We've all heard about spring cleaning, but what about the season that comes before it? We're talking about winter housekeeping, and if you've never heard of such a thing, you're not alone! Most people aren't aware that the arrival of snow and cold brings with it the need for new approaches to maintaining our homes.
During the winter months, our dwellings are bundled up against the cold. This is an ideal situation where energy consumption is concerned. But tight, well-insulated homes aren't letting much fresh air enter, and that's a situation that can rapidly lead to an unhealthy environment.
According to the EPA, the air inside the average home contains two to five times more pollution than the air outside. Researchers studying this phenomenon have found some 900 different contaminants in household air, toxins that for the most part can be traced to common household products like petrochemical-based household cleaners that produce vapors, fumes, or microscopic particles.
But you can easily guard against poor indoor air quality with a few quick strategies:
- Open a window every once in a while and let in a good dose of fresh air. While it's not the most energy-efficient action, it means a big difference for indoor air quality.
- Consider getting some houseplants, which excel at removing airborne chemicals. Particularly effective varieties include Boston fern, areca palm, lady palm, bamboo palm, rubber plant, English Ivy, ficus, and peace lily.
- Place large mats at all your entrances to remove particles and other pollutants tracked indoors on shoes. Clean and vacuum these mats frequently so they don't become a source of trouble themselves. And encourage guests to remove their shoes when entering your house. A basket of slippers kept by the door can ensure that everyone's feet stay cozy.
- Conventional cleaners create a barrage of chemical fumes and invisible aerosol particles when used, all of which can be easily inhaled. So if you haven't already, stock up on cleaning products made from natural and non-toxic ingredients and use them instead.
- Use a chlorine-free dishwasher detergent. Dishwashers vent about six liters of air into your home per minute during certain cycles, and the very hot water they use can turn as much as 100% of a detergent's chlorine into a vapor that's released as they work.
- Use warm rather than hot water when you clean so that whatever you're removing from household floors and surfaces doesn't volatize into the air your family is breathing.
- During warmer months, don't use mildewcides or fungicides, poisons it will be hard to rinse out of your home during winter. Instead, eradicate mold and mildew with a solution of two tablespoons of tea tree oil in two cups of water. Spray on the affected area, let sit for half an hour, and then wipe clean.
- If air seems stale or malodorous and it's just too cold to open a window, resist the temptation to use commercial air fresheners, deodorizers, and other similar products. Instead make your own by adding 5-10 drops of your favorite essential oil to a spray bottle filled with two cups of water. (For more about indoor air freshening, check out our recent feature!)
- If you've stored clothing or other items in mothballs, give them a thorough airing out followed by laundering to remove toxic paradichlorobenzene residues. In the future, use natural cedar to protect your vulnerable textiles instead. By the same token, let dry cleaned items air out in the garage before you bring them inside. They, too, can emit unhealthy fumes.
- Although winter's many idle hours may seem like a good time to do some annual maintenance cleaning, resist the temptation until spring. Without open windows and an ability to clean things outdoors, you'll just be stirring back into the air a lot of the dirt and contaminants you're trying to banish.