Good Morning, Mamas! I'm starting a new "Ask the Expert" post series where I interview local experts on all kinds of useful topics. Rachel Lynch, press and media coordinator for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, is an expert on the dangers that certain chemicals and poor air quality have on our health. She sat down to talk with me about how we can make sure our homes are safe and healthy places for our children.
What are the most important elements of keeping a healthy home?
Being diligent and staying on top of daily chores prevents things from getting out of hand. Daily upkeep also enables you to notice when things are off, so you can get professionals involved and avoid any potential health ramifications.
Why is air quality so important?
Breathing is something everyone does without even thinking, and the air we breathe literally gives us the ability to live and keep our bodies functioning at peak performance. EPA studies have shown that Americans spend roughly 90% of their time indoors. So while outdoor air quality remains important, the reality is improving indoor air quality is where we need to focus our collective attention, and brain power, to combat issues. Breathing clean air can help decrease both asthma and allergy symptoms.
How could we improve the air quality in our homes?
Trying to improve air quality sounds like a lofty goal, but little things can make a big difference. A good vacuum removes airborne particles and dust without stirring them up, unlike sweeping or dusting. Plants purify the air in your home naturally, and may be used to remove chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, toluene, xylene, and ammonia. Similar to vacuuming, bamboo charcoal can remove allergens from the air.
What is bamboo charcoal and how do I use it?
Bamboo charcoal is a nifty product because you can reap a variety of benefits from it with minimal effort. Activated bamboo charcoal is sold in linen bags and is safe for use around kids and pets. The charcoal lasts for a month, but can be reused after placing it in the sun for a refresher. After two years of use the charcoal should be retired, but can be repurposed as a fertilizer.
What kinds of toxins do you find in homes and how can we get rid of them?
Older homes, while full of beauty and character, tend to be major culprits of harboring toxins. Two issues typically relegated to homes built prior to 1980 are lead and asbestos. Lead paint may be found in homes built before 1978 and can impact brain function in children. If your home has any spots where paint is chipping or peeling, have it tested for lead. If lead-based paint is confirmed, you can either paint over it or have someone come in and remove it for you.
Asbestos was similarly used in a wide variety of building materials between 1930 and the mid-1970s, and can still be found in many homes today. Inhaling the microscopic fibers is the only known cause of mesothelioma cancer. The cancer should not be taken lightly, as those diagnosed with the disease have a very short life expectancy of about 12 to 21 months following diagnosis. To avoid potential exposure, if your home was built before 1980 have it inspected before starting renovations.
If you live in a home built after 1980, are there still indoor chemicals to be worried about?
While newer homes may not contain lead or asbestos, that doesn’t mean they’re totally safe. One major risk I would warn about is mold. Most homes in the United States have at least a little bit of mold and, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, mold can grow both indoors and outdoors. Mold typically grows in places with lots of moisture, like your stereotypical wet basement, but can also grow in dust, paint, and carpeting. Homeowners can rein in mold growth by controlling humidity levels, fixing leaks, ventilating shower, laundry, and cooking areas, and thoroughly cleaning and drying the home after experiencing flooding.
How does eliminating or reducing clutter in your home contribute positively to your health and well-being?
I firmly believe clutter is toxic. It has been proven that reducing clutter can lead to less stress and anxiety, more inner peace and self-confidence, stronger decision-making skills, and better sleep. In addition, removing piles of stuff means there’s less dust accumulating which may result in fewer allergy symptoms. .
I'm actually about to attempt to declutter my hoarder/six year old's room this week. What techniques do you recommend for decluttering without getting overwhelmed?
Keeping yourself organized can you help breeze through any chore. I suggest using plastic tote bins and having one labeled for keep, toss, and donate. Making the process simpler allows you to enlist your child’s help, giving them ownership of the task. Have them help you place items in the respective bins and don’t forget to have a discussion about why we don’t need to have so many things. You can also help others by donating gently used items to charity or dropping them off at a thrift store.
If you only have five minutes a day to devote to cleaning, what should you focus on?
Five minutes can really make a world of difference if you focus on high traffic areas like hallways, bathrooms and kitchens. High traffic areas get a lot of use and a moment of attention may result in a noticeable difference! You’ll also have the mental benefit of seeing your hard work every time you pass by the area.
Do you have a cleaning schedule in your house that you'd recommend?
I had to really think about this question because I initially thought I didn’t. But when I really think about where and when I clean, it does have a cyclical nature. I’ll typically wipe the counters and sweep the floor every night after eating dinner and doing the dishes.The bathroom and bedroom get a nice deep clean once a week - typically on the weekend. My cleaning schedule is very fluid because I’m a neat freak, which works to my advantage.
Find what works for you, but I would recommend doing a light cleaning each night before going to bed (it eases my mind knowing the house is all set for the next day) so clutter doesn’t start to pile up.
What are your favorite chemical-free cleaning products?
I’m a fan of Dr. Bronner’s. The Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner is a concentrated product that uses less packaging and no chemicals. It’s good for cleaning pretty much anything!
Do you have any can't live without products for spring cleaning and organization?
Currently, I’m really loving collapsible fabric bins. They come in all kinds of colors and patterns, look stylish if left out, and really help me keep things organized. I have one in the utility closet for all of my laundry products, some in the bedroom for scarves and such, and one in the linen closet for bathroom products and hair things.
Thank you for passing on all of this great information, Rachel! I'm definitely going to use your tote bin tip when I declutter the kids' rooms this week. Now it's time to get cleaning!