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Healthy, High Performance Cleaning Practices for Homes

Clean Frequently. Cleaning is an effective health maintenance strategy, and a very cost effective one at that. It's true! A clean home is a healthy home.

Begin Outdoors

Look at entryways for how dust and other soils can be tracked into the house. Keep all walks and entrances free of soil, especially as they get closer to the house. Keeping soil and dust outside eliminates time and effort removing them through cleaning.


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Use Entrance Mats and Remove Shoes


Studies have clearly indicated that mother was right when she told us to "wipe our feet." Use high quality mats both outside and inside entryways. Mats should be cleaned, vacuumed and replaced periodically. Furthermore, removing shoes, as done in many Eastern cultures, significantly reduces household dust.

Minimize Clutter

Reducing clutter makes cleaning easier and faster. Plus by reducing the clutter you can reduce dust and hiding places for cockroaches and pests. Organize toys and stuffed animals.

Dust and Vacuum

Dust weekly using a moist or microfiber cloth. Feather dusters often only serve to redistribute the dust. Carpets, upholstered furniture and draperies are major "reservoirs" for dust and biological pollutants. Vacuum once or twice a week with a high quality vacuum fitted with a double lined paper filter bag at the least (some filters are so porous that the captured dust is just blown back into the area). Filter bags should be changed when they become half full. Steam clean at least once per year. The most effective machines to "steam clean" or "extract" your rugs can be found at your local janitorial supply house. While this may seem costly, consider having a cleaning party and sharing the costs with friends and neighbors, and finish the day with an outdoor picnic to let your rugs dry! Upholstered furniture needs to be vacuumed and cleaned periodically as well. If there are infants who crawl around on floors who suck their thumbs, the frequency should be increased to keep the children from ingesting dust and other contaminants.

Use Hard Flooring

There is no place for dirt to hide on hardwood, tile, linoleum or other hard flooring. Carpeting is a wonderful floor covering with many benefits - however, if it is not maintained correctly, the contaminants in the carpets can lead to health problems. Thus, if you cannot maintain the carpet correctly, consider removing it and cover those hard floors with throw-rugs or area-carpets.

Consider Replacing Draperies and Horizontal Blinds with Vertical Blinds

Both draperies and horizontal blinds collect dust and other contaminants. Vertical blinds present less surface area to hold dust and as a result, also reduce the frequency which they need to be cleaned.

Change Air Filters Regularly

Replace those typical blue mesh screens with pleated filters for heating and air conditioning units. Check them monthly. Write the replacement date on the new filter and keep a replacement log so your less likely to forget when they need to be replaced. Keep weeds, standing water and trash receptacles away from air conditioners and other fresh air intakes.

Manage Temperature, Humidity and Ventilation


Mites, molds, and other allergens can be controlled through managing the indoor environment, especially keeping humidity under 50%. Use of dehumidifiers, keeping windows open when outside conditions allow and using fans to increase ventilation can all contribute to limiting the growth of unwanted contaminants such as mold and mildew. When cleaning, pay particular attention to areas where moisture and condensation collects, such as under sinks, and near toilets and bathtubs. Also, make sure to ventilate the rooms in which you're using cleaning chemicals.

Clean or Replace Old Upholstered Furniture

Old upholstered couches and chairs can be a real breeding ground for dust mites and other allergens giving new meaning to the term "couch potato." These allergens can cause asthma and other health symptoms. Unfortunately, old upholstered furniture can be very hard to clean and it may be time to replace that old favorite sofa. Try one made of a non-absorbent material.

Wash Mattress and Pillow Covers


Mattress and pillow covers protect children from sleeping in an environment where millions of dust mites may exist. The covers encapsulate the mattress and pillow but still allow the bedding to breathe. Washing bedding and blankets weekly in hot water can kill dust mites. If bleach is necessary, replace traditional chlorine based products with those that use hydrogen peroxide. Make sure your washer and dryer are in good repair. A washer that does not wring the water out of clothes thoroughly results in more energy needed to dry them. And dryers that have clogged lint traps and exhaust vents also require significantly more energy.

Keep Food Areas Clean and Store Food in Sealed Containers

Clean the kitchen and eating areas soon after food preparation. Do not let dishes accumulate. Crumbs attract cockroaches and other pests. Address spills as soon as possible. Most common household spills can be absorbed easily into a clean sponge, cloth or paper towel without the use of chemicals, if done while the spill is wet. Once dry, strong chemicals, which can affect health may be required to remove the spot and may also increase the potential for damage to the surface being cleaned.

Select Cleaning Products Carefully

Cleaning products themselves can contribute to an unhealthy and unsafe home. Replace common household products that can trigger respiratory attacks such as those that contain solvents, aerosols, chlorine bleach and ammonia. These products are often flammable and toxic, and may produce toxic gas when mixed with others. Many household cleaners are poisonous--even in small quantities if consumed by a child. These products can be replaced with less toxic detergent-based cleaners. And follow label directions and store all products safely.

Making Cleaning Products from "Home Recipes"


There are many books available as well as Internet sites that can help you make your own home cleaning recipes. Be aware however, that most have never been tested and "grandma doesn't always know best." Thus, be cautious about making your own cleaners and whatever you do, follow the recipe accurately not to create unexpected product performance problems or environmental impacts. And make only enough to use in a relatively short period of time as home recipes can support the growth of bacteria as they sit unused under the kitchen sink and can then become a source of bacterial contamination when using.

Minimize the Use of Pesticides

Keeping the house clean, eliminating food and water sources that attract pests, eliminating nesting and hiding places (clutter) and means of entry (sealing cracks and fixing torn screens) are the best way to control pests. When additional measures are needed, use traps and adhesive strips. These should be placed in areas where children do not have access. If chemical pesticides are necessary, use the least toxic pest-specific products available. For instance, if the cockroaches are the problem use a pesticide specific for cockroaches.

Caring for House Plants

Houseplants are great, but use care during watering and make sure that extra water and moisture are not seeping onto the carpet or flooring underneath. This creates an ideal environment for mold to grow. Make sure the plants have a bowl or similar device to capture the excess water and are placed on a stand to allow air to circulate underneath. Also, use care when considering and using fertilizers and pesticides indoors as some of these products can be highly toxic, especially to small children.

Keep Pets Outdoors

Pets are a wonderful addition to any family, but unfortunately they can be very dirty and be a source of lots of dirt and cleaning in your home. If possible, keep pets outdoors and certainly keep pets out of bedrooms, especially if children have allergies. And give the family dog or cat a bath periodically, and make sure that birds, rodents, reptiles, etc. have their cages cleaned periodically as well.

Smoke Outdoors

Not only is smoking bad for your health and that of those close to you, but smoking is also very dirty and contributes to the problem of keeping a home clean.



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Healthy, High Performance Cleaning Practices for Homes:  Created on July 24th, 2007.  Last Modified on December 7th, 2009


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About Stephen P. Ashkin

Stephen P. Ashkin is the founder of The Ashkin Group, one of the nation’s leading consulting firms working to green the cleaning industry. A 29 year veteran of the cleaning industry, Steve Ashkin is the author of Green Cleaning for Dummies and a tireless advocate for environmentally preferable cleaning. Often referred to as the “father of green cleaning,” Ashkin has played a pivotal role in setting industry standards, promoting environmentally preferable products, and advocating for socially responsible practices. For more information or to subscribe to his e-newsletter, DestinationGreen, visit




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