holiday cleaning

Holiday Cleaning: It's Open Season on Dust Bunnies

Household dust contains not only allergens, but often arsenic and other contaminants, too.

Holiday Cleaning: It's Open Season on Dust Bunnies

Besides triggering allergies, some dust bunnies contain toxins.

If you’re hosting guests during the holiday season, there are some visitors you definitely don’t want lurking in the corner—dust bunnies. And it’s not just a cosmetic thing, either. Those seemingly innocent balls of fluff contain allergens like dust mites (and their waste), animal allergens, including pet dander, skin flakes, urine, and even cockroach particles. Even worse, a 2009 study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology suggests that indoor dust bunnies can also be often laced with lead, arsenic, and other harmful substances.

THE DETAILS: In the study, Arizona researchers found that much indoor dust is trudged in or blown in from outside. (See, your mother really did have a good reason for making you take your shoes off at the door!) Once inside, it can mix with indoor allergens, including skin cells and carpet fibers, and even dust containing pesticides you apply to your pet or flame retardant chemicals from your couch and electronics.

WHAT IT MEANS: When you’re expecting guests, the ambiance is just as important as the food. But dust, scented candles, air fresheners, and even chemicals in holiday decorations could all trigger allergy problems in the estimated 50 million people living with various types of allergies. That’s why proper holiday cleaning and careful planning in consideration of your guests—and your family—are a must.

Here’s how holiday cleaning and prep work can keep your guests sneeze-free.

• First, find the right cleaners. A new Environmental Working Group study analyzed contaminants in common cleaners and found that many contain possible carcinogens and asthma and allergy triggers. To make a cheap and effective general cleaning solutions that kills many germs, mix 1 part white vinegar with 9 parts water. Wipe the extra-dirty areas down with warm, soapy water and then finish off with the vinegar solution. It dries shiny and the smell goes away within an hour. Use a damp cloth or mop to wipe up dust on uncarpeted areas, and use a good vacuum cleaner, preferably one with a HEPA filter, to drag allergens out of carpets.

• Know your guests' pet peeves. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), about 10 percent of the general population is allergic to dust mites, and another 10 percent live with pet allergies. If you have pets, make sure you let your invitees know, and offer to keep your animals in a separate room during the gathering. Some potential guests may be so allergic that they might not attend. Bathe your pets the week of the party to reduce dander.

• Take on dust mites. For guests spending the night, make sure you wash covers and pillowcases in hot water (130 degrees) to kill off lingering dust mites. Since the sun's ultraviolet rays can also kill them, hang linens outside to dry if it's sunny—you’ll also save energy and money on your electricity bill. According to ACAAI, there may be up to 19,000 dust mites in a gram of dust! So don’t cut any corners when vacuuming or mopping. And consider keeping toys and other dust-gathering items in a container with a lid to prevent dust buildup. Keep your home's humidity as low as you can while staying comfortable; dust mites die if the humidity drops below 40 percent.

• Smell good naturally. Most spray and plug-in air fresheners contain synthetic fragrances that contain a chemical soup of volatile organic compounds, some carcinogenic, and ozone that can trigger breathing problems. Opt to use beeswax candles for candlelit ambiance, and brew your own natural air freshener on your stovetop.

• Vent it. Mold can also send people into sneezing fits and make them sick, so after cleaning your bathroom with nontoxic cleaners, make it a habit to open a window or run the exhaust fan during showers to deter mold growth. Do the same in the kitchen when you're cooking.

• Consider enforcing a no-shoe policy. This may seem a bit extreme, but if you’re going to great lengths to keep your floor not only clean, but also uncontaminated, ask guests to slip off their shoes at the door. Speaking of prohibitions, you should also enforce a strict no-smoking policy in your home to protect everyone’s lungs.

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Published on: November 12, 2009

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To clean up dust bunnies

To clean up dust bunnies, one can adopt a DIY approach. Mobilize the entire household, pick up dump cloth or mops; even more so the vaccum and simply set down to work. Soapy water is certainly a must to reduce exposure to bacteria, and wearing a face mask and gloves (logically) would complete the entire clean up attire.


Washing fragile textiles

Once again, I'm using my museum knowledge and experience to make recommendations. I hope some of this info is useful for people. If there is a number one rule concerning museum items, I would say it is "do nothing that you cannot undo." To me that translates as, "if you don't know what cleaning something will do, don't do it."
Old-fashioned dyes are not color-fast. Using water may not be an option.
Wool shrinks if cleaned with water.
Hand-pieced quilts shouldn't be washed in a washing machine if you want them to last. From a museum point of view, they shouldn't be dry-cleaned either. The chemicals used in dry-cleaning aren't necessarily conducive to the long life of textiles which is a concern of museums.
I have an 1880's family quilt which is stained. The dyes used were natural and I simply leave it alone.I will not risk damaging it further in order to get out the stains which are acidic from being stored in a cedar chest for decades.
Having said that, I will say that the most gentle soap I know of is Orvis, which is used for horses, oddly enough.
Washing something fragile requires great patience and a strong back. I have washed white ladies' clothes and antique undergarments using these methods. Use very little soap and rinse several times.
Preferably a shallow pan on a table should be used and the wet garment should have a cotton towel, or something strong that won't fade or harm the antique garment, under it to lift it when wet.
Very little soap used be used and two rinses are necessary. The textile cannot be wrung out. It can be rolled carefully in dry towels to remove excess water and then dried flat.

Controlling dust without using chemicals

Some of the museum info I mentioned in the previous comments was relevant to my house because I have family antiques.
In museum work, I would vacuum upholstery and even recent clothes donated to the museum. Just don't use a vacuum with a beater to avoid damage to the materials, or don't use to strong a vacuum if small ornaments or fragile material are involved.
I cleaned many unfinished wood or leather items using a damp cloth and a small amount of diluted Murphy's Oil Soap. It's very important to allow an item to dry thoroughly to prevent mold.
I dusted items very carefully. I used a mild dish detergent diluted with water to wash china and glass items. However, if items are extremely fragile I would wipe them down and not immerse them.

dust, humidity and houses

I worked in a history museum for nine years and studied museum literature on caring for collections. One of the important things for houses is constant temperature (+/- 5 degrees) within seasons and fairly constant relative humidity.
Extremes in temperatures cause condensation which causes mold and mildew. Too great a humidity increases mold and mildew. Also high himidity encourages pests such as silverfish. Too low a humidity isn't good for people or collections.
Also mentioned were the amount of dirt and contaminants we bring in from outside. Dirt and dust are like tiny razors that scratch furniture and cut textiles.
In regard to insects, museums use traps to monitor what insects are present. Going in and just spraying chemicals isn't encouraged.
Although the temperatures that best for some collections too low for people, the recommendations are interesting in regard to houses and people!
Although ultraviolet light fades textiles,and some other collections, I have used sunlight on a small scale to kill mold. Just make sure that the book or whatever has returned to room temperature before putting it back inside or mold or mildew could result.

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