Is Housecleaning a Danger to Your Health? Part I

Laurie Powell Laurie Powell

True confession: I hate housework. I grew up in a large family with three sisters. From an early age we were all taught how to clean properly and were responsible for thoroughly cleaning our five bedroom home regularly. By regularly, I mean every day. EVERY. Damn. Day. With a deep cleaning every week. Laundry was done every day. Dishes were washed, dried, and put away after every meal. Bath linens were washed daily, then folded precisely and put back in the linen closet. Bed linens were changed on all the beds every Saturday. We’re talking hospital corners. The whole nine. All surfaces were dusted and polished. Floors were swept and mopped. Carpets were vacuumed. Every. Damn. Week.

housecleaning

Because I had asthma as a child, cleaning was very uncomfortable for me. The dust that spewed out of the fan in the back of the 1960s vacuum became airborne and made me sneeze. Chemicals in window cleaners and household cleaners emitted toxic fumes that made me dizzy and caused me to wheeze. But, that did not stop the progress of housecleaning. Chemical cleaning smells and inhaling concentrated amounts of dust came with the task and were all we knew. I grew up thinking that household cleaning was hazardous to my health and I was determined not to do it when I became an adult. And, when I did move out, I didn’t clean my apartment. Ha! Sometimes letting dust bunnies accumulate is better for your health than stirring up dust particles and making them airborne by cleaning.

Since those days, vacuums have become highly efficient. When I bought my first house, I plunked down $1000 and bought a high end vacuum that filtered everything, even the finest particles. If clean air is important to you, skip some other indulgences and invest in the best vacuum you can afford. They are now so well made that the air the spews out the back is cleaner than the air taken in in the act of vacuuming. And, best of all, these vacuum options are now more affordable.

Now, what about cleaning the rest of the house? Let’s stay with airborne allergens. Dusting should not be done with a feather duster. You’re just moving that dust around. It floats in the air, getting inhaled, and then settles down to accumulate in another place. Waste of time. Dust instead with a damp cloth so you are actually picking UP the dust. And, in washing your damp dust rag, you are washing that dust down the drain.

Another airborne allergen is fragrance. You know that sweet smell in candles and cleaning products? That is a chemically derived fragrance. The fragrance industry is actually part & parcel of the chemical industry. I have visited these companies. They manufacture scents that smell “clean” but are very far from clean. If you have any doubt, pop into a typical nail salon. You can barely breathe in there, the smell of chemicals is so strong, amirite? Chemical companies synthesize a fragrance that may smell good but it is exactly the same as the nasty smelling chemicals. It affects your brain, your mood, your breathing, your health. Better to smell real cinnamon then to smell a candle that is chemically scented to smell like cinnamon. If you think about it, it doesn’t even make sense that we would buy something toxic that already exists in nature and is safe. And, it smells better! If you like the scent of cinnamon & vanilla, put them in a pot on the stove and simmer them. Your whole house will smell amazingly cozy and you won’t have damaged any brain cells. So, give up the scented candles and buy unscented or beeswax candles instead. Your body will thank you for it. As for scented cleaning products, invest in some good essential oils and add a few drops to your homemade cleaning products. More on those later. But, do be aware of the impact of chemical versus natural scents on your physical and mental state and on your mood.

One of my least favorite products is Lysol™ deodorizing spray. Some people are obsessed with using it to clean and deodorize the air in places such as the bathroom. Did you know that Lysol spray is purposely made sticky? You spray it in the air and it doesn’t actually diminish odors, it masks them. The sticky spray particles are inhaled by the user (and anyone who has the misfortune of being nearby) coating the hairs in the nose so you can only smell the Lysol. The bad smell is still in the air, you just can’t smell anything but what is stuck up your nose. The sticky particles are also inhaled into your lungs. Your lungs will produce mucous to rid the lung cilia of the sticky substance. Excess mucous floods your lungs, causing chest congestion, wheezing, hopefully coughing to clear it out, but ultimately, you are drowning in your own phlegm. This is an asthmatic reaction that can send the sensitive to the Emergency Room. Lysol also has other harmful effects that damage body systems; endocrine disruptors, central nervous system effects. Would you knowingly spray a pesticide in your bathroom? Doubtful. Lysol is classified as a pesticide by the FDA. I rest my case.

The worst airborne allergen is mold. You need to be vigilant with that stuff. Don’t let it get a foothold in your home. You want to kill it before it spreads. Unlike dust, airborne mold spores are living organisms. If you inhale them, they’re in your lungs and growing in your body. If they come in contact with your skin, they can grow on the surface of your skin, causing bacterial infections. If you have mold anywhere in your living environment, whether it is your own home or a rental, clean that mold up and out. If it’s just a damp smell in your basement, get a humidifier and keep it going all summer. Basement dampness can be the first sign of mold growing behind your walls and you may need a professional to remove it. Get on that. You can’t sell a home with mold. And, your landlord’s building can be condemned if it is found to contain high levels of mold. Don’t jeopardize your health. Be proactive when it comes to mold.

I also have a brother, but he wasn’t expected to do “women’s work.” He had to take out the garbage and mow the lawn. Ironically, he wasn’t spared allergens. He was highly allergic to grass. As he cut the lawn, grass clippings flying up in the air, his eye lids would blow up like golf balls. It’s most likely that he was really allergic to the chemical “weed” killers & fertilizers sprayed on the grass but that’s another blog.

Here, I’ve just talked about the airborne dangers of housecleaning. Surface cleaning can also be bad for your health. So, let’s informally call this blog, Housecleaning Dangers Part I.

Stay tuned next week for Housecleaning Dangers Part II.

In the meantime, while you are shopping for holiday gifts and décor, be sure that the holiday products you are using to scent the air, like candles, potpourri, et cetera, are natural scents such as food products and essential oils and not chemically derived fragrances.

References
  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/07/realestate/your-home-the-dangers-of-mold-in-homes.html/
  2. http://www.toxicfreecleaning.com/1–lysol-disinfectants/
  3. http://hbelc.org/faqs-61666?start=5&gclid=CjwKEAiAjvrBBRDxm_nRusW3q1QSJAAzRI1tgW3bPI-darJDIgMnwYHe5KlmdS05WVbmCpqp0S1O8RoCk-Dw_wcB/
  4. http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_solutions.htm/
  5. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/the-best-all-natural-cleaning-products-for-your-home//
  6. http://www.naturalnews.com/016940_artificial_fragrances_toxic_chemicals.html/
  7. http://hbelc.org/find-an-expert/environmental-consultants/
  8. http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20516762,00.html/view-all/

Stay Informed. . . Stay Healthy!


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