Many places around the U.S. are still thawing out from what seemed like an exceptionally cold February, but spring cleaning can’t begin too soon. Being cooped up indoors all winter makes a house feel overly lived-in and in need of refreshing. So while you’re putting away winter clothes and heavy comforters, take the opportunity to deep-clean your home and get periodic maintenance done. It’s not just dirt that needs to be eliminated; it’s pollutants and inefficiency too!
For spring cleaning advice, we talked to Trina Masepohl, president of MIXX Modern Interiors and author of The Green Nursery: How to Design a Healthy, Safe Space for Your New Baby. A mechanical engineer turned interior designer, Masepohl’s work now involves merging her technical background with interior design to help create healthier homes that are easy on families and the environment. Here are her suggestions to greenly and safely clean out your home:
- Open up your windows to air out your home periodically. The EPA notes that air in our homes is typically two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, so fresh air’s a good thing! Paint, furniture, flooring, and fabrics in the home all emit potentially harmful chemicals into our indoor air.
- Vacuum weekly with a HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner. House dust can harbor harmful pollutants like perfluorinated compounds (water- and stain-resistant chemicals commonly applied to carpeting and upholstery), flame retardants (common in household electronics, remote controls, and upholstered furniture), and phthalates (present in flexible plastic toys, vinyl shower curtains, covers, vinyl flooring, some mini-blinds, vinyl wallpaper and loads of personal care products), plus, soft carpets harbor any pollutants you bring in from the outdoors, and common indoor allergens like pet dander, dust mites, and mold.
- Wiping down dusty surfaces with a damp cloth will further reduce indoor house dust and allergens. Think furniture, shelving, blinds, and shutters. Vacuum fabric shades and window valances, have draperies professionally cleaned, or put natural fabrics in the dryer for 20 or 30 minutes to pull off embedded house dust. You can wash them if they are machine washable, though most draperies and curtains are not. Damp-mopping floors will remove dust and prevent particulates getting into the air.
- Place a walk-off mat at your front door, mud room, or wherever you typically enter your home. And have everyone take off their shoes when they come inside. This minimizes harmful pollutants brought in from the outdoors — things such as pesticides, fungicides, and chemical sealers on blacktop surfaces. It also minimizes the good old-fashioned dirt that ends up on your floors and carpets.
- Avoid chemical cleaning products and scented air fresheners. These contain a whole host of nasty chemicals that pollute indoor air and wreak havoc on allergy and asthma sufferers. The Environmental Working Group EWG has a list of green cleaners on their website, and I love the list of homemade cleaners from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute at UMass Lowell. What's greener than using simple everyday items from your kitchen pantry to clean your home?
- A tip from my engineering days: Everyone should clean off their air conditioning units, specifically the outdoor condensing units. Vacuum them or have them professionally cleaned to remove the dirt and leaves they can collect. Ensuring there is nothing around the outdoor unit that can restrict airflow will improve operational efficiency of the unit.
- Consider installing an outdoor clothes line. It will reduce the energy use and cost of an electric dryer and will help you air out all those household goods, like duvet covers and other bedding. Whites can hang in the sun, but note that direct UV rays can fade many fabrics.