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Even if you look healthy, you know you still have to see your doctor regularly to check for underlying problems. The same holds true for your house: It could be sheltering a whole host of potential dangers you've never noticed, from poor air quality to hazardous waste. But you can practice a little preventive medicine under your own roof with this guide. Read on to find out how to destroy illness-causing germs, clear the air, and make swaps for healthier household products in every room.
5 Ways to Clear the Air
Scary but true: The air inside your house is up to five times more polluted than what you breathe outside. Use these strategies to improve your indoor air quality.
Don't let anyone smoke. Secondhand smoke contains hundreds of carcinogenic and toxic chemicals. Research shows they linger in furniture, carpets, and drapes and mix with indoor pollutants to form dangerous carcinogens.
Ventilate. Crack a window and run exhaust fans (make sure they vent outdoors and not into other parts of the house). Move furniture away from outside walls for better air circulation.
Switch paints. Most paints release volatile organic compounds even after they've dried. These gases have been linked to cancers, memory loss, developmental damage, and reproductive problems. Cut your exposure with low-VOC paints.
Rehab your closet. Use toxin-free moth repellents like cedar chips and take plastic off dry cleaning before putting clothes away.
Keep moisture down. Mold and mildew can aggravate allergies and asthma. To keep them from infiltrating, regularly check your roof, foundation, and basement for leaks or evidence of moisture problems.
Nearly 60 percent of household dust, which may contain lead, arsenic, and other pollutants, comes from tracked-in soil and airborne particles from outside. To keep it to a minimum, wipe down pets before letting them in, wipe shoes on outdoor mats, and leave coats and shoes by the door. Eliminate impurities that do make it indoors by changing air conditioner filters regularly and using a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter.
- Catch allergens and dust with the HEPA-equipped Eureka AirSpeed. $120, walmart.com
- Brush the dirt off your soles on a cute mat. Poppies doormat, $20, garnethill.com
- Give your pet the once-over with Earthbath grooming wipes. $15, petco.com
- Leave shoes by the door. Get 15 percent off this Zebra-embossed boot tray with code GRLHJ11. $49, grandinroad.com
6 Spots Your Cleaning Routine Might Miss
Dirt alert! Twelve percent of surfaces in the home that look clean are actually crawling with germs. Remember to give these hot spots some extra attention with disinfectant.
2. Light switches
3. Refrigerator door handles
5. Remote controls
6. Video-game controllers
Steps to a Healthier Bathroom
- Close before flushing. Studies have found that bacteria-filled mist can travel several feet every time you flush, so get your family in the habit of putting down the toilet lid. Telling them this fact may help!
- Rearrange toothbrushes. If your brushes touch one another they can spread germs. Keep them separated, buy new ones every few months (or after you've been sick), and rinse thoroughly after using.
- Change your shower curtain. Plastic curtains are likely to contain phthalates and other plasticizers, chemicals that have potential hormone-disrupting effects. Instead of using a PVC liner, go for a fabric one.
- Switch to safer toilet cleaners. Some traditional toilet-bowl cleaners may contain odor-killing p-DCB, a potential carcinogen. Try healthier alternatives from Clorox Green Works, Seventh Generation, or Method, among other brands.
- Discourage mold. Turn on an exhaust fan to remove humidity, and let it run for 20 minutes after your shower, to keep mold spores from growing. Scrub tiles with mold-killing borax or hydrogen peroxide to keep grout lines clean, and change towels and rugs frequently to avoid moisture buildup.
Steer Clear of Pet Germs
Animals are just like us: full of germs. Reduce your chances of getting sick with these tips.
Don't let pets kiss you on the mouth. Dog and cat saliva can contain any of more than 100 different germs that could make you sick. Also, if possible, discourage your pet from licking family members.
Curb toilet drinking. Taking a drink from the loo is bad for your pet's health, not to mention yours if he kisses you afterward (see above).
Take care around litter boxes. You can catch toxoplasmosis by touching infected feces. Use disposable gloves when cleaning up after your cat and wash hands afterward. Pregnant women should avoid litter boxes altogether, as the infection can cause birth defects.
Wash hands around reptiles. Turtles, snakes, frogs, and other reptiles and amphibians can spread salmonella. Infected animals carry the bacteria on their bodies, so wash your hands after handling your pet or touching its cage -- and make sure your kids do the same.
Safely Store Household Hazards
The average home contains three to 10 gallons of hazardous waste. Clear your garage of what you don't need, then cut your risk with these storage tips.
Pesticides: They kill bugs and can be hazardous to people and pets, too. Store them on a high shelf or in a locked cabinet and follow the advice on the package for safe disposal.
Leftover Paint: Some paint products are flammable, but if you must keep them for touch-ups, seal the cans tightly, covering the top with plastic wrap before closing the lid. Since paint can freeze, keep cans on a high shelf indoors, not in the garage.
Gasoline: Store extra fuel in an approved container with a tight-sealing lid and a safety lock feature. Keep it out of sunlight and away from heat sources. Clean your garage floor regularly to get rid of oil and fuel tracks.
Car Products: Antifreeze, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and motor oil are all poisonous if ingested. Keep them in locked cabinets out of reach of pets and kids.
Air It Out
Some wall-to-wall carpeting (as well as the padding and adhesives used to install it) and some new furniture made with particleboard or fiberboard emit VOCs. To help limit your exposure, leave windows open and run a fan to remove chemical vapors for 48 hours after you've had carpet installed or furniture delivered.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2011.