Spring Into Cleaning

Tips to Get Your Home Spic and Span and Safe This Season

The arrival of spring always seems to bring with it positive feelings of hope and renewal. But as the sunlight shines through the window, it's also likely to spotlight the grimy smudges on the windowpanes and the specks of dust dancing in the sunbeams, reminding you of that fun annual task: spring cleaning.

Spring cleaning, however, means different things to different people. Many simply enjoy letting in the fresh spring air to clear out winter's gloom. "On the first nice weekend day, I open all the blinds and windows and just air out the place," says Dana Grieser, of Chicago, Ill. "Some fresh air and fresh flowers do wonders for a home."

For others, spring cleaning involves changing just about everything in the house to bring in a fresh, lighter look. "Spring cleaning used to be a ritual for my mother," says Carol Granville, a grandmother in Boca Raton, Fla. "She would change from winter to summer slip covers and draperies and change out winter wardrobes for brighter colors."

For parents of babies and toddlers, however, a glance around the house may reveal the specter of potential health hazards looming in every corner. We see allergens in the dust collecting on the light fixtures and on top of the curtain rods, lead poisoning in the paint chipping where the wall meets the window frame or choking hazards in the mangled mess of computer cords and phone lines gone wild. Of course we also consider the safety concerns invisible to the eye: clogged chimneys, failing smoke alarms and dead flashlights, just to name a few.

Get Safe This Spring

"The main allergy issues in the home center around dust mites, mold and animal dander," says Dr. Michael Welch, an allergist in San Diego, Calif. "But there are a number of things you can do on a yearly or seasonal basis for preventative maintenance."

Top on Dr. Welch's list is the HVAC system, more commonly known as the air ducts. "If you haven't already, throw out the cheap fiberglass filter that comes with your system and upgrade to something better," he says. "You can clean them and they don't need to be replaced."

He also recommends cleaning your home's air ducts, not necessarily for allergies, as "the jury is still out on that," he says, but for energy efficiency. "Even a small lining of dust increases the resistance, which increases the draw on electricity," he says.

Dr. Welch also cautions against the use of Venetian blinds, which collect dust as well. If you do have them in your home, however, he says a thorough, regular cleaning is definitely in order.

Animal dander, dust and other small particles have a nasty habit of collecting in carpets, rugs and anything else that is upholstered. While you should be using a vacuum fitted with a Hepa filter attachment for everyday cleaning (most vacuums now come with that option), an annual or biannual steam cleaning of all upholstered fabrics and carpets can help get rid of animal dander and dust mites.

Whether you live in a damp or dry climate, mold can be an issue if you have any leaks or cracks in water pipes or hoses. And don't just go through the inside with a fine-tooth comb. "Go outside and take a look around the house to see if you have cracks in the foundation or any unusual water marks," says Donna Smallin, author of Organizing Plain and Simple (Storey Publishing, 2002).

"If you have gone through winter and spring with any dampness or water leaks because of the weather, make sure you dry out the area completely," says Dr. Welch. "Most mold can't sustain itself without the moisture that was created in the first place, so before you simply throw out your carpet because of a winter flood, take steps to dry it out with fans and heaters. If you are able to keep it dry, it will die off."

Don't Be Afraid to Get Help

For many people, especially busy parents of young children, the want and need to spring into cleaning is there, but it's a question of time and energy. While you could steal an extra few hours a day by setting your alarm for 4:30 a.m., well before the mayhem starts, you do have another choice: "Hire someone to do it," says Smallin. "It doesn't have to be the whole project – you can hire someone to wash windows, clean the carpet, do the yard work or do general cleaning. You just need to weigh the value of your time: how much you get paid per hour or spending time with your child versus spending time cleaning."

The important thing is not to feel guilty if you opt to hire someone so that you can spend more quality time with your child or if you feel you just can't handle the workload. Once you make the decision, enjoy the result!

Fun for the Whole Family

Whatever you decide to do on your own, make it a group activity. Young children, toddlers especially, love to have chores and little tasks to do. "Even really little ones can get in on spring cleaning," says Smallin. "Put a sock on their hand and have them wipe the dust off the baseboard."

My 2-year-old loves to be on "dryer duty" – she is in charge of loading and emptying the dryer on laundry day. For weekly cleaning, she has her own dust mop – I remove one of the links on the handle to adjust the dust broom to her height, and off she goes around the house, picking up dust as she plays!

Young children can also get involved with putting their toys away or even sorting outgrown clothes to a donation pile.

Capitalize on this eager energy now – they won't be this helpful or enthusiastic forever, but if you start early, it paves the way for a great parent/child partnership in the future. "You don't have to do it all yourself," says Smallin. "When you all work together, it's quality time, and you get to share the accomplishment and have a reward at the end."

To Clean:

  • Clean filters on air-conditioners, air purifiers, humidifiers and dehumidifiers, and open any windows or vents in the basement or attic to ventilate the house.
  • Vacuum or fluff dry any hanging curtains or have them professionally cleaned.
  • Steam clean carpets in high traffic areas to remove potential allergens, mold and dust. Roll up area rugs and vacuum underneath.
  • Clean and clear all household drains.
  • Turn your mattress and launder all bed linens, quilts, throw rugs and shower curtains.
  • Dust ceiling fans, light bulbs and light fixtures with a damp, lint-free cloth.

To Check:

  • Check for leaks or cracks in and around the foundation of your house and around your dishwasher, washing machine and bathroom areas.
  • Inspect walls and ceilings for any cracking or chipped paint.
  • Have your chimney inspected, and if necessary, cleaned.
  • Check for signs of mold, especially in basements or other areas of high moisture. If you have any areas of concern, hire a specialist to check it thoroughly.
  • Check your roof, patio, driveway, fence and other outdoor areas for necessary repairs.
  • Check for safety hazards such as loose cords, unprotected electrical outlets, unsafe climbing opportunities and choking hazards around the house.

To Do:

  • Practice fire drills with your family. Discuss a safe place to meet outdoors and away from the house.
  • Change batteries and test all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Inspect flashlights for batteries and bulbs that need replacing, and place flashlights, candles and matches throughout the house.

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