Few of us love to clean, but when we do, we do it with a vengeance, hauling out our heaviest-duty cleaners to disinfect every last inch. But increasingly, experts are cautioning that having a house that’s too clean could actually be bad for your health.
“We don’t need to live in a sterile environment,” says Dr. Jeffrey Morrison, author of Cleanse Your Body, Cleanse Your Mind. “There’s a theory that people are having more allergies than ever before because we purify their homes so much that their bodies can’t properly create an immune response.”
So where is the balance between keeping your house free of germs and grime, and blasting them with the potentially harmful chemicals in many cleansers? We asked two experts for their healthy housecleaning tips—and the products they’ve banished from their own routines.
- Don’t overspray. “In America, we think that more is better,” says “Healthy Housekeeper” Laura Dellutri, author of The Overworked Mom’s Stress Free Homekeeping. “It’s a whole mindset. So we go to clean a window, and we spray, spray, spray with cleaner.” Instead, start with the smallest possible amount of product, and add more as necessary.
- Mix your own cleaning potions. Why pay a premium for “green” cleaning products when it’s so easy to make your own? For a bathtub scrub, try one part borax to 4 parts baking soda. A mix of 2 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar can polish your furniture. And boiling a pot of cinnamon on the stove can safely rid your kitchen of odors.
- Take baby steps.“Start with the least aggressive cleaner, and work your way up,” Dellutri says. Sometimes plain old water can get the job done, especially paired with a microfiber cloth. If that doesn’t work, try a capful of vinegar or a few drops of mild dish soap in a bucket of water, Dellutri says. Bring out the heavy-duty cleaners or bleach only as a last resort. You may be surprised how little you need them.
- Avoid antibacterial products. A recent study at the University of Michigan School of Public Health found that antibacterial soaps may trigger allergies when overused by children. “In my opinion, there’s no reason to have any antibacterial soap in the house at all,” says Dr. Morrison. “It contains triclosan, which is a pesticide and an endocrine disruptor.” Replace your antibacterial hand soap with a glycerin- or castile-based variety.
- Clean more often. We know you don’t want to hear this, but think of it this way: If you make it a weekly habit, a 5-minute cleaning session can go a long way. “I call it preventive maintenance,” says Dellutri. “If you haven’t cleaned your bathroom in three years, you’re going to need the big guns.” A good guideline for a basic cleaning routine is to do it once a month if you live alone, every other week if there are two of you, and weekly for a family of three or more. Keep it up and not only will the experience be more pleasant, but you’ll rarely need aggressive cleaners.
- Go fragrance free. “Anytime you smell a fragrance in a cleaning product, that’s a chemical,” says Dr. Morrison. “And air fresheners are just sending chemicals into the air that disguise the original odor.” To freshen indoor air naturally, use an air purifier. An allergen reduction filter for your furnace — like the Filtrete Elite from 3M—will also help, provided you change it every season.