Spring Cleaning for the Rest of You

The first thing I have to say to say to any allergy sufferer who is contemplating home renovations are - you have to be out of your mind. Avoid it at all costs and move out of the house if you have to. That being said, for those of you in denial or who are gluttons for punishment, read on.

Not being content with having survived a six-month long kitchen renovation in 2004 where my dishes were on my living room floor for several months, I somewhat foolishly believed our contractor, who promised faithfully to renovate our bathrooms while we were away on vacation.
I was driving back from the airport last week extolling to my husband the anticipated delights of his new bathroom which we thought we would see when we entered the house, only to be greeted with a house which looked like a construction site, complete with drop cloths, dust and debris several inches thick. The piece de resistance was the toilet in the middle of the master bedroom floor. Where was the cleaning lady in all of this I wondered, only to find that my normally conscientious, cleaning help had abandoned my house in despair and overwhelm. After two nights of splitting headaches, I resigned myself to cleaning up sufficiently over the weekend, so that my cleaning lady would return!

The first thing I discovered was my Blueair air purifiers had completely full filters, so a change of filters as soon as possible was in order. I found to my horror that the contractor had neatly removed the filter from the Blueair in the bedroom and I had been diligently blowing dust around from a machine with no filter. No wonder I felt so ill at night, I was sleeping in a dust storm! Only my IQAir HealthPro air cleaner with its massive prefilter in our family room was managing to survive. Next, I inveigled my husband to change our . We are installing a new as it has the least effect on air pressure.

So far the clean up was pretty simple. Now came the hard part. Everywhere I looked or put my hand on there was thick white dust. Even the cats coats felt dusty! The way to handle thick dust is to use a with a good number of attachments. The good thing about these kind of high quality vacuums, is that they do not increase the dust in the room while you are vacuuming, but actually reduce airborne particulates.

While the nice soft floor brush on my dealt with the wide open spaces really well, it took the attachments such as the dusting brush and crevice tool to really get into the nasty corners and crevices of the each room and under the furniture, window sills and picture rails.
I completed some of these niche areas by damp wiping with a micro fiber cloth, which does wonders on all glass surfaces. This was definitely a task for an obsessive-compulsive clean freak. Simple wet mopping of my floors to further remove dust was disappointingly ineffective. My hardwood floors looked like an old lady with a thousand wrinkles who had aged 20 years over night. Time for the big guns.

While I do not use a vapor steam cleaner every week, I find that when I need it under times of duress, it is the answer to the most vexing cleaning challenges. First of all, for a prolonged floor cleaning job, I prefer to use a continuous fill steam cleaning machine like the so I can keep on like the bunny - going and going.

Ladybug Steam Cleaner

The best way I knew to restore my poor hardwood floors after vacuuming was to drop a little Murphys Natural Oil Soap (from your local supermarket) on the floor to intensify the cleaning effectiveness of steaming and then go over the floor with a steam cleaner floor brush with towel attached. Even sealed floors are porous, and mine, which are past their prime, have numerous scratches on them for dust to penetrate into the wood fibers. Little dusty wrinkles were everywhere on my floor and other dusty splotches of goodness knows what. Steam cleaning is a very satisfying experience because it works, and works well. Just a few minutes of that amazing steam and I could see a new floor coming into view with no more embedded dust and blotches. I personally use a non toxic water based cleaner such as Bona (available from high end hardware stores) to put back a bit of a shine on the floor after steaming as the shine is removed with using Murphy's Oil Soap.
Then I looked around the kitchen. Some thoughtful unnamed folks had left encrusted jam (my husband denied responsibility) and god knows what else on the new granite counter top in the kitchen. No amount of hot water and elbow grease seemed really effective. I had just found out that granite counter tops are porous even when they are seemingly sealed. Given that my counter top has brown and black flecks on it, I have found it is now an invitation for my dear husband to leave a trail of food debris on the counter tops because crumbs no longer visually leap out at him. But for clean nuts like myself who run their hands over countertops to do clean checks, we were falling behind, especially with the temporary abdication of my cleaning lady. The triangle brush on a steam cleaner with a towel was the way to go and I wondered why I had not just brought it out sooner. I was also looking at dirty grout in a tile floor that was only a few weeks old. The Ladybug whipped those grout lines into place in a jiffy with the use of a little stiff bristle brush.
My bathrooms are not finished, but the worst of the dust making construction is over and my cleaning lady graciously returns tomorrow. I can sleep better at night, my home smells great after steam cleaning it and I have uncovered my for keeping my husband's snoring under control. And yes, the toilet is no longer in the middle of the master bedroom.

The Net Shopper
Products for the Winter Blues
Have you been contending with the influx of muddy footprints, salt, snow from the outside? I have been aghast at the continuing winter trampling of my entry way in my house. I also have discovered that my cleaning lady now short-cuts the cleaning of my countertops because granite in my new kitchen hides the dirt. However, Ms. Neat and Clean over here runs her hand over the counter and says ugh! I also am gearing up to take some indoor photography in my house this Spring of some of our healthy home products and have mandated that window washing the inside windows is now a top priority.

One of my cats now deposits himself on top of my new smooth stove top much to my horror. I understand why it is toasty warm at times but even I as a cat lover, I draw the line there. Fortunately, steam cleaning with a vapor steam cleaner such as the or is a fast, ready and effective answer to these problems and it smells so good afterwards which helps with that stuffy, stale odor of winter.

Best humidifier - the . As the winter progresses I have to say that I like the Air-O-Swiss more and more as a humidifier and will soon get around to moving it up to a five star rating.

The reason that I like it so much is that is does the job remarkably fast and when I want to sleep at night and the humidity registers 22% and my husband is fast behind me with a propensity to snore then that machine can bring the humidity to required levels up in no time flat. It also is silent and I have found that my tried and true Hamilton Beach Trueair humidifier which has given me several years of faithful service for an amazingly low price ($69.95) has started to sound just a tad noisier so that is my excuse for raiding our samples room at work. The Air-O-Swiss humidifier is priced at $135 and very easy to maintain and keep clean.

Air-O-Swiss Humidifier
Our technical guru was doing some off-the-cuff training to a visiting manufacturer about furnace filters and raving about the superior filtration without excessive air flow reduction of the EnviroSept furnace filters. He said our tests gave it an efficiency of about 90%, which is far better than usual for products of this kind. However the bargain of the category belongs to the BoAir furnace filter priced at $79.95 and little impedance of air flow requires no replacement filters and will last for years.

Opulence Down Comforter
I was asked the other day by a customer interested in a puffy comforter, "What is the best down comforter you have that is also very comfortable?" He was deciding between a Siberian Opulence and a Hypodown Empress. His complaint about comforters he had bought for a couple of hundred dollars over recent years is that the fill shifted around and he had bare spots.
He also was having a hard time figuring out how to buy a duvet cover which actually fitted unless he went with a custom made cover. He hated having excess inches of duvet dripping around his comforter.
Here was my advice to him. If he wanted to solve the issue of the duvet and comforter being right sized for each other he could find the duvet first then since the Siberian Opulence is a custom order we could make it any size he liked. I recommend an extra couple of inches all around so that the comforter still has enough room to fluff up. I always tell people to spend their money on the fill power, in general the higher the better but the Siberian at 700 fill is lighter than the Hypodown at 800 fill because they come from different birds. All geese as I have said before are not made equal. He was most of all concerned about his problem with shifting and I told him that a baffle box design was the most robust and if he wanted to extend the life of his comforter he should keep it clean with a duvet cover and have it professionally cleaned at a specialty cleaner. The Empress is a very "puffy" design which is what he wanted and the high thread count of the covering minimizes little bits of down poking their heads through in years to come. Siberian Opulence comforter starts at $1059.95 and the Empress starts at $829.
A nice little vacuum cleaner you might have missed is the Eureka Sanitaire SC3683 vacuum with an optional turbo head which is both lightweight, easy to use and the price is right. I would not recommend this as the household primary vacuum cleaner but for lighter usage in smaller spaces it does a credible job. Apparently the average household has 1. 5 vacuum cleaners in the United States which says like cars we collect vacuum cleaners. Come to think of it, I own three myself if you include the hand held , contributing to pushing up the national average.

Ozone The Real Deal
By Mercia Tapping, President AllergyBuyersClub.com

What is Ozone?

We get asked questions about ozone all the time and why we do not carry ozone generators, and some very popular air cleaners, which emit ozone. Ozone is toxic colorless gas, which is an irritant especially to people with respiratory problems. The fact that it occurs naturally in nature is the justification given that something natural cannot be harmful to you, which is faulty logic if ever I heard one. When you think about it there are many deadly poisons, which occur in nature, but noone would maintain they are good for you. However, Ozone is not all bad, so I will try and distinguish fact from fiction for you.
Ozone plays an important part in screening you from skin cancer and the sun's harmful rays. In the earth's stratosphere about 10-30 miles up it occurs naturally in thunderstorms. Ozone at that level above earth therefore has a productive role to play.
However down at near ground level, ozone is considered an environmental pollutant, which is why you hear pollutant advisory warnings for people with respiratory problems such as asthma when the ozone level is too high. It is now well documented, that people who live in areas where there is a chronic high ozone levels suffer from decreased lung capacity and functioning over time.
Ozone is also an indoor pollutant, which is the source of the controversy for vendors of machines of various kinds that emit ozone. The EPA has in its wisdom mandated "safe" ozone levels, the thinking being along the lines that a little bit of poison will not hurt you too much and most people's immune systems can cope with filtering out toxins quite effectively. I have always thought that this logic is inherently flawed. The American Lung Association thankfully is less ambiguous on their position and states there are no safe levels of ozone for people with compromised immune systems. For these people Ozone is an irritant to the throat, eyes and nose as well as the lungs.
For those of you who have not been around ozone, it has a distinctive odor. Some like it, most do not. Some people in our office cannot abide more than a few minutes of exposure to ozone and get wicked headaches from it. A customer of ours complained her dentist had a very well known ionic air cleaner in his office and it made her as sick as a dog and she could not complete her dental work if he insisted on running this air cleaner.
Helpful Uses of Ozone.
As I indicated earlier there are some problematic tasks that ozone can accomplish effectively, these include:
* Restoration after fire damage.
I have used an ozone machine after fire damage to my house on the advice from a hepa air cleaner manufacturer. Although Ozone can produce some toxic by products the advice I was given is that carbon is to expensive for fire restoration as one would need too much of it. Best to use the ozone first then use a hepa filter with carbon to clean up the residue including any toxic by-products such as aldehydes or formaldehydes from the ozone.
* Removing of smoke odor after a smoker has been in the room.
As a landlord, I have found that an high capacity ozone machine left to go full blast for a few days(you should vacate the premises then air the place out on your return)does wonders for odor removal. Hotels regularly use ozone for the same purpose but the room is closed to occupants. The odor does not completely go away however and I have found that is vapor steam cleaning that makes the whole environment sweet smelling again.
* Disinfect and purify water both in residential and municipal water systems.
Ozone used in consumer water purifiers is actually very effective and is also routinely used in municipal water. You may have read that some fancy bottled water contains no more than tap water which has been ozonated.
* A food preservative.
Interestingly enough, food exposed to ozone lasts longer. Some people put small ozone machines into refrigerators for that very purpose.
* A disinfectant .
A fascinating, but little known fact, is that freshly ozonated water is a disinfectant and would be a wonderful natural alternative to bleach when cleaning up after mold or any other surface such as kitchens or bathrooms which harbor bacteria. The problem is it degrades to regular water after about 20 minutes and most of the ozonated water machines are too small to generate enough ozone purified water for this task.
Indoor Sources of Ozone
A disturbing but true fact is that a number of household and office appliances emit ozone, albeit to purportedly "safe levels". The level that different regulatory agencies find is safe differ from each other. OSHA recommends .01ppm never be exceeded but EPA has dictated that the levels up to .08ppm are not hazardous to human health.
Sources of ozone in the workplace include photocopiers, laser printers, Xray generators and ultraviolet sources as well as electrostatic or ionic air cleaners. You can test for the level of ozone pollution at your home or office very inexpensively with ozone test strips.
The health hazards of indoor ozone pollution.
You would think that with all the widely known and documented health hazards of ozone that manufacturers of air cleaners who hide their ozone producing propensities would be banned and their products never see the light of day. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Symptoms of Ozone Exposure
Ozone is a gas, so most likely you get exposed to it by inhaling it in its gaseous form. If you inhale too much of it you get sick but the level to which you can tolerate it differs widely among individuals including gender, pulmonary health, prior respiratory or allergy problems. Severe reactions to even brief exposure to ozone unfortunately include death, lung cancer and impaired lung functioning as individuals lose their ability to exhale particles which have now become "stickier". Milder or more transient symptoms include coughing or wheezing, headaches or dizziness, vomiting or nausea, inability to concentrate, shortness or tightness of breath. The list goes on.
Protect yourself from Ozone exposure.
We are not able to live in an "ozone free" world but at least we can take some reasonable precautions, in the same way as we now stay away from second handhand smoke.

  1. Stay indoors when your local weather bureau has issued an ozone alert.
  2. Avoid air cleaners which emit ozone.
  3. Do not go immediately into a hotel room after it has been ozonated.
  4. Put printers and laser copiers at a distance from your personal work space.
  5. Use a good hepa air filter in your work place.