Frugal but effective spring cleaning for health and hygge

Even though winter hasn’t quite given up its hold where I live, spring is definitely starting to get the upper hand, which means it shouldn’t be long now before I can start on some proper spring cleaning.  As I’ve mentioned before I’ve been developing in increasing interest in natural cleaning but, up until recently, it’s always been mainly from an environmental perspective. Recently, however, I’ve been learning more and more about how natural cleaning not only helps the environment but also helps protect our health as well as making are homes feel nicer and saving us money.  So with spring (just about) here, I thought I’d share some tips on frugal but effective spring cleaning with an emphasis on protecting against (seasonal) allergies and irritations (bugs) as well as making your home a pleasanter place. To keep this post reasonably short, I’m only covering tips for cleaning tasks I think of as being specifically connected to spring cleaning, rather than all the cleaning tasks you can do in your home, but if there’s interest, I may cover (some of) the others at a later date.

Start from the top of the walls and work your way down

I have to own up and say, I generally leave cobwebs alone if they look like they’re in use as I have no problem whatsoever with spiders and am happy to have them deal with flies for me.  I do, however, take down ones which look like they’ve been abandoned and generally dust the upper parts of my rooms (which most of the time I ignore as life’s too short). My tool of choice is an extendible microfibre duster as I am on the short side and I can’t be bothered climbing up and down ladders any more than I absolutely have to.  For me this is just fine for cleaning picture frames and anything else which is high up on the wall or hung from the ceiling.

Clean kitchen counter tops with vinegar and water

A 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water is my standard general cleaning agent for most surfaces (obviously excluding wood) and it’s particularly effective in the kitchen since it deters ants.  Basically ants navigate by scent and the odour of the vinegar confuses them. If you don’t want to use vinegar I would suspect lemon would work for the same reason, although I’ve never tried it.  Ideally you want to apply the mixture regularly to keep the scent strong, which is why it’s so useful to use this mixture every time you clean your kitchen counter tops. If you have laminate cabinets then this mixture should be fine (as should the lemon one), I wouldn’t use either on wood.  Plain hot water will probably remove most spills.

Dust hard surfaces surfaces without blowing up dust

Dust is home to dust mites, which are a major trigger for allergies and can irritate even those who aren’t actually allergic.  It’s therefore a good idea to get rid of it as quickly as possible and the key to doing so is to keep the dust down before you put it out.  In other words, if you just flick a duster along a surface, there’s a very good chance you’re going to send dust into the air and some of it may still be floating around there even after you’ve cleaned the floor in the room.  I avoid this problem by using a microfibre mitt as I find it fun as well as useful but if you clean using rags then just make them damp, water is safe on most surfaces, or sprinkle the surface with something which will grab the dust for you, like moist tea leaves.  In either case, glide the duster smoothly rather than flicking it.

NB: Clutter tends to accumulate dust so spring is the ideal time to declutter.  Once you’ve cleared some space on your ceiling, walls and/or surfaces, you can put some of it to good use deterring pests.

Decorate to discourage bugs

There are five plants which stand out for their ability to deter insects while being attractive to grow live and also easily available as both dried plants and oils as well as safe around children and pets (although if you use essential oils you will need to take the appropriate precautions).  They are: eucalyptus, lavender, mint, rosemary and sweet basil. Catnip is also very good but if you use it you may find yourself being visited by every cat in the neighbourhood. There are other plants which are great at dealing with insects, but can be very dangerous if used incorrectly or eaten by children or pets, for example pennyroyal and with so many safe alternatives available I see no reason to use them.  

I have to acknowledge, I am probably going to stick with my approach of using the dried versions of these plants in bowls around my home, basically so I can just set and forget apart from refreshing them periodically with new dried leaves and/or essential oils.  Going forward, I’m going to try growing some of these fresh, but, as I mentioned in my last post, I want to start my adventure in keeping house plants (alive) with plants which are hard to kill.

Give household textiles a hot wash

Water is one of the greatest cleaners there is and hot water on its own will kill off a lot of nasties, including dust mites which love bedding, curtains, rugs and such like.  If you have an allergy sufferer in the house then it may be worth having a policy of only buying textiles which can be hot washed regularly. This may be one instance when it’s worth swapping out something you already own, even if it’s in good condition.

Dust mites hate cinnamon, so, assuming you’re OK with at least the smell (if not the taste), there is a great natural way to deal with them.  Mix 100 ml each distilled water and rubbing alcohol and add up to 30 drops of cinnamon essential oil. Then spray this regularly on your household textiles to protect them between washes.  (Anybody from the U.S. 100ml is about half a cup).

If you don’t have allergy sufferers in the house, you might want to consider mixing the cinnamon with the essential oils of plants which deter pests, for a combined total of up to 30 drops).  I like to use 10 drops each cinnamon, lemon and eucalyptus. You can also spray this mixture on everyday carpets and most rugs, obviously not your finest antique Persian.

Clean carpets and rugs effectively

Over recent years, there has been a major trend towards hard floors and I totally get that they are easy to keep clean and that in some cases (e.g. bathrooms and kitchens) can be the only reasonable choice, but leaving aside the fact that they are often cold on the feet, they have zero soundproofing and frankly I’d say that was a pretty compelling argument for putting down rugs or carpets on top of them whenever possible.  I think the main reason rugs and carpets have gone out of fashion (less so rugs I suppose) is because we’ve been bombarded with adverts which are intended to make us believe that we have to keep our homes utterly germ free and that carpets are hard work because they need to be cleaned with expensive tools if they are to be hygienic.

Let’s take a reality check.  The top triggers for allergies and irritation in the average household are: cockroach droppings, dust mites, mould, pet dander (dead skin cells) and pollen.  You can usually prevent cockroaches and mould from entering your house in the first place and any decent vacuum cleaner should be more than capable of picking up dust, pet dander, pet hair and pollen (and indeed cockroach droppings if you do get unwelcome visitors).  Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters and, these days, UV lights (seriously) will indeed do more, they will, for example, deal with bacteria which are too small to be picked up by a standard vacuum cleaner, but before you rush out and spend your money on them, please have a think about what this means in practice for you and your family.  I have never used a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter or a UV light and neither has anyone in my family as far as I know and we’re all fine and healthy thanks. If, however, I was living in a home with someone who had a compromised immune system or a chronic respiratory condition, then I might consider a more expensive vacuum cleaner.

In any case, the best vacuum cleaner in the world is only going to do any good if you use it properly.  I have no idea how it seems to have come about that so many people think that you can just rush around the house with a vacuum cleaner.  At best that approach is a waste of time and at worst it will just stir up more dust. You absolutely must vacuum slowly, giving the cleaner plenty of time to do its work.

If you have the budget, I thoroughly recommend investing in a steam cleaner as steam is absolutely amazing at cleaning and also can really pep up textiles, including carpets and rugs, so that they look like new.  Use it after vacuuming and you’ll get your carpets and rugs super clean!

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