[Editor's Note]: Liz Moore owns and operates Moore Cleaning Services, a green company, which operates in the Minneapolis St. Paul Twin Cities area. Her website is http://www.moorecleaningservices.net
Summer is the dirtiest time of year. There is simply more debris entering your home from the beach outings and the kids playing in the dirt and the backyard gatherings and everyone in and out all the time. The higher humidity levels mean more bugs, more chance for mold, mildew, and water damage, and more sweat on bodies that leave more fingerprints and spread more grease and grime throughout the house — but the last thing you want to do is spend all your time indoors cleaning. I believe this creates a mental health issue — what’s more important: maintaining a healthy home or getting your fresh air and much deserved dose of vitamin D?
Of course, they are both important. I’m not a physician but I have more cleaning experience than I care to admit, and that makes me a house doctor. I am convinced a healthy and clean home is the basis of our daily sanity and physical wellness. I also believe in enjoying the fleeting heat without any little voices nagging to do your chores. Before accomplishing mental and environmental health in these ways, we need to understand what it means to have a healthy home and what factors make a home unhealthy.
Have you seen this commercial for Lysol Disinfectant that shows women spraying Febreze into dirty sneakers and into a trash can containing a used diaper? A voiceover comments they are just “perfuming” versus “healthing” their homes, but if they would switch to Lysol Disinfectant they could do both because this product kills germs while freshening the air. Seems fair. Lysol Disinfectant kills the Flu Virus, E. Coli, Staphylococcus Aureus, Klebsiella Pneumoniae, Salmonella Enterica, and a few other scary-sounding viruses. Yet I cannot help but comment on how this commercial is, if not completely off-base, missing every general point about how to really keep a household healthy.
Throw the viral sneakers away or wash them regularly so it never gets to a dangerous level for your child to wear her shoes. Get the used diaper out of the house the moment it leaves your baby’s behind. With this, there will be no lethal germs to kill in the first place. Know this disinfectant contains around 15 listed chemicals and 41% “other ingredients.” It isn’t a secret that inhaling and absorbing chemicals is not “healthing.” There is a real way to “health” that requires more elbow grease than spraying chemicals. Knowing what to tackle and how often it needs to be done cuts out a lot of self-inflicted agony so often associated with cleaning.
SUMMER THREAT: DUST Obviously dust exists regardless of the season but takes the form of grime (the combination of dust and grease and body oils) more so in the summer due to humidity and sweat. In a conversation about healthing, dust is the biggest factor. The problem is that you never can know exactly what constitutes it. Here are some definite possibilities: dead skin cells, live dust mites, dead dust mites and dust mite feces, pollen and allergens, environmental pollution, hair, combustion byproducts (smoke), clothing fibers, and pesticide residue. Newer homes also contribute drywall and cement dust, fresh paint fumes, off-gassing from new appliances, chemicals from flooring, adhesive fumes, volatile organic compounds (VOC's), and who knows what else.
SOLUTION: Removal. Consistent and persistent removal. Dust is like most bad things; exponential. If you never dust your home you will not be able to remove all dust in one cleaning session, won’t happen. My suggestion to people who do not dust (trust me there are a lot of you) is to invest in a great face mask, doo rag, and long-handled duster and start with ceilings and walls — dust does not discriminate — it will cling to anything and everything and it doesn’t care if you can’t reach. Dust also flows with the wind, so high-up dust is always trickling down onto you and your household items. Having clean ceilings, walls, ceiling fans, and light fixtures will allow you to more easily maintain your furniture and in-reach items because there won’t be shit from up above falling down on them. Also please pay close attention to your curtains, light fixtures, blinds, window frames and sills. If you do this high-up dusting every other month even, you are on your way to a healthier home. Do it once a month in the summer to remove cobwebs, which are more persistent during this time. Dust, then vacuum. These two actions are a great team and nowhere near as powerful without the other. Every room needs dusting — not just living and bedrooms, but your bathrooms, hallways, kitchens, basements — dust doesn’t care that it’s more convenient if it was consolidated.
SUMMER THREAT: INSECTS They bite and carry disease, and frankly it’s gross. Nobody likes walking into cobwebs or seeing spiders scatter when moving a toy chest. I don’t want to sound like I am judging anyone, but guess what? A dirty home is more likely to attract and harbor bugs than a clean one. But even immaculately clean homes deal with bugs and infestations. Depending on the age and geographical location of your home, and exterior environmental situations happening outside your home, we cannot always control Mother Nature.
SOLUTION: Be your own preventative exterminator. Vacuuming once a week cuts down significantly on the amount of bugs and their larvae in your home. As I previously stated, dust down cobwebs because this kills their homes. This prevents the necessity for harsh chemicals to kill large infestations. Of course vacuuming is not enough; bugs love moist areas, left-out food, and damp stagnant air. Dehumidifiers and open windows (with screens of course) are important not just for bug prevention but for the all-over health of the home. And, simply, don’t leave food or dirty dishes out.
SUMMER THREAT: MOLD and MILDEW In the high humidity months of summer these are found most in showers and tubs, under sinks, and in basements. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not everyone is sensitive to mold and mildew but if they are will suffer in varying levels from nasal stiffness, coughing/wheezing, and throat, eye and skin irritations. Mold and mildew are unsightly and they smell and they scream, “I am an unhealthy house!”
SOLUTION: If you actively have mold growing in your home I suggest professional removal. Mold and mildew, however, are issues that can be prevented mainly through proper ventilation. If your bathrooms don’t have fans or windows that allow for efficient ventilation, install a fan. You will save money in the long run not having to pay for the results of moisture damage. After you take a long steamy shower, simply leave the shower curtain drawn back and the door open to allow for natural ventilation. Dehumidifiers are, again, wonderful preventative tools and every basement should have one running during these humid summer months.
If a dirty and unhealthy home disturbs you yet you have no detailed approach or plan to keep it clean, you may be facing a psychological issue. Cleaning your house should not be torture. It is your most important asset and it is where you spend the most time. No one is required to take a class on cleaning at any point in their life, and without proper understanding of the correct procedures and frequencies of these tasks we don’t really have a clue as to what proper cleaning, or “healthing,” is and so we always feel behind or inadequate or embarrassed or overwhelmed or unequipped or we simply don’t know where or how to start. Sometimes we feel a little crazy — summer is slipping away but our houses are a mess.
SOLUTION: Take a deep breath. You are bigger and badder and tougher than the job that needs doing. You really are. Throw some headphones on. Look at a couple hours cleaning as an opportunity to move and burn calories, to be with yourself, and to better your environment so that everything else you need to do can be done better (like relaxing by the pool in peace).
SAMPLE SCHEDULE FOR HEALTHING YOUR HOME
DAILY — Do dishes and throw away trash to keep area consistently de-cluttered and make your bed — this prevents dust from falling on your sheets so you don’t have to sleep with those pesky dust mites.
WEEKLY — Shake out “Welcome” mats and area rugs, light dusting and vacuuming in high traffic areas, spray down kitchen counters, scrub out kitchen and bathroom sinks, scrub out toilets. Wash bed sheets.
BI-WEEKLY — Thorough dust and wet-wipe of reachable surfaces, thorough vacuum and mopping of hard floors. Deep clean of kitchen and bathrooms. Wash your comforter or duvet.
MONTHLY — Get a long-handled duster and de-cobweb and dust walls, windows, light fixtures, and everything high-up. Then don’t forget to vacuum!
ANNUALLY — Professional duct cleaning, clean and sweep out your garage, clean and sweep out attic, unfinished basement, cellar.
Keeping a home healthy means doing necessary household tasks on a regular basis so you don’t need to spray everything down with Lysol Disinfectant to kill harmful viruses — you never gave them the chance to develop in the first place. You wash those sneakers once a month until they get thrown out. Anything feces related gets immediately removed from the premise. You disinfect your kitchen counters with a natural product. You dust and vacuum regularly. You ventilate bathrooms and basements as much as you can. I have a secret to share: I own a bottle of Lysol Disinfectant. I spray it inside my garbage can when I remove a full bag and I spray it under my sinks on occasion, those damp, closed off-places that air doesn’t flow to very often, where viruses are most likely to emerge. Like everything, there is a time and a place. The important thing to remember is that there is no way to avoid real cleaning if you want a healthy home especially in the summer. No spray or plug-in or robot vacuum will ever be able to maintain your home’s health like you can.
Elizabeth Moore owns and runs Moore Cleaning Services which is based out of Saint Paul, Minnesota. She is working toward her MFA in Creative Writing at Hamline University. She enjoys writing poetry and essays, but better understanding the craft of fiction is her main academic goal. After she graduates she will be pursuing her writing career full-time.