Cleaning standards for those sensitive to indoor air and mould are necessarily higher than the norm. Good cleaning methods will not make up for a poor environment, but it can keep a good environment healthier for a hyper-sensitive person.
The most thorough resource on this level of cleaning is “Effective Cleaning” by John Banta, Certified Industrial Hygienist (July 2, 2016). It identifies how to use effective cleaning methods to reduce dust and mold spores in an environment, rather than simply to push the debris around. Old-school mops, which are frequently found in not-so-old school janitor closets, not only fail to pick up dust and mold spores well; they also spread dust and mold spores around where it can, once dry, become airborne again. Dusters and other dry cloths also tend to disturb dust, rather than capture it.
These general approaches to home cleaning may be helpful for organizing a thorough and regular maintenance of a home:
- Avoid Caustic Chemicals: There is little need to use more than mild soap and water, with diluted vinegar, or baking soda for jobs requiring a bit more ‘elbow grease’ or sanitizing. Using more caustic chemicals (including ammonia, bleach, essential oils, and even, for some individuals, vinegar) can add indoor toxicants that may impact health and can aggravate a mold problem. Some individuals have found that harsh chemicals are helpful. If you are using harsh chemicals, test first to make sure you are not aggravating the problem or your symptoms.
- Develop a Daily Dust Defense: Developing routines to keep cleaning frequent and predictable can help in a few ways: routines may help your house-cleaning be more thorough, more frequent, and more habitual. You are also more likely to become aware of new issues sooner, for example, caulking that is starting to need re-applying. There are a number of on-line resources and apps that can help develop routines and can be modified to the higher needs of sensitive individuals (e.g. FlyLady). Posting cleaning routines in a visible place, and working towards cleaning ‘habits’ (e.g. wiping down a bathroom after every shower, vacuuming every day after breakfast) can cut down on how much ‘thinking’ has to go into routine responsibilities.
- Clutter Cramps Your Cleaning Efforts: More ‘stuff’ means more difficulty keeping surfaces truly clean, and more time tidying (which means less time dusting). Clutter can also hide spills, leaks (e.g. under sinks), and other situations that, if not cleaned up early, can cause additional problems for an environmentally-sensitive individual. In general, a minimalist lifestyle, and a general approach to having ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ may help.
Swiffer-type cloths can be a last step to cleaning, helping surfaces pass the ‘white glove test’ and capturing any remaining dust or debris on any smooth surface.
Finding a way to maintain the level of cleanliness needed for good health, while balancing the demands of illness, or family life can be a challenge. Since people have reported that they may have post-traumatic stress, and many report that they have a lot of anxiety around preventing problems and finding mould, this balance between ‘high standards’ and still living life is one that is worth reflecting on or, should it interfere significantly with daily life, speaking with a support person or counsellor.
The late Dr. Jack Thrasher, toxicologist and researcher of toxic mold, had suggested a simple solution of vinegar and water on non-porous (smooth, sealed) surfaces could suffice. He had admitted to not having data to back this up, but reported that it seemed a reasonable route to try. In general, wet wiping (with a damp but not saturated cloth that is then disposed of or washed with soap and very hot water) will remove surface mold on most non-porous surfaces.
Andrea Fabry provides other low-toxic ‘natural’ strategies in a 2014 article on her It Takes Time website. She points out, as others have, that surface mold may indicate a hidden mould problem. Although anecdotal, it may be worth pursuing things further if surface mould becomes a consistent problem despite addressing ventilation and moisture issues (e.g. wiping down surfaces after showers, and having a good quality fan or well placed window ventilation).
Andrea Fabry (2014). “Got Surface Mold? 10 Natural Solutions”, It Takes Time website, available at http://it-takes-time.com/2014/06/30/got-surface-mold-ten-natural-solutions/ (accessed January 22 2018).
Dr. Jack Thrasher, PhD, Toxicologist and researcher. (1938-2017) drthrasher.org.