Spring cleaning sprouts physical, emotional health benefits
By Erinn Hutkin, Special to U-T San Diego6 A.M.MARCH 10, 2015
As the weather warms up, many people get ready for spring cleaning. And with good reason. Not only is spring cleaning a chance to physically clean up the home, it can also benefit physical and emotional health.
“Most people tend to nest during fall and winter months, so items gather and build up over time,” said Kimber Tabak, a San Diego-based professional organizer. “Spring is the opportunity to take a deep breath and evaluate what your individual needs are to help you feel your best self as you transition into a new season.
“We often feel more at ease when our space is cleared of clutter and when our stuff is properly labeled and categorized so we can easily locate it,” Tabak said. “This also applies to our mental well-being. We tend to be more positive, patient and calmer when we are in a space that we can be proud of and that does not feel chaotic.”
Yet for many people, getting started can be the hardest part of spring cleaning.
For those who have good intentions but are unsure where to begin, Tabak suggests making a list of priorities — which rooms or areas you want to organize or clean. From there, buy supplies such as garbage bags, recycling bins, labels, cleaning supplies and boxes. This makes it also a great time to use earth-friendly products and to go green.
Tabak said to divide items in the area that’s being cleaned into categories — throw away/recycle, give away and keep. Starting in a small corner or area of a room such as a bookshelf or a counter can make the job less overwhelming, as can dedicating a few hours on a week night to making a plan and then setting aside a day on the weekend to clean.
“I recommend setting small goals where you can actually accomplish tasks without getting too overwhelmed,” she said. “Not everything can or will get done at once. If you decide to tackle the garage, do that in sections, from start to finish before deciding to abandon it to shampoo the carpets. You will feel better having finished a one project rather than starting two or three and having them remain unfinished.”
Spring cleaning can also have physical health benefits, said Dr. Neeta Ogden, an adult and pediatric allergist associated with the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
There are common elements in the home such as cat, dog and other dander that can cause allergies to act up. But dust mites, pollen and mold can also be irritating to those with or without allergies. Ogden said these elements can lead to sneezing, itchy skin and stuffy nose.
Keeping the house clean and free of these allergens and irritants promotes better health because there’s no chronic exposure to allergens. She said over time that built-up mold, dust mites or dander can possibly lead to asthma, lingering cough and even bronchitis or sinusitis.
“‘Spring’ or any kind of periodic cleaning is really important to prevent these allergens from building up in our homes over time,” she said. “With decreased exposure comes decreased symptoms.”
During spring cleaning, she said, the main areas to clean are those where allergens build up. That means steam-cleaning carpets, moving furniture and cleaning dust underneath areas that are not touched regularly. Bedding such as down comforters and pillows can be sent to the dry cleaners.
Dr. John D. Pauls, an allergist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, said when starting spring cleaning, those with indoor allergies should first focus on the bedroom because that’s where pets often sleep. It’s also a place where most dust mites are found.
Those with allergies to cats, dogs or other pets with dander should make an effort to keep the animals out of the bedroom. Those allergic to dust mites should get dust mite-proof covers for mattresses and pillows. In addition to a heavy spring cleaning, bedding should be washed in hot water weekly.
Homeowners with any mold issues may also want to consider purchasing a dehumidifier or running an air conditioner to reduce the humidity to less than 50 percent.
And when starting spring cleaning, Odgen warns that those with allergies should clean with caution and wear a mask and gloves.
There’s also the option of using cleaning professionals.
One benefit of using professionals, Tabak said, is that people can become emotionally attached to their items, often without even realizing it, which can become a barrier to spring cleaning and organizing.
“It can be quite beneficial to have a third party come in, someone that is emotionally uninvolved, to be able to matter-of-factly assist them in sorting and clearing out some of those items they may be holding on to unnecessarily,” she said.
In addition, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology offers the following tips for spring cleaning:
• Bathrooms, basements and areas that are tiled can be prone to mold. The key to reducing mold is moisture control. Scrub visible mold from surfaces with detergent and water and completely dry. Help ward off mold by keeping your home’s humidity below 60 percent. Also be sure to clean gutters regularly.
• After spending time indoors during the winter, the amount of pet fur, saliva and dander might be elevated throughout your home. Spring cleaning is a good time to remove pet allergens by vacuuming and washing the upholstery, including your pet’s bed.
• While cleaning the house from top to bottom may take days, take a few minutes to change your air filters, and continue to do so every three months.
• Avoid being outdoors when pollen counts are highest during midday and during the afternoon hours. When sprucing up the lawn and garden this spring, wear gloves and a pollen mask. Avoid touching your eyes, wash your hands, hair and clothing once indoors.