T he month of March brings with it the return of spring, a season associated with renewal and rebirth, warmer temperatures and baseball, and scrubbing and cleaning.
Spring cleaning isn’t near the top of many lists of things people look forward to as winter slowly fades away, but organizing and tidying your home can be beneficial for your health.
There are a number of physical benefits that can be gained from cleaning your home, and perhaps none are more important than ensuring your home is safe.
“Spring cleaning is a good time to get rid of dangerous chemicals, old medications and other toxic products, which cause poisonings and other health problems,” said Dr. Lori Cragin, division director and state epidemiologist for Environmental Health with the Vermont Department of Health.
She said cleaning and mopping are effective ways to reduce exposure to lead dust, which is of particular concern to young children.
“In children, lead exposure may result in learning disabilities, behavioral problems and decreased intelligence,” Cragin said.
Regular cleaning can also reduce exposure to asthma triggers such as mold, dust mites and pet dander. Occasionally dusting and mopping the areas where those triggers settle can go a long way toward alleviating the effects of allergies or other respiratory disorders.
That cleaning also extends to your pillow cases. It’s been estimated that after five years, up to 10 percent of a pillow’s weight is made up of allergy and asthma-provoking bacteria, mold, and dust mites. It’s recommended that pillow cases be cleaned in warm water every week and pillows replaced every three to five years.
Cleaning with disinfectants is also an effective way to kill germs and bacteria that can make you sick. This is especially true in the kitchen where food-borne illnesses such as E. Coli or salmonella can easily be spread if, for instance, you cut raw meat on your counter.
Keeping a neat home also helps fend off pests, and spring is the perfect time to make sure mice and other rodents can’t gain access to your home, Cragin said.
“Spring cleaning is a good time to do a visual inspection of your home and yard to note where pests may be able to gain entry and where water is intruding into the home possibly leading to mold growth or pooling creating a breeding ground for mosquitoes,” she said.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Renewal, studies have shown a relationship between exposure to mice and cockroaches and asthma in young children. Not to mention that getting rid of those pests once they have become established can be expensive, and the chemicals used to control them pose their own health risks.
And while it may seem overly simplistic, reducing clutter in the home helps diminish the risk of trips and falls.
Cleaning your home can also help keep you in shape.
The American Heart Association considers housework a form of moderate exercise and like any form of physical activity, cleaning can burn calories. Just how many calories can you burn doing household chores? The answer, it turns out, is quite a few.
According to the American Heart Association, a person who weighs 150 pounds and engages in 30 minutes of household chores can expect to burn 200 calories cleaning a bathroom, 133 calories doing laundry, 125 calories washing windows and 50 calories dusting. For comparison’s sake, a person of similar size who takes a 30 minute walk (at 3 mph, the average walking speed) would burn 155 calories.
While most experts will tell you household chores won’t keep you fit by themselves, when combined with regular exercise they can be an effective component of an overall fitness routine.
One study by researchers at the University of Indiana found that people who kept a neat home exercised more regularly. The study focused on a number of environmental factors that studies have shown influence the amount of exercise a person gets, and it was the neatness of a person’s house that made the biggest difference.
The benefits of cleaning your home can also be mental.
Researchers in London have found that as little as 20 minutes of housework per week reduced stress and people who engaged in that housework reduced their risk of mental health problems by as much as 20 percent.
Cragin also suggests spring is a good time to assure batteries are working in carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. She also recommends testing your well and checking for the presence of radon which can lead to lung cancer. The Departments of Health in Vermont and New York offer free radon testing kits by request.
“A healthy home is well ventilated, dry, clean, safe, maintained, and free of pests, toxins and dangerous gases,” Cragin said.