Home & Garden
5 spring cleaning mistakes that could make you sick
You’re stirring up dust
Anyone who’s ever cleaned a dusty bookcase or a neglected spare room knows dust makes you sneeze. “Dust is a common trigger for asthma and allergy symptoms,” says family physician, Dr Jennifer Caudle. But did you know dust can actually be toxic? A meta-analysis from George Washington University found unhealthy levels of chemicals in dust that can cause everything from hormone disruptions to asthma to even cancer.
To avoid ingesting or breathing dust as much as possible, wipe up dust frequently – don’t just save hard-to-reach spots for spring cleaning – and follow a ‘top-down’ strategy. “Start with ceilings and high shelving, and work your way to the floors to limit redistribution of dust and other particles to freshly cleaned surfaces,” says Samara Geller, a senior research and database analyst at Environmental Working Group (EWG). In addition, “look for a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter to more effectively trap dust, allergens, and contaminants,” she says.
You’re using fragranced cleaners
Your cleaner may smell like lemons or flowers, but unfortunately, that may be linked to health problem. “In my national population studies, I found over one-third of users report adverse health effects from fragranced consumer products, such as air fresheners, deodorisers, laundry detergents, dryer sheets, hand sanitisers, essential oils, scented candles, disinfectant sprays, dish-washing detergents, and other types of scented products,” says Dr Anne Steinemann, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Melbourne in Australia. “Common health problems from exposure to fragranced cleaning products include migraines, asthma attacks, breathing difficulties, dizziness, seizures, nausea, watery eyes, and skin rashes.”
Dr Caudle also warns that strong smells from cleaners can trigger headaches. Instead, opt for products labelled ‘fragrance-free’ not ‘unscented’ as those may include a masking fragrance, Steinemann says.
You’re using harsh cleaners
The products you choose may also be too abrasive for your needs. Some cleaning products are caustic, meaning they have a very high or very low pH. This can lead to caustic burns to the skin, eyes, or internally if swallowed. In addition to being a poisoning risk, even cleaning with them can be harmful. “As a family doctor, I’ve seen patients get skin irritation from contact with cleansers or other chemicals,” Dr Caudle says.
Avoid products that use the ingredients sulphuric acid and sodium hydroxide. Some cleaners tend to be more acutely hazardous, such as heavy-duty degreasers and general purpose solvents, drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and oven cleaners. In general, use the gentlest product that can get the job done.
You mix bleach and ammonia
The golden rule of cleaning (and poison prevention): never mix cleaners with chlorine bleach and those with ammonia together. Mixing bleach and ammonia can lead to the formation of chloramine vapour, which is toxic if inhaled. Cleaning expert Melissa Maker, founder of cleaning service Clean My Space advises using oxygen bleach as a non-toxic option when a job calls for disinfecting. “I don’t like chlorine bleach in my home, which is why I recommend oxygen bleach,” she says.
You’re not airing out enough
Because studies have shown cleaning is linked to exposures that cause a decline in lung function, reduce toxic particles and fumes by circulating the air in your house during the task. “Keep the inside of your home well-ventilated while cleaning and dusting,” Geller says. “Open windows – and even doors – and run the central air system or an exhaust fan.” This goes for cleaning in general, not just when you’re dusting. In addition, try bringing your cleaning into the outdoors. “Airing things out outside is fantastic: sunlight, or UV rays, act as an antibacterial so it can help kill bacteria,” says Maker. For example, air out winter blankets on a clothesline to help get rid of dust mites, and shake out throw rugs to rid them of dust – vacuuming them can be difficult.
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