Who doesn’t love Spring and all the cleaning and organizing that goes along with it. But before you jump in, you might want to educate yourself as to the hidden hazards you may come across that can harm you, your home, and your family.
Cleaning today’s modern homes is not the same as when your Mom did it when you were a kid. Advanced modern-era building materials, new chemical formulations, energy-efficient homes, and engineered organisms are forcing us to rethink Spring Cleaning as being more like planning for a major battle in our homes. This is the first introductory piece of a 5-part series on the Hazards of Spring Cleaning to help you protect yourself and be better prepared this Spring.
1. Biological Pollutants
Biological contaminants are (or were at one time) associated with living, breathing organisms (Microbial / Animal / Insect) that have an uncanny ability to collect, concentrate and thrive in small, isolated, poorly ventilated environments. All they need to survive is a food and moisture source. Unfortunately, our homes have become an ideal environment that can provide both.
BP’s are directly responsible for degraded IAQ and many can damage your home and your health. When they collect and concentrate, a “Tipping Point” is reached that when disturbed can have unanticipated health effects. Experts tout that they may be a major cause of lost productivity at work or in schools and be responsible for many doctor and hospital visits.
We call these minor disturbance-based exposures a “Dosing Effect” where you give yourself a year’s worth of concentrated exposure over a weekend of Spring Cleaning. Symptoms typically range from minor allergenic (itchy eyes, tickle in your throat, scratchy skin) to more severe whole-body symptoms like headaches and overall body fatigue.
2. Toxic Dust
For most folks, dust is just annoying. It clogs our computers, collects under furniture, gets in our eyes, and gives us sneezing fits. But more and more, dust is getting to be a much larger environmental consideration. From global Saharan Dust that fertilizes the Amazon RainForest to toxic dust residing in our homes, this ain’t the dust your Mom was used to dealing with.
Today we’re mainly interested in the respirable dust that collects in our homes. This is the dust that comes from many interior and exterior sources that are so small it hangs in the air for extended periods of time. These small dust particles when breathed in lodge deep in our lungs and can deliver a concentrated damaging hit to our immune system.
Toxic dust particles can be everything from the very fine biological pollutants (mentioned above) to inert dust soaked in Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOC’s) to engineered nano-particles from today’s newer chemicals and pesticides. Dust knows no bounds and can affect just about anyone: biological pollutants usually affect sensitive individuals where chemicals can affect anyone. Watch out for odd health-related issues like sudden rashes or sores to trouble sleeping and central nervous symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and fatigue shortly after Spring Cleaning.
3. Chemical Cocktails
Mom always warned us growing up not to mix household cleaners. But why? Well, a good majority of those cleaning and disinfecting products are made up of chemicals that can cause serious health issues by themselves or when mixed with other chemicals. These products can also emit toxic gases like VOCs that can cause chronic respiratory problems, allergic reactions, and central nervous symptom issues (like headaches, dizziness, forgetfulness, etc.).
We are surrounded by chemicals where our homes can concentrate these compounds and make them 10 times higher in our homes than elsewhere. And we’re not talking about clouds of toxic gases, but low levels of many different compounds that we refer to as a “Cocktail Effect”. Reactions to low levels of VOC’s (like Formaldehyde) often have weird health effects that mimick exposure to many different compounds making it difficult to figure out where your exposure came from.
Check out the EPA’s Safer Choice recommendations for cleaning and other products with safe ingredients or look into holistic formulations based on simple natural ingredients.
4. Pandemic Concerns
Today’s Coronavirus shows us how devastating biological organisms can be globally right down to infecting us in our homes. Extreme global connectivity means that the next global pandemic could be only a flight away. It seems like we are constantly hearing about “close calls” with organisms that have great potential to harm us.
If you look back over just the past several decades there has been some pretty nasty stuff surfacing like Anthrax, Ebola, SARS, MERS-COV, Swine, and Avian Influenza, NIPA, ZIKA, etc. Sources of biological hazards may include bacteria, viruses, insects, plants, birds, animals, and humans and can cause a variety of ill-health effects. Preparing for them now with a well-thought-out Spring Cleaning Regimen will serve you well.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is an excellent resource for cleaning and disinfecting schedules for many different types of facilities (even your home). Even listing disinfectants suitable for certain pathogens. Incorporating their recommendations into your home’s Spring Cleaning practices could prove very helpful.
5. Doing It Yourself
When it comes to Spring Cleaning, just try and stop some folks. It’s like a right of passage into daylight savings and the end of the Winter Doldrums for many Do It Yourselfers (DIYers). But “Poking the Bear” of hidden environmental hazards and potentially harmful cleaners when you don’t exactly know what you are doing could pose more issues than you realize. Best to think about how to protect yourself if you are one of those DIYers.
The first and best way to inexpensively protect yourself is to provide good ventilation when cleaning. Open windows, cross ventilate, use fans, etc. to provide for a good breeze through the areas you are cleaning. Sounds basic (it is) but being safe doesn’t have to be complicated.
My Mom was a DIY-Warrior. She had the goggles, the dust mask, industrial rubber gloves and boots, cleaning smock, and hair net. Her cleaning caddy was equipped with all sorts of rags, brooms and brushes, cleansers, trash bags, stain removers, etc. She loved that cleaning caddy so much that she named it “Buddy”. Today, we call this Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) where there are even better ways to protect yourself than using my Mom’s cleaning smock.
Lastly, assess your personal health. As we age, our immune system changes. What didn’t bother us years ago today might give us issues. If you are experiencing fatigue, problems breathing, allergic reactions, etc. best to assess what you can do safely and ask for help / avoid those cleaning tasks that might give you a health scare.
Note: But we know you won’t do that (you’re a DIYer). So if you have a DIYer in your family and don’t want to visit them in the hospital, a little intervention might be in order.
Need Some Help?
Watch for additional articles on the above items as this is an introductory piece on Hazards of Spring Cleaning. If you can’t wait or are looking for expert advice, MOM says to contact GreenWorks Environmental, LLC (GWE).
The Building Biologists at GWE are experts at resolving Moisture, Odor, and Mold issues, and are Certified Green Professionals. They can help get you the answers you are looking for and believe that “Healthy Starts at Home”. Call 732-223-2073, or visit their GreenWorks Website.