A clean home has lots of benefits. It looks better, obviously. It also can make you healthier—generally speaking.
To be sure, we’re talking about cleaning, not decluttering, which has documented benefits, most notably that cutting out superfluous stuff helps you feel calmer. Of course, clutter makes your home dirtier because it’s hard to clean a bazillion surfaces, and I’m-yours-but-totally-unnecessary items love dust.
Here’s one terrific (and surprising) aspect of keeping a clean home:
It requires little effort. Surprising, right? Granted this isn’t always true, but it’s true more often than you expect.
Usually when we consider cleaning, we think of scrubbing or wielding a broom. Those are reactive measures: Something is dirty, so we have to clean it.
Proactive measures are infinitely better. Given I hate spending time on something that I could have spent zero time on, I offer two science-backed front-end strategies.
Don’t wear outdoor shoes indoors.
I wrote about this in a 6 Daily Habits That Are Making You Sick so I won’t go into detail, plus it’s kind of obvious, even though lots of us ignore it. Studies show it’s bad to wear outdoor shoes inside your house, especially if you live in a densely populated city. But I’d be remiss without noting that other research shows interacting with soil and dirt, by living on a farm, for instance, can be great for your microbiome especially as relates to skin conditions like acne, psoriasis and eczema (pretty sure you still shouldn’t tromp inside with shoes you wore in the henhouse).
Open your curtains and blinds.
So easy. A 2018 study from the University of Oregon backs up lore that touts sunlight’s power at disinfecting what it touches, even when filtered through windows. The research showed that in dark rooms, 12 percent of bacteria were viable—but in sunlit rooms only 6.8 percent were viable. The sunlit rooms also had less bacteria from those little skin flakes dust mites like to munch on.
It’s worth dusting too though. Dust harbors all kinds of yuck, from teeny insect bits to skin, and it’s worse if your home is damp or moldy. Dust can contribute to allergies, make it hard for you to breathe or worse, as you’ll now read.
Here’s one scary (and surprising) aspect of cleaning your home:
Chemical cleaners can make you sick. A 2016 meta-study involving George Washington University, Harvard University, University of California San Francisco and Natural Resources Defense Council showed that household dust often includes 45 potentially toxic chemicals found in building materials, home furnishings—and cleaning products. Huh? I’m certain we’d all prefer “potentially toxic chemicals” not be in anything we own—but finding them in products we use to clean our homes (and our bodies, by the way) seems utterly idiotic.
The research, the first of its kind, considered every published study since 2000 that had analyzed consumer-product chemicals found in indoor dust nationwide, according to George Washington University. Indoor dust “consistently contains four classes of harmful chemicals in high amounts,” according to the NRDC.
Top offender: phthalates, which are often in cosmetics, toys and shower curtains, to name a few. Next offender: phenols, which are often in cleaning products. Fragrance, also often in cleaning products, can harm health too. It’s worth reviewing the NRDC’s graphic to check out all classes of offenders. Solution?
Vinegar is excellent on mirrors and windows. Baking soda works wonders on bathtubs. Rubbing alcohol disinfects doorknobs and counters. Use fragrance-free versions of planet-friendly detergents for your dishes and clothes. I’m a big fan of Seventh Generation. Avoid fabric softener, an additive I’ve never understood. You just cleaned your clothes, so now you want to add a greasy substance to them? Try dryer balls instead, which also cut drying time.
Journalist Mitra Malek never wears outdoor shoes in her home, and she avoids owning too much stuff, in part to keep her digs clean.