COLLEGE STATION If you want your indoor air quality to be “fresh as all outdoors” without the bugs and dirt of course you may need to dig a little deeper into spring house cleaning. That’s the advice from Janie Harris, Texas Agricultural Extension Service housing and environment specialist.
Cleaning that goes beyond the usual everyday cleaning routine dusting, vacuuming and washing dishes is required to really clean up your act … indoor air.
But don’t panic. It really doesn’t take that much time or effort, and the results indoor air without all the allergy- or asthma-triggering pollutants will be worth it. Even if family members don’t have these medical conditions, having cleaner air is just healthier for everyone.
Harris said when undertaking a large house cleaning project, it’s best to start from the top and work down.
“Ceiling fans are important when it comes to air quality because if they are turning, any particulates on them can be dispersed throughout the room,” she said. That’s why dusting the blades of ceiling fans is recommended.
Air filters in central air conditioning/heating systems should be changed about once a month, she said, and the more surface area on the air filters, the better. Harris explained that while specific air filters themselves are designed to fit certain models of heating and cooling systems, those filters with folds and pleats in the filtering material increase the total area available for filtration and likely will trap more particulates from the air and keep them from circulating into the house.
As a general rule, she added, duct systems for air conditioners don’t need to be cleaned unless they have a break or a tear that lets outside, unfiltered air into the system. Make sure the duct work is inspected at least once a year, perhaps when the system is serviced by a professional. Any breaks should be repaired as soon as they are found. Not only do these air duct leaks allow unfiltered air into the system, they allow “conditioned” air to escape into the attic, which will cause higher energy bills.
And while you’re changing the filter in the air conditioning system, why not go ahead and install a carbon monoxide detector too. Or if you already have one, make sure it’s in proper working order. “If it goes off, don’t assume it’s a defect in the system,” she said. “Ventilate the house and call a plumber or HVAC contractor to inspect and repair the combustion equipment in your home.”
Less deadly but far more common in homes are dust mites, which “are an issue if anyone in the family has allergies or asthma,” Harris said. Dust mites are extremely tiny acarid arachnids related to spiders that like to live in carpets, bedding and upholstered furniture, as well as other areas of the home.
To combat dust mites, vacuum upholstery fabric, pillows and carpets often. Harris recommends vacuuming at least twice a week thoroughly with a HEPA filter vacuum system. This type of vacuum is designed to help eliminate dust and other pollutants from the air. Several well-known vacuum cleaner companies make versions of HEPA vacuum cleaners, and many aren’t much more costly than regular vacuum cleaners, she said.
Change bedding at least once a week, she added, and use hypo-allergenic encasements, such as pillowcases or mattress covers, on the beds and pillows to trap dust mites so they can’t spread and aren’t such an irritant.
Cleaning products may add chemical pollutants into the air, but if they must be used, don’t mix the products, Harris warned. Mixing household chemicals can not only make then ineffective, but some combinations such as ammonia and bleach, which releases a toxic gas can be deadly.
Some of her other tips to maintain the quality of indoor air:
– Get rid of clutter. Unnecessary “stuff” is a great dust-catcher, which in turn causes more dust particles to be floating around in the air.
– Keep books in enclosed book cases. That will reduce the amount of dust on books and keep the home cleaner.
– Use blinds or window shades instead of curtains or drapes, especially if someone in the family has asthma or allergies. This kind of window cover won’t trap as much dust as draperies or curtains do.
– Likewise, floors of hardwood or other hard surface are much less likely to trap dust and dirt than carpet is.
– Keep washable throw rugs near all points of entry so people coming in can leave most of the dirt and mud from their shoes on these rugs. Be sure to wash the rugs often.
– When dusting, use dust cloths that are designed to attract dust, or use some kind of damp dusting method. Dusting with an ordinary cloth or with a feather duster will just redistribute the dust into the air.
– And don’t forget to clean under refrigerators, freezers, washing machines and dryers. These areas are warm, damp and dusty, which makes them the perfect breeding ground for dust mites and mold.
If all this cleaning sounds like a huge job, Harris said, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Just break it up into small jobs and take several days to finish.
And remember, she said, you only get one pair of lungs. Eliminating indoor pollutants from the home will keep those lungs healthier, longer.