply resettles).
- Wipe furniture and dust with a wet or microfiber cloth. Microfiber cloths work well because their smaller fibers cling to the particles. If you don’t have a microfiber cloth, use a damp or oiled cotton cloth or rag; it will hold dust better than a dry one.
- Pay special attention to places where kids or pets crawl, sit and play. They live closest to flooring and tend to be more exposed to allergens.
- If you’re dust sensitive, consider asking someone else to do the dusty cleaning (HINT: we can do that for you).
- Get your carpets professionally cleaned. A clean carpet can actually filter indoor air (HINT: we can do that, too).
- Consider using an air purifier or house plants to filter toxins and any airborne particulates.
- Use allergen-proof bed covers. Cover your mattress, pillows, and box springs in dustproof or allergen-blocking covers.
- Wash bedding weekly. Wash all sheets, blankets, pillowcases and bedcovers in hot water to kill dust mites and remove allergens. Avoid bedcovers that trap dust easily and are difficult to clean frequently.
- Keep humidity low. Maintain a relative humidity below 50%. Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner. A hygrometer can measure humidity levels.
- Consider upgrading your vacuum. Look for a vacuum with an agitator, high suction, HEPA filtration, and tools for cleaning furniture, draperies, ceilings, and baseboards.
- Vacuum regularly. If your allergies are severe, leave the area being vacuumed while someone else does the work (again, we can do that for you). Stay out of the vacuumed room for about two hours after vacuuming.
- Cut clutter. If it collects dust, it also collects dust mites. Remove knickknacks, tabletop ornaments, books, magazines and newspapers from your bedroom.
- Install a high efficiency filter in your furnace and air conditioning unit. Look for a filter with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of 11 or 12 and leave the fan on to create a whole house air filter. Be sure to change the filter at least every three months or as needed.
A Healthy Home, Room by Room
A sponge, if it’s not cleaned and stored properly, can carry mold, thousands of germs, and food-borne pathogens. Replace your sponge often. In between replacements, sanitize sponges by placing them in the dishwasher with the drying cycle on. You can also wet it and put it in the microwave for a minute or so to sanitize. Like sponges, cloth dish towels can also harbor unhealthy microorganisms, even if they are only used for drying clean dishes. Wash them often using the hot water cycle of your washing machine.
Clean countertops and cutting boards regularly. Keeping veggies and raw meat separated will avoid cross contamination and the possible spread of salmonella, E. coli, and other harmful bacteria. It’s a good idea to have at two cutting boards, one for raw meat and one for fruits, vegetables, and everything else. You can sanitize your countertops and cutting boards with a diluted bleach solution after wiping them down with soap and water. One teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water will do the trick.
Keeping all surfaces cleaned and sanitized after you cook will help eliminate food bacteria and will discourage roaches from finding an easy meal. Roaches carry a number of germs and can also trigger asthma and allergies in some people. Wash dishes and utensils immediately after eating, and store food in tightly sealed containers. Whenever possible, use a trash container with a lid on it.
Whether you share a bed with someone else or not, you are never alone in bed. Dust, dust mites, and possibly pet dander keep you company all the time. These allergens decrease air quality and can affect both allergic and non-allergic people. Add hair, dead skin, fungi, dust mite waste and pollen, and you get an allergen-filled combination floating in the air you breathe.
We recommend using zippered plastic mattress and pillow covers. Once a week, wash all bedding in hot water above 130˚F to kill dust mites, and vacuum uncovered mattresses regularly.
The toilet is an easy mark for potential health dangers in the home. Sure, we all know to keep the bowl and the seat clean, but how often do you clean the flush handle? Rotavirus, enterococcus, and other nasty pests can live there. Enterococcus can cause gastroenteritis, while rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhea among children. Keep the flush handle sanitized with a disinfectant that specifically lists these unwanted guests on the label.
Mold can thrive in a moist environment – like the batroom – and is capable of causing a number of health problems, including triggering an asthma attack. One type of fungus, Ttrichophyton, is particularly fond of bathrooms and can cause ringworm and athlete’s foot. Use a disinfectant designed to kill mold and fungus in the bathroom. After bathing or showering, wipe down the tub or shower walls and curtain with a towel or squeegee. Some shower curtains can even be thrown in the washing machine.
Doorknobs are frequently touched and the surface can harbor staph, a common bacterium. While usually not a threat, staph can be
harmful if it enters your mouth, eyes, cuts, or scrapes, and can cause a pretty broad array problems. Wiping doorknobs with an antibacterial cleaner is a super addition to your regular cleaning routine. It’s also a good idea to wipe down drawer pulls and cabinet handles.
Paints in older homes may contain lead. This is a particular concern for households with children. The manufacturing of lead-based paint was banned in 1978, so if your house was built after that, you’re probably in the clear. Check for the presence of lead by hiring a licensed risk assessor or by purchasing a lead home test kit at your local hardware store. If you discover lead in your home, inquire about lead-removal products at the hardware store or hire an experienced specialist to remove it.
If you or someone in your house is sick ….
Throw soiled tissues away and empty the wastebasket daily. Don’t leave them lying around the room or on top of the counter. Rhinovirus, the main cause of the common cold, spreads easily when people touch contaminated surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. These viruses and other microorganisms can live on surfaces for days.
An Easy Resolution …
Sure, eating your veggies and exercising regularly is a great way to get in better shape. Just don’t forget that taking care of your home is a proven – and easy – way to take care of yourself and your loved ones. And one final thought, resolutions are much easier to keep when someone else does them for you, give us a call and we’ll be happy to help. 850.769.0606.