Category Archives: Healthy Living

GROUT CLEANING

480742343 shower doorI find getting soiled grout to look good again is a chore that confounds many homeowners, especially if stains have been left untreated for a long time. But with the right product, grout can be cleaned well enough to sparkle like new.

Start with the mildest solution and then work your way up to stronger stuff if stains are stubborn. For example, some people swear by plain old vinegar or baking soda to clean grout. If using vinegar, dilute with an equal part of water. Baking soda can be mixed with a small amount of water to make a paste. Then spray or dab on a short length of grout and scrub with a stiff brush. Avoid metal brushes, as they can erode grout. An old toothbrush is generally not stiff enough. Use a small circular motion for best results. Rinse well with water and mop or sponge dry.

If after testing a small section, the grime remains, consider the following options, always remembering to use good ventilation and keep all cleaning products well labeled and out of the reach of children. Never mix cleaning products, as the combined chemicals can give off harmful gases.

  • Everyday household cleaners like Mr. Clean, Lysol or Spic ‘n’ Span can work well on grout, using the above technique.
  • Powdered oxygen bleach is nontoxic, doesn’t give off harmful fumes, and is safe on colored fabrics and grout alike. Stain molecules are literally broken into pieces by the oxygen ions, which makes them easy to rinse away. Mix oxygen bleach with water as directed and apply to dry grout so it soaks in deeply. Let sit for at 15-30 minutes, then scrub with a stiff brush, applying more solution to each section as you scrub. Wipe clean with fresh water. To keep grout looking good after the initial deep cleaning, use oxygen bleach in the cleaning water each time you wipe or mop the tile, and let sit for 30 minutes without rinsing. Then rinse with fresh water.
  • Hydrogen peroxide sprayed, mopped or sponged on grout can be an effective stain remover. For stubborn stains make a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and rub with a sponge or brush. Wear gloves and avoid getting on clothes.
  • A solution of half bleach and half water can be sprayed on shower grout at night after everyone is in bed and all items have been removed from the shower. Rinse off in the morning. Again, use adequate ventilation when applying bleach, and never mix bleach with other cleaners.
  • Some homeowners get great results on grout by using scrubbers that are powered by rechargeable batteries and come with different attachments. Available for around $30 retail, they can be a small but worthwhile investment.
  • Steam cleaners can also be effective on grout.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A HOUSE CLEANING SERVICE

111779891If you’re seeking relief from the constant cycle of housekeeping chores, there are many options to choose from in housecleaning services. Here are some considerations to help you make a good choice for your personal needs:

How often? If you can’t afford weekly cleaning service, other options are usually available. You can get bi-weekly service, monthly cleaning, or even one-time assistance for a special occasion. If the latter is the case, don’t wait till the last minute to arrange for it. Cleaners have set schedules and they will need to work you in around their regular customers.

Do they provide their own cleaning supplies? If so, that will affect the price. If you have particular products you prefer, ask if you can supply them, and how it will affect the fee structure.

Are they bonded or insured? Residential cleaning services with offices and overhead cost more, but their employees are usually bonded and insured. On the other hand, if an independent cleaning person is referred to you from a friend or professional you trust, that might be satisfactory, and their rates will probably be more reasonable. At any rate, always ask for more than one reference, and follow up on them.

What services will be rendered for the fee? There is a difference between a maid service and a housecleaning service. A maid will often do light housework, including changing sheets and making beds, tidy up and do some laundry. Most cleaning services will not do laundry, make beds, or do windows. Some will take out the garbage and load the dishwasher—ask. The standard housecleaning package includes cleaning and sanitizing kitchen and bathrooms, vacuuming, and thorough dusting. For an extra fee, the package can accommodate laundry, polishing woodwork, cleaning light fixtures, windows and/or floor waxing.

How does payment work? Typically, prices are based on square footage of your home. Ask people around your community about going rates. Arrange payment systems up front. Will you pay each visit? Monthly? What form of payment is accepted?

Last, consider a house cleaning gift certificate for new parents or someone undergoing extensive treatment for an illness. It is a thoughtful gesture that will be greatly appreciated.

RAGWEED ALLERGY PREVENTION

Beautiful yellow goldenrod flowers blooming

It’s a shame that a plant as pretty as ragweed causes so much misery. But come midsummer, with its proliferation in the Midwest and Eastern states, along with each plant’s ability to produce up to a billion grains of windborne pollen, ragweed is a scourge to thousands of allergy sufferers.

Though the plant itself is not harmful, the oversensitive immune systems of the allergy-prone convince the body to treat it like an invader, causing the runny nose, puffy eyes, itchy ears and general respiratory discomfort that are the hallmark symptoms of pollen allergy. Asthma sufferers may also find that ragweed season triggers or intensifies asthma symptoms.

(A side note: While similar in appearance, ragweed is often confused with goldenrod, a valuable native plant also used increasingly in garden design. Goldenrod generally does not cause allergic reactions. Research photos of both plants so you can tell the difference).

While there is no cure for ragweed allergy, several strategies I have found can help sufferers breathe easier when the plant reaches its peak season. While you should consult your doctor with serious allergy concerns, these common sense tips will augment any medications or treatments offered by your medical practitioner.

Keep tabs on pollen counts in newspapers, or on the web. The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology on the Internet publishes pollen counts by region. Avoid the outdoors when pollen counts are high. If possible, stay in an air conditioned environment equipped with a HEPA filter, especially when you sleep. At the very least, keep windows closed during peak pollen hours.

Predawn hours are peak time for ragweed pollen in rural areas, but depending on weather, urban areas will peak between 10 am and 3 pm. Damp, rainy and cool temperatures below 50 degrees F will slow pollen release.

I have everyone remove their shoes when they enter my home. A great deal of pollen and irritants are tracked in the house on footwear.
Pollen is carried on clothing, too. Remove clothing to a laundry area when you undress, and wash promptly.

You can leave ragweed-dense areas and go to other parts of the country during midsummer for relief, but don’t feel you have to move away from where you live. Research has shown that people with pollen-related allergies often will develop allergies to different plants in different locales.

A worthwhile investment for comfort, health and cleaner living is a central vacuum system. Traditional vacuum cleaners, even if they are equipped with HEPA filters, can suck up and then re-circulate dirt and fine pollutants back into your indoor air. A central vacuum system, by contrast, collects and contains even the tiniest particles of dust and pollen, virtually all of them, then transports it through the hose and interconnected plastic tubing behind your walls to a sealed container. When the container is filled, it can be emptied and the contents disposed of. Many allergy sufferers maintain that their central vacuum systems are the most important allergy-fighting tool at their disposal.

TAKING THE MISERY OUT OF MOLD ALLERGY

Unhappy young woman catched a cold and using paper handkerchief

I have learned that symptoms of a mold allergy are very similar to other allergic symptoms. Sneezing, coughing and itchy, watery eyes are common. There are many types of molds both indoors and outdoors, and not all of them cause allergic symptoms. And while mold allergy symptoms aren’t dangerous unless you also have asthma, they can certainly cause misery and reduce quality of life. While medications can help with serious cases, here are simple ways to keep mold at bay and symptoms away:

  • Mold flourishes in humid conditions. Keep the humidity levels in your home at 50% or below. An inexpensive hygrometer, available at hardware stores, can monitor home humidity levels.
  • Check basements and all pipes for leaks and dampness, and make necessary repairs. Clean areas of damage with a mild bleach solution.
  • Keep bathrooms well ventilated with windows or fans. Ideally, run a bathroom fan for 30 minutes after showering to dry the indoor air.
  • Sleep with windows closed. Night air is damp air and mold count is highest during those hours.
  • If you are particularly troubled by mold allergy symptoms, avoid going outdoors right after it rains or on particularly humid days.
  • If possible, install central air conditioning, and use a high-efficiency air particulate attachment (HEPA) filter. At the very least, use a window unit in the bedroom during warm months.
  • Change filters regularly in air conditioning units and furnaces.
  • If you have plants, avoid overwatering, and keep all woven liners such as baskets very dry.

If you work outside, mowing lawns, raking leaves, or planting a garden, wear a dust mask to prevent inhaling mold spores.

CLEANING PROBLEM PET ZONES

collie dogPets add immeasurable joy and companionship to our lives—good thing, because they sure make a lot of mess. I have found a nifty solution to some of those messes, like tracked-in leaves and dirt, spilled pet food, tumbleweeds of shed fur, stray litter around the cat box, and other miscellaneous debris created by pets:

Spot by Vroom is a flexible, 15’ long hose that lives in your wall and hooks directly to your central vacuum system. You can place one in your messiest zones, like the laundry room/pet room/mud room and pull out the Spot whenever you need a speedy cleanup. The hose automatically retracts back into the wall when you’re finished. There are also special attachments you can buy for Spot—even one that grooms your dog!

Save time messing around with a broom and dust pan or lugging out a vacuum cleaner. Spot is right at your fingertips. Also perfect for powdered detergent spills; lint screens; dust bunnies behind, between and underneath appliances and cabinets; small messes in hobby rooms or workshops. You’ll find a hundred uses for this handy little gadget that hides away when you don’t need it and appears in a flash when you do.

Don’t have a central vacuum system? You can retrofit your home with a central vacuum system in less than a day, and you won’t know how you lived without it.

NINE WAYS TO KEEP THE MOLD OUT

Spray Bottle with spongeMold can cause serious respiratory health issues, in addition to being unsightly. Keep your home clean and healthy by following these preventative maintenance guidelines:

  • Use adehumidifier in humid climates and/or in basements.
  • Keep yourhome cool.
  • Don’t leavewater standing anywhere in the home or near the home.
  • Useventilation fans in the bathroom during and after showers and baths.
  • Use ventilation fans in thekitchen while cooking.
  • Use your nose: If you suspect a moldy odor, see if mold is hiding under carpets or behind walls.
  • Check regularly for leaksin plumbing, roofs, ceilings and walls. Correct the problem immediately.
  • Make sure yourdryer is vented to the outside.
  • Vacuum frequently, since mold spores are microscopic and can be housed in dust that forms in your home.

If you have minor mold problems on a non-porous surface like bathroom or kitchen tiles, you can easily treat it with a mild bleach solution or vinegar. Minor carpet mold can be treated with baking soda or professional cleaning. Just make sure you locate and solve the source of the mold problem, as well.

Drywall mold is another story. Since it cannot be cleaned, it must be removed and replaced.

WHY AND HOW TO CLEAN BIRDFEEDERS

birds feedingBirds live outdoors among all manner of dirt, bugs and weather, so why, you might argue, would a soiled birdfeeder be of any concern, as long as it’s filled with the things birds eat?

I found out there’s plenty of good cause to keep your feeders clean.

Birdseed that becomes damp or rotten harbors bacteria and disease that can quickly spread throughout a flock, decimating a local population. Also, rancid seed smells bad, which attracts predators such as raccoons and rats that not only present a danger and nuisance, but that can also carry disease.

Feeders should be cleaned once a month in dry weather and once every few weeks in warm, damp weather. Bird food high in fat content, such as suet, is even more prone to turning rancid. For best results, take apart the pieces of the feeder and scrub with a bottle brush thoroughly with dish soap, or a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water. Rinse well and allow the feeder to dry thoroughly. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned with each refill. Plastic feeders can usually be safely cleaned in the top rack of a dishwasher.

Take care, as well, to remove piles of old seed or husks from around the base of the feeder, where bacteria can also grow. Refresh mulch or gravel under feeders periodically to cover bird feces.