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Every year, most people will reserve a couple of dates for a more thorough cleaning. These sessions are done almost in a holiday spirit as they usually revolve around the changing of the seasons – ever heard of spring cleaning? Even if you don’t make a big fuss about it yourself, there’s a slim chance of you missing it on social media. The deal is, as the winter slowly melts away, you ready yourself for the warm part of the year and freshen up your house to match. This makes people feel connected and prepared for the weather, folding their heavy jackets away, changing from the bulky blanket layers to more breathable, lighter ones, etc.
Other than the spiritual purpose, these cleans have an essential role as, well, cleaning. This is a time when many individuals do in-depth scanning, get their dusting tools, vacuum cleaners, and mops out and turn their entire homes upside down. Once all the major things are taken care of, it’s easy to become a bit carried away, washing and sweeping every inch of the floors and vowing to always keep it as squeaky clean. However, rarely do people follow through.
See, most of us do our share and try to stay on top of things, but our busy lives can make it very difficult to prioritize dusting the shelves and washing the rugs. We mostly focus on keeping our space neat to feel better and more organized, and do specialty cleaning only when things get out of hand. This way of functioning is quite normal. Not every part of your living space requires constant care, but a question comes to mind – what is the optimum to strive towards? How often is “regularly” when it comes to cleaning?
Regarding your bedroom, the short answer is: weekly. The reasons? Keep reading.
With climate change and the surge of industrialization in our recent history, it’s no wonder that the air we breathe in is more contaminated than ever. Both outdoors and in, there is a wide range of pollutants constantly present and irritating our airways.
Outdoor pollutants include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Sulfur dioxide
- Nitrogen oxides
- Remnants of fossil fuel burning
Indoor pollutants include:
- Harsh chemicals
- Dust mites
- Various bacteria
By merely living and using the commute, most of us are exposed to over half of contaminants from both lists. The immediate reactions of our organisms include coughing, wheezing, sneezing, sometimes headaches or watery eyes, and that’s even if we haven’t developed a chronic condition. The long-term consequences are dire; we now have more than ever people suffering from asthma and lung cancer. The health risks don’t stop with our respiratory system – air pollution also causes preterm birth in pregnancies, stroke, cardiovascular diseases and, since 2013, holds its spot on the World Health Organizations’ list of carcinogens. The people most at risk are those in lower-income countries, with air pollution accounting for the staggering 91% of the premature death rate, according to the WHO’s estimates.
To counter these issues and lower the pollution level worldwide, professionals offer solutions for better urban planning and industrial strategies. These include switching to more sustainable sources of energy, using lower-emission fuels, reducing and recycling waste, being more efficient with energy use, providing biking lanes, clean energy for household use, etc. Unfortunately, most of these fall onto the community institutions and leaders, rather than the average individual to solve, which leaves a limited arsenal for ordinary people against air contamination. For the lucky, relatively unbothered individuals, this means keeping the house clean and avoiding smoke. For those struggling with asthma or allergies, on the other hand, the story is a bit more complicated than that.
Dealing with allergies can be very frustrating, especially if you don’t realize you have one. You read that correctly. It’s possible to have an allergy to contaminants found around you, even in your home: think, pollen, dust mites, cockroaches, pet dander, etc. But because you’re used to hearing about some other allergies causing emergencies, you may not initially connect the dots, as the symptoms of seasonal or household irritant-related allergies aren’t as life-threatening. However, it’s important to get them checked in time, as persistent allergies can spread downwards to your lungs and cause asthma.
If you frequently experience symptoms like sneezing, watery or itchy eyes, swollen eyelids, runny nose, coughing, weakness or tiredness in a specific time of the day, say, in the morning, it’s very possible that you are allergic to something in your home.
The cause of allergies isn’t precisely pinned down yet. We know that allergic reactions are just your immunity trying too hard to keep you safe, but it isn’t certain what triggers it. Possible risk factors include genetics and environmental factors. Ironically, some allergies develop because of our heightened hygiene standards nowadays; if your body hasn’t come in contact with something early on, exposure later in life can cause an overreaction as your immunity isn’t equipped to deal with the matter.
Common Allergens In Your Bedroom
If you experience some of the symptoms listed above and suspect an allergy, you can go to your doctor to get some tests done and find out for sure what’s going on. Here are some common culprits to watch out for indoors:
Often encountered in more urban areas, these pests like warm weather and darkness, although they are known to be very resilient. They are mostly active at night, which allows them to crawl into our homes easily and unnoticeably while we sleep. People who are allergic to cockroaches are triggered by the protein found in their droppings and body parts, which means that even when dead, these pests may trigger cold-like symptoms such as postnasal drip, sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, etc. Cockroaches also tend to aggravate nocturnal asthma and even cause it in allergic people.
These creatures are too small for our naked eye to spot. They live in the dust and mainly feed off of our dead skin. Because of this, dust mites are frequent residents of our pillows, beds, sofas, rugs, curtains and similar dust-collecting, convenient places in our homes. Note that it’s actually their feces and not the dust mites themselves that people are allergic to. As these pests are impossible to get rid off entirely, they pose annoyances all year long for those who are sensitive to them. If it’s any consolation, the symptoms these people experience daily aren’t severe, and they are located in the upper airways, hence the name “allergic rhinitis.”
Although we don’t classify our pets as pests, they do cause adverse effects on our health more often than we care to admit. The protein found on their dead skin, hair, or bodily fluids trigger sneezing, itchy eyes and cause one’s eyelids to swell. Many cats and dogs, even if hairless, can potentially cause these symptoms. Allergen-carrying particles easily get released into the air and find their way all around our homes, not to mention our clothes after a short petting session.
Pollen is a particle released by flowers and trees usually during spring, with the purpose of their reproduction. For many unlucky individuals, though, the seasonal merriment is dulled and replaced by what seems to be an endless cold. Although it’s technically classified as an outdoor allergen, pollen easily makes its way into our homes via open windows and doors or carried by ourselves. The symptoms may be more severe than with the other mentioned allergies, potentially including the so-called “hay fever.” According to the NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences), this type of allergy affects almost one in six Americans.
Is Prevention Possible?
Although a lot is out of your control when it comes to outdoor pollution, there is plenty you can do to make sure your indoor air and surfaces are healthy. We’ll come to cleaning in a bit, but it’s sensible to first try and reduce the work if we can. Some of the following ideas may be obvious, but some often pass under the radar:
- Get an allergen-repellant encasement for your pillows and mattress. Make it harder for unwelcome guests to stick around! When the time comes, it’s easier to take off and wash the covers than to thoroughly clean your mattress and pillows, although that doesn’t mean you should never do the latter.
- Make your home less humid. Whether you merely stop using a humidifier or start using an air condition, addressing this issue will make your space less likely to attract pests like cockroaches or promote mold growth. Keeping your floors, rugs, and clothes dry is a must. That means throwing the washed laundry into the dryer as well as not leaving the wet towel on the floor after showering.
- Consider purchasing an air purifier. These are very handy as an additional line of defense against airborne particles. For your bedroom, especially if you suffer from allergies or asthma, find a device that features a passive purification system, optimally with both HEPA and activated carbon technologies. As these two excel in different areas, they will be sure to clear out all sorts of allergens when combined. Another plus is, unlike some other types of purifiers, they filter and eliminate the pollutants instead of just neutralizing them and pinning them to the floor. That means less time vacuuming while enjoying fresher air, and also allows you to keep the windows open for shorter periods during the pollen season.
- Don’t allow pets inside your bedroom, let alone bed. Cute as they are, the risk to your health simply isn’t worth it. Even if you seem to show any allergy symptoms around them, their curious faces and paws bring along everything they’ve stepped onto or come in contact with during the day.
Cleaning Methods and Considerations
How well does cleaning work? According to these studies, very well.
- Washing your sheets and pillowcases once a week gets most of the job done even on lower temperatures. Most sheets are meant to be washed in colder water and tumble-dried to keep their material as soft as possible. However, it is recommended to wash them in hot water to eliminate dust mites and their food – your skin flakes, hair oil, and other bodily fluids. If you decide your sheets are too delicate for that, you can put them in the dryer at a high temperature before washing them, or even put them in the freezer shortly.
- Your bed should be aired out once in two months, but you’ll be fine if you don’t skip it for over six months. That’s when it needs to be vacuumed, flipped over and rotated, not just to make it wear evenly, but also to minimize the risks for your health. Besides the scheduled mattress cleaning times, if you notice stains, off-putting smells or wake up with bumps all over your body, you’d be best advised not to postpone dealing with it. In the event of bed bug infestation, it can be a matter of hours before cleanup becomes near impossible.
- Shower before going to sleep. When you come back from work or even a short trip to the store, many particles like dust or pollen use you as a vehicle. You can’t stop this from happening, but hanging your jacket near the door and then washing away everything else will at least limit what’s going to the bedroom with you.
- Don’t focus only on the bedroom. Wiping it to perfection won’t matter the second you leave it to grab a bite or go to the bathroom. You will just carry back everything with you. By no means are you required to wipe and dust every single corner of your house on a daily basis, but don’t slack too much. While some things need only be checked monthly or even yearly, airing out your home, vacuuming, and dishes need to be done with more commitment. Make sure not to leave unwashed plates on countertops, and especially in your bedroom. Cockroaches can very well find their way in and be rewarded with food, too. Instead, wash up as soon as possible and close all waste into bags or containers.
- Don’t just work hard; work smart. Splitting the washing into zones and covering them day by day instead of doing one exhausting session makes the whole thing much easier and takes less time. For example, pick a day to commit yourself to the living room: vacuum it, wipe all surfaces and throw the decorative pillows into the washing machine. Next day, do the bedroom: change sheets, pillowcases, and blanket encasement, and vacuum the floor. Over the week, you’ll cover the entire house. Another strategy would be sticking to one duty, like wiping the glass and making your way through the whole house. Next day, you swap it for sweeping the floors, etc.
- Don’t wait until you accidentally spill a drink on your sheets before you change them (and don’t eat or drink in your room, while we’re at it). Remember, just because something smells nice or looks clean, doesn’t mean it really is. Did you know your purse likely carries more contaminants than the amount found in your bathroom? You just don’t think to wash it more often because it doesn’t show visible staining or smell bad. The same goes for your bedroom.
- Underperforming can cause obvious issues. On the other hand, overdoing it with a harsh cleaning solution can do more harm than good in regards to your health. Try to stick with products that come with a short list of ingredients, and make sure you understand what they are. Basic things like vinegar, rubbing alcohol or baking soda can be enough in many situations, although we put more trust in complicated solutions.
- Consider taking some eco-friendly steps to reduce your carbon footprint. It might not be a significant improvement to your own life, but making an effort to lower our contribution to the global contamination level is something we should all do. One individual doesn’t make a huge difference, but imagine if more individuals started buying fewer single-use items, found a green way to do laundry and recycled the waste they make. Cleaner water and air for everyone, you included.
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Laura Garcia is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She holds degrees in writing from Drake University. When she’s not busy writing, Laura likes to spend as much as time as possible with her husband James and three-year-old son Elijah.