Spring cleaning for better health

Posted on March 25, 2015

Clothes hanging on washing lineIt's uncertain exactly where the tradition of spring cleaning comes from - it may go back to the practice of 'shaking the house' before the Persian New Year, which falls on the first day of Spring, or it could have come from the Jewish tradition of cleansing the house before Passover. No matter how it began, spring cleaning is often done by many of us in the UK. While cleaning is a great way to get your home in good shape, it can also have implications for the health of both yourself and your families. Below we highlight ten tips to give your home a healthier spring clean.

1. Clean out your medicine cabinet

Whether it's cough medicine, old prescriptions, or pain killers - medicines have an expiry date and we should be careful to adhere to them. Firstly, because expired medications will have likely degraded and won't be as effective, meaning they are less likely to help you get better anyway, and secondly, because expired medications can be unsafe. Either way it's best to get rid of the old medicines in your cabinet and buy new ones. So this spring take a few minutes to go through everything in your medicine cabinet to ensure the contents are in date. If they are not, you can safely dispose of the expired products by taking them to your pharmacist. *Medicine thrown in the bin or flushed down the toilet can have harmful effects of the environment1.

2. Replace the HEPA (High-efficiency particulate arrestance) filter in your vacuum

Most modern vacuums are now equipped with HEPA filters which remove 99.97% of allergens from the air. However over time these filters can get clogged and require changing, or possibly cleaning if your filter is washable. Since it needs to be done so infrequently many of us may forget to do so. Allowing the filters to become clogged will prevent your vacuum from removing allergens from the air and could reduce suction power. If you use your vacuum daily you may need to change your filter once every 3-6 months, where more infrequent users should replace their filters once a year2.

3. Wash your pillows

Just because they're usually covered it doesn't mean pillows aren't dirty. In fact they can be rife with dead skill cells, dust mites and bacteria. Dust mites and their faeces are particularly troublesome for allergy and asthma sufferers.  Experts advise washing your pillows every 3 months3, and replacing them all together after two years4. The good news is that you can easily wash your pillows in your washing machine, just make sure to check the labels for washing instructions.

4. Clean out your fridge and cupboards for expired food

If you're in a rush putting the shopping away, it's easy for old food to get shoved to the back of the fridge and cupboard and lay forgotten, sometimes for years. Take this opportunity to clean out all of your cupboards and your entire fridge and get rid of any expired items. This will free up more space, make your fridge/cupboard less cluttered, and prevent you and your family from accidentally eating spoiled food.

5. Get rid of mouldy plants

Mould can grow both on houseplants and on the soil they're planted in. If someone in your home has a mould allergy then this can be bad for their health. If your plants are growing mould there are two ways to deal with the problem - you can either get rid of the plant altogether, or you can try and clean it. If you decide to clean it you will need to get a damp paper towel and carefully wipe the mould off the leaves. Do not use a dry paper towel as this may cause the mould spores to fly off the plant and fill the air. To deal with the soil you will have to remove the top layer (carefully so the spores aren't released) and replace with fresh soil.

6. Clean switches, gadgets etc.

We often wash the floors, the counters, the toilets - but how often do we turn our efforts to the little forgotten things that we touch every day like mobile phones, light switches, remote controls, door knobs, and thermostats? It's been reported that mobile phones carry ten times more bacteria than a toilet seat5! According to the NHS some cold viruses can last on hard surfaces for up to 7 days, flu viruses can last up to 24 hours, and stomach bugs like norovirus can last for weeks6. In light of this we should make it a habit to clean these items frequently, if not daily.

7. Wash stuffed toys

If your child is fond of stuffed toys and drags them along wherever he or she may go, then those are likely collecting plenty of dust and germs along the way. Surface cleaning is unlikely to do much good, so you ought to give your stuffed toys a proper wash. If you have a front loading machine, then it's as simple as tossing the toy in a mesh laundry bag and washing on a gentle cycle (top loaders with agitators can damage your stuffed toys). To dry hang or lay flat - don't put the toy in the dryer as the fur and other plastic bits could melt or fall off!

8. Wash reusable shopping bags

Many of us elect to carry our shopping home in reusable bags rather than in the provided thin plastic carrier bags that shops offer. While these bags are great for helping the environment, they can carry multitudes of bacteria. A study conducted in America found that 99% of reusable carrier bags carried bacteria, and 8% of those bags were contaminated with E. coli7. Even more worrying was the fact that the study revealed only 3% of people actually washed their reusable bags8. Bags should be washed often. Cloth bags can easily be tossed into the washing machine and if your bag is made from a rigid plastic you should try and wipe them out frequently, though this may not get rid of all the bacteria caught in corners and crevices.

9. Wash the inside of your windows

During the winter months we rarely open our windows and let the fresh air in, or the stale inside air out. This can lead to a build-up of dirt, grime, and sometimes mould on the inside of your windows and around the frames. Make sure to give your windows a good scrub this spring, and if mould is present use a proper mould remover. Now your windows will be so clean that you'll have a great view of the spring flowers blooming outside.

10.  Disinfect the inside of your bins

Think of all the things you throw in your bins - empty packaging that contained raw meat, old food, mouldy food, dirty nappies etc. Just because you use a bin liner, that doesn't mean the inside of your bins will stay clean. Juices and bacteria can leak through, leaving the interiors of your bins (both inside the house and out) hazardous to your health. Each time you put your hand inside to take out the garbage you could be coming in contact with harmful bacteria etc, not to mention that dirty bins could be a great breeding place for insects, and may attract vermin. Make sure to regularly wash the inside and outside of your bins with soap, water, and bleach. And don't forget to wash the bin lids.

1. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Pharmacy/Pages/Yourpharmacy.aspx
2. http://www.electrolux.co.uk/inspiration/features/q-and-a-standard/
3. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2006760/Pillows-breeding-grounds-pests-diseases.html
4. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2579149/How-clean-YOUR-bedding.html
5. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2196365/Mobile-phones-germs-toilet-seat.html
6. http://www.nhs.uk//how-long-do-bacteria-and-viruses-live-outside-the-body.aspx
7 & 8. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/reusable-grocery-bag-germs