It sounds like a 1970’s refrigerator magnet: “Housekeeping is dangerous to your health.” Yet it’s true: Cleaning house really can be dangerous. Having an orderly, less germy home is worth the effort, of course, but toxic chemicals, slippery surfaces, and wobbly step stools are just a few examples of how cleaning can go wrong and lead to an accident. Here’s how to clean your home without risking life or limb.
Slipping on Wet Floors
Soapy water, liquid cleaners, and wet surfaces can all contribute to a floor that’s slicker than a used car salesman on ice skates. In fact, falls are a leading cause of hospital emergency room visits, according to the CDC. About to swab the deck? Here’s how to clean a floor more safely:
- Your mop should be damp—dare we say “moist”—but not sopping wet.
- Turn on a ceiling fan or place a portable fan in the room after washing a floor to dry it more quickly.
- Let roommates or family members know the floors are wet, or even block off the area. Those “Piso Mojado” signs are in office lobbies for a reason.
Pro safety tip: Make decluttering the floor in high-traffic areas part of your cleaning routine. Loose shoes, backpacks, shopping bag handles—even your mopping bucket—are easy to trip over.
Breathing in Harmful Chemicals
Lurking inside canisters of ordinary cleaning products—rug cleaners, floor polish, oven cleaners—are some serious chemicals, such as formaldehyde, ammonia, and acetate. According to the American Lung Association, volatile organic compounds and other chemicals are released into the air when people use cleaning supplies, and may trigger chronic respiratory problems, allergic reactions, or headaches. Here’s how to steer clear of chemical catastrophe:
- Read labels so you know what’s actually in your cleaning products.
- Keep products in their original packaging.
- If you have children, keep cleaning solutions out of reach.
- Consider less toxic cleaning options like vinegar or baking soda.
- If you’re using chemical cleaners, open the window and turn on a fan, especially in small or poorly ventilated rooms.
- When cleaning with chemicals, wear a protective mask, plus goggles and gloves.
If you remember just one tip, let it be this one: Never mix bleach and ammonia. About 2,000 people per year die from the chloramine gas released in that little chemistry experiment. If you accidentally mix the two, don’t even try to clean it up. Leave the area and call 911.
Falling off a Ladder
Your windows are probably dirtier than you think. On the outside of the window, airborne pollutants such as soot, pollen, and mold spores build up, while rain can mix with dust and dirt for a streaky mess. The Insides of windows accumulate particulates from cooking smoke, while pets and kids add fingerprints and nose smudges. Some of that dirt will require a ladder to reach, so keep these tips in mind when you do windows:
- Always face a ladder when climbing up or down.
- Never stand on the very top step.
- Do not use a ladder when alone.
- If possible, skip the ladder entirely by using a squeegee with an extension pole.
- If you have a lot of hard-to-reach windows, especially ones accessible only by climbing onto the roof of your house, consider hiring a professional.
Because cleaning involves exertion, repetitive motions, and awkward postures, you need to be alert to the risk of musculoskeletal woes, such as tendonitis, rotator cuff injuries, muscle strains, and lower back pain. To avoid making friends with your local chiropractor, try the following:
- Wear knee pads when doing work on the floor.
- If you are lifting something heavy, be realistic about your abilities (when is the last time you lifted something this heavy?), enlist a friend to help, and of course, lift with your legs, not your back.
- Avoid twisting your body while carrying a load, such as a heavy laundry hamper.
- Alternate activities, so you aren’t repeating any motion for too long, and take breaks.
Beware the Dust
It’s important to dust and vacuum frequently, even in those out-of-sight, hard-to-reach places. If you’re feeling unmotivated, just consider at what’s contained in typical household dust: dead skin cells, pet dander, bits of insects, pollen, and bacteria. Breathing dust can trigger asthma, allergies, and other respiratory issues, so it’s smart to reduce the quantity that’s laying around your house—but dusting can also increase your exposure. Protect yourself from this microscopic menace by following these tips:
- Reduce dust in the home from the get-go by placing doormats at entrances to capture dirt coming in from outside.
- Use a high-quality filter in your HVAC system and replace it regularly.
- Wood, tile, and vinyl flooring is healthier than carpeting. If you just love a soft surface beneath your sensitive feet, opt for a short-pile carpet over a loose-pile carpet.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency or HEPA filter.
- Wear a mask when vacuuming and dusting. But not just any mask: Cloth and surgical masks won’t keep the dust from your lungs. Opt for a snug-fitting, reusable respirator such as a Makana Mask.
Oh, and when you’re dusting that high bookshelf or bureau, watch for falling objects you didn’t know were up there—like Uncle Jeff’s championship bowling ball. This is a common cause of head injuries when cleaning. Especially for relatives of Uncle Jeff.