11 Spring Cleaning Mistakes to Avoid
Get your home fresh and clean without hurting yourself or the planet
There are few things more satisfying than a sparkling-clean house. But the pains you take to get it that way could actually cause you pain — or hurt the planet.
From mixing the wrong cleaning products to falling off a ladder, here are 11 all-too-common spring cleaning safety mistakes and how to avoid them.
Overusing toxic chemicals. Look at your bucket of cleaning products and ask yourself if you could use gentler alternatives. It’s best for you and the environment to use the least toxic product for the job, says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL. Here’s a handy cheat sheet from the National Environmental Services Center of substitutes for chemical cleaners. For example, use lemon juice and salt in place of copper cleaner, lemon oil mixed with mineral oil as a furniture polish or vinegar and salt as a mildew remover. “If you can get away with using vinegar, by all means, do it,” Drengenberg says.
Spreading germs around with a dirty rag. If you dip the same cloth in a bucket of soapy water, wring it out and use it over and over again, you might be making your house dirtier, Drengenberg says. Damp sponges and cloths can spread germs — for instance, from the bathroom to the kitchen. Use a clean rag for each area. After cleaning, throw dirty rags in the washing machine on hot, then into the dyer on the high setting.
Mixing cleaning products. Never mix cleaning products or use a product that contains bleach right before or after using one that contains acids or ammonia (many common cleaning products contain one or the other, according to the Washington State Department of Health). Mixing these substances can cause coughing, eye irritation, nausea, wheezing, pneumonia or, in some cases, death. Products that may contain acids or ammonia include window cleaners, dish detergents, drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners and rust removers. And don’t forget, vinegar contains acid.
Not using your head while using a ladder. Need to dust the top of the chandelier or the corners of your cathedral ceiling? Don’t get hurt. Ladder mishaps send more than 90,000 people to the ER each year. Use the right ladder for the job. For stability, use a ladder about three feet shorter than the height you need to reach. Check it for cracks or other defects before you climb on, Drengenberg says. Place it on firm, level ground, and keep both feet and at least one hand on the ladder at all times. Use a tool belt for cleaning supplies so you’re not trying to climb the ladder with an armload of stuff, Drengenberg says. Don’t climb too high. That means staying below the second tread from the top of a stepladder, and making sure your knees are below the top step and that you can reach the ladder to keep a hold of it with your hand. And finally, don’t overreach. If you can’t easily reach something, climb down and move the ladder over.
Using a dust-spewing vacuum cleaner. If you’re using a vacuum cleaner without a HEPA filter in it, you might be sucking up dust and shooting it back into the air. That could trigger an allergy attack or exacerbate asthma. A HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter is 99.97 percent effective at capturing particles as small as .3 microns, which includes dust mites and their feces, mold spores, pollen and skin cells, according to Dyson.
Getting water in electrical gadgets. It’s a big mistake to spray wet liquids or use a wet rag to clean anything electrical, including your kitchen mixer and your TV. Doing so could lead to an electrical shock, Drengenberg says. You can use a damp, but not dripping, cloth or a disinfectant wipe to clean the dried-on food off your blender or the dust off the back of your stereo. Unplug it before you clean it. Make sure you don’t get any water into the interior of the appliance through the air vents, Drengenberg says.
Related: How to Clean Screens and Keyboards
Dusting with a dry mop. If you’re using a dry mop or cloth to dust along baseboards that haven’t been cleaned all year, you could be kicking up dust that could trigger an allergy attack. Instead, use a damp mop or damp microfiber cloth.
Lifting furniture the wrong way. Do you need to move your sofa away from the wall so you can vacuum behind it? Moving heavy furniture the wrong way can cause sprains, strains, tendonitis or even a broken bone, according to orthopedic surgeon Jeff Stickney, MD. To avoid injury, stretch for 10 minutes before cleaning. If you need to lift a heavy object, squat and lift with your legs, Stickney recommends. Or use furniture sliders, which slip under a piece of heavy furniture so you can slide it across the floor without scratching it.
Using aerosol sprays. Many or even most commercial cleaning products, from furniture polishes to oven cleaners, release volatile organic compounds into the air, which can irritate your respiratory tract. But aerosol products release tiny droplets into the air forcefully, and that means you inhale more of the product, according to the California Department of Public Health. And while aerosol cans in the United States no longer contain ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, they’re still not good for the environment. For example, not-quite-empty aerosol cans are considered hazardous waste because the fluid inside may be toxic or flammable. Use non-aerosol alternatives whenever you can.
Using air fresheners and scented cleaning products. According to the American Lung Association, “Recent research has found that even natural fragrances in cleaning products, particularly in air fresheners, may react with high levels of ozone from indoor sources, like some air cleaning devices, or from outdoor air to form formaldehyde and dangerous fine particles indoors.”
At low levels, formaldehyde can be a lung and eye irritant. “At high levels it’s a known carcinogen,” says Elliott Horner, PhD, lead research scientist at UL Environment.
Not opening the windows. It’s especially important to ventilate the area if you’re using cleaning products in a small, enclosed space. Open all nearby windows and run a fan if you need to.
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