We all want to make a good impression, and presenting a clean home is challenging any time of the year. And when the holiday season comes around, special circumstances arise.
When prepping homes, most consider only the cleanliness of surfaces like tabletops, counters, or floors, ensuring they are free of dust, dirt, and grime.
Read on for 7 essential tips for handling holiday housecleaning and indoor air quality challenges.
1. Be mindful of entries and departures—guests bring more than food and presents.
Like it or not, with the arrival of guests comes the arrival of dirt and dust.
Household dust includes airborne particles blown in from outdoors, dead skin cells and hair from people and pets, dust mite bodies and droppings, tracked-in soil, and pollen (1).
So, during the holidays, when opening doors for guests’ entrances and exits, dust comes in with the wind. Also, sources of dust cross the threshold on guests’ shoes and clothing. And since every guest has skin and hair, this too adds to the dusty buildup.
- To reduce dust, start by placing mats in front of every door.
- Encourage guests to remove their shoes at the door. Not only will guests be more comfortable, but your home will stay cleaner for your guests as well.
- If the air is polluted outdoors, don’t open the door for guests until all goodbyes have been said. Hanging around with the door wide open invites more contaminants into your home.
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2. More time indoors, more indoor air pollutants.
With chillier outdoor temperatures, we, along with our guests and our pets, tend to be indoors more, shedding skin cells and hair. This is why household dust tends to increase during the holidays.
Plus, our heaters are operating more often. Radiant heating systems don’t make much of mess in your house, but central, forced-air systems can add to the dust in the air and on surfaces. Wood stoves, which can certainly warm us up, not only create dust and ash, but the smoke from them can produce buildups of soot on surfaces.
The common cold, flu and other viruses
Keep in mind, the quality of your indoor air can also affect whether you or your guests contract and spread cold, the flu and other viruses. And while there is no cure for a cold, research does show that once you have a cold, the quality of the air you breathe has a significant effect on the severity of your symptoms.
As you gear up for your holiday festivities, here are a few things you can do to deal with the increased time indoors and make sure your air is a clean as possible (2):
- Replace or clean your HVAC air filters regularly (at least every 3 months but more often if needed).
- Use portable electric heaters where reasonable.
- Use wood stoves that include a HEPA filter.
- Consider acquiring a whole-house air purifier system that works with your HVAC system to ensure every room has clean indoor air quality.
3. Fireplace: not be such a hot idea.
Fireplaces, even fully gas-burning models, can significantly increase the number of airborne contaminants in your home.
Firewood smoke in particular has been linked to strokes, heart disease, and lung cancer (3) (4).
And like a woodstove, firewood smoke can stain household surfaces. Wood-burning fireplaces also create dust and ash that not only make a mess, they can also irritate airways and exacerbate asthma and allergy symptoms.
The best way to prevent a fireplace from sullying your house and harming your indoor air quality and the health of you and your loved ones is to not use it. But if that is not practical:
- Use an air purifier in the room where the fireplace is
For wood-burning fireplaces (5):
- Use wood, preferably hardwood, that was split, dried, and covered for at least six months.
- Install heat-proof glass doors.
- Regularly clean your fireplace’s interior to remove the dust and ash, while wearing a high-quality protective face mask to avoid breathing in these harmful particles.
- Make sure your air purifier is specifically designed to remove smoke and odors from the air.
4. Avoid burning candles, scented or not.
Lighted candles are a common way to enhance the atmosphere during special holiday gatherings, but they create housecleaning issues much like a fireplace, and can add volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ultrafine particles to your air.
Scented candles, which usually use synthetic fragrances and dyes, can emit VOCs even when they are not lit (6).
- Use unscented candles to enhance your décor; maintain clean indoor air quality by not lighting them.
To fill your house with wonderful holiday scents without adding contaminants to the air:
- Simmer fragrant spices like cinnamon sticks, cloves, and nutmeg in a pot of water.
- Diffuse essential oils (try to avoid fragrance oils that contain artificial ingredients).
- Place containers of potpourri around your home.
5. Prevent mold and pollen buildup.
Planning on buying a holiday tree from a tree lot? You might want to reconsider. Besides the clutter from falling needles, these trees can add mold and pollen to household surfaces and produce indoor air quality that is inhospitable to those with allergies and asthma.
After the trees are cut, they are tightly bundled, creating an environment for the growth of up to 50 types of mold, which have been found to increase the typical presence of mold spores in indoor air by more than six times in less than two weeks (7) (8).
The trees can also be a source of pollen, which, besides being another allergen and asthma trigger, is an ingredient in dust. Paradoxically, it is not the tree’s own pollen grains but grains like ragweed pollen that settled on the tree and grass pollen that got stuck to the tree’s sap and is released when the sap dries out.
To prevent Christmas trees from adding to an untidy home and unhealthy air:
- Use a reusable, artificial tree
If you do buy a tree from a lot:
- Consider placing the tree outdoors within view from inside
If that is not feasible:
- Clean and wipe the trunk of your tree thoroughly with water and bleach before you bring it into the house.
- Use a leaf blower to remove as many pollen grains as possible before bringing the tree indoors.
- Put the tree up later and get rid of it sooner.
- Cut the tree yourself, bypassing the storage and transportation conditions that promote mold growth.
- Use a high-performance room air purifier in the same room as the tree to help create good indoor air quality.
6. Cook with care.
Who doesn’t love a holiday feast? But be careful—with increased cooking activities comes more grease and smoke stains. And gas stoves can add dangerous particulates to the air, such as nitrogen dioxide, which has been linked to asthma in children (9).
- Use ventilation fans when you cook.
- If you have a gas oven and stove, use electric cooking appliances such as a small oven or microwave when possible, instead.
- Use a personal air purifier when cooking to ensure your personal breathing zone is safe.
Need help finding the perfect air purifier this holiday season?
7. Use smart cleaning techniques before, during, and after the festivities.
The additional housecleaning chores caused by the increased activities and visitors around the holiday season can also harm indoor air quality. So it’s important to focus on methods of cleaning that actually clean your home’s surfaces while sparing the air around you and your guests.
For instance, many cleaning solvents release harmful chemicals into the air, including ammonia, chlorine, perchloroethylene or “perc,” 2-butoxyethanol and sodium hydroxide, better known as lye (10). Try to avoid cleaning products that include these and use sparingly if they can’t be avoided.
Also, take care when purchasing cleaning products labeled “green” or “natural” as they too can contain ingredients that are harmful to your health (11). You can always refer to the comprehensive “Safer Choice” list provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which includes cleaning products for home and vehicles (12).
Finally, avoid improper dusting techniques that kick up and add more airborne dust to your breathing space that irritates eyes and airways and must be cleaned again once it settles.
- Use warm water and mild soap as a general household cleaning product.
- Instead of abrasive cleaners for scrubbing, use baking soda.
- For windows and other glass surfaces, use a mixture of vinegar and water.
- Avoid “dry-dusting,” and instead use a rag dampened with water.
- Rather than sweeping floors, which kicks up dust, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter that traps dust and dirt particles preventing them from returning to the air.
- Use a vacuum with a dusting attachment for items that are hard to dust like lampshades and drapes.
Maintaining a clean and healthy home, including good indoor air quality, might take a little extra work during the holidays. But in between the chores, you and your loved ones will better enjoy the festivities. A cleaner home means a healthier home, and after all, healthier holidays are happier holidays.