12 Ways to detoxify your house

You may not realise it, but your house is hazardous to your health. What's scarier is that the cure for a dirty home involves attacking germs with more and more toxic chemicals. Here's what leading green cleaners recommend. 

1. Clean in an organised manner

detoxify your home

There's no point in mopping the floor only to dust the ceiling fan next and deposit a grey film over everything again.

To clean well—and that means to clean healthily—you need to clean efficiently, avoiding going back and forth around a room.

Instead, work using a systematic approach. Think in terms of left to right, top to bottom. Begin with ceilings and walls, and work your way down to windows and furniture, finishing with the floors.

Read more: How to clean away germs

 

2. Clean the things you'd never think to clean

clean fireplace

For instance, your mattress is a magnet for allergy-causing dust mites. Washing the mattress cover in very hot water (60°C or more) every month, and wiping down the top of the mattress with hot water, can go a long way towards reducing morning stuff:

  • Indoor rubbish bins. Particularly those in the kitchen and bathroom. Emptying them isn't the same as cleaning them. Scrub them regularly to make sure germs aren't germinating.
  • Shower curtains. They get wet most days, and they often stay wet, making them a perfect home for mould.
  • Automatic dishwashers. Take a close look at the edges of the door on your dishwasher. Many are breeding grounds for mould and mildew. The same is true of the rubber cushioning that surrounds some fridge doors.
  • The fireplace. A clogged chimney is not only unhealthy, it can kill you if it ignites or, in the case of a gas fireplace, becomes blocked, sending dangerous carbon monoxide fumes into the house.
  • HVAC filters. These filters are designed to filter out allergy-causing dust from the air, but if they're clogged, they're more harmful than helpful.

 

3. Dust with worn-out wool socks

Or a corner of an old wool blanket or jumper. Wool creates static when rubbed on a surface. One wipe can keep your furniture dust-free without polish or spray.

 

4. Polish silver with toothpaste

polish silver socks

Some silver polishes contain petroleum distillates, ammonia or other hazardous ingredients. Instead, dab on toothpaste with your finger or rub it on with a cloth. Rinse with warm water and polish with a soft cloth.

For larger trays and bowls, use a paste made of bicarbonate of soda mixed with water on a wet sponge. 

 

5. Clean your drains the non-toxic way

Chemical drain cleaners (also called drain openers) are extremely corrosive and dangerous, containing such toxic ingredients as lye or sulphuric acid. Even the vapours are harmful.

Instead, pour a pot of boiling water or toss a handful of bicarbonate followed by 125ml of vinegar down the drain weekly. Also effective, particularly in preventing blockages, are many brands of enzymatic cleaners found in pet shops. 

Read more: How to clear blocked drains

 

6. Clean your windows the easy way

cleaning windows

Try this homemade solution: add 80ml of distilled whitevinegar andd a spoonful of dishwasher detergent to 1 litre of distilled water. And try these tips: 

  • Use a sponge wand to soak the window in suds, rather than a spray bottle.
  • Wet the windows thoroughly and let the solution do its work for about 5 minutes.
  • Avoid cleaning your windows in bright sunlight. The sun dries the solution too quickly, which can cause streaks.
  • Use a black rubber squeegee to dry the window. Make sure every iota of water comes off, or you're leaving dirt on the window. 
  • For serious dirt, try an oversized razor blade and wet it with soapy water. 

 

7. Sanitise your toilet bowl safely

Pity germ guru Dr Gerba. He spends his days swiping cotton swabs over every conceivable household surface, then peering at the results under a microscope, identifying germs and other unpleasant things he finds there. You can only imagine what he finds in the bathroom. To clean the toilet safely, turn to vinegar:

  • Fill a spray bottle with straight white vinegar. Pour a capful of vinegar into the toilet, then spray the sides of the bowl.
  • Also, sprinkle sodium bicarbonate in the toilet, wait 15 minutes and scrub with a bit of bicarb sprinkled on the brush.

Once a month pour 250ml of vinegar into the toilet and leave it overnight. The vinegar dissolves any alkali build-up and prevents hard-water rings in the toilet. Whenever you go on holiday, pour 250ml of vinegar into the toilet to prevent build-up while you're gone.

To disinfect the toilet completely, wipe all surfaces with a cloth soaked in surgical spirit or with some of the alcohol-based hand cleaner available in shops.

 

8. Clean your kitchen floor the easy way

cleaning the floor

Don't try to disinfect it. Unless you disinfect your feet, there's no point. Instead, use these homemade cleaners: 

  • Hardwood and laminated floors: add 60ml of white vinegar per litre of water. Use only 100 per cent cotton terry towels on hardwood floors and don't use self­wringing or microfibre mops. Microfibre is made from 80 to 85 per cent polyester, which is plastic. Plastic scratches and will eventually scratch the sealant off the floor.
  • Marble, tile and granite: just use very hot water. Cleaners of any kind will pit these.
  • Linoleum floors: use hot water with just a bit of liquid soap if needed.

 

9. Clean out your washing machine and dryer

You'd think they would be clean, right? Wrong. In a study of 50 homes, Dr Gerba found high levels of coliform bacteria, an indicator of unsanitary conditions, and diarrhoea­ causing Escherichia coli in home washing machines.

When researchers washed sterile cloths in non-bleach laundry detergent, they found that 40 per cent emerged contaminated with E. coli bacteria—with enough extra to contaminate the next load.

The greatest risk from the germs comes when transferring wet laundry with your bare hands to the dryer. Try using rubber gloves when doing your wash, and add 250ml of hydrogen peroxide to your loads instead of bleach.

 

10. Disinfect your chopping board

clean your chopping board

In his research, Dr Gerba found 200 times more faecal bacteria on the average chopping board in the home than on the toilet seat.

To get it clean, run it through the dishwasher or spray it with straight 5 per cent vinegar and let it set overnight. Alternatively, microwave on high for 30 seconds or swab it with alcohol. 

 

11. Microwave your kitchen sponges

Blast them for around 30 seconds every day. Dr Gerba found that the common household sponge may contain 320 million opportunistic bacterial pathogens, enough of which could be transferred from the sponge to your eyes or mouth to make you sick.

 

12. Make your own

make your own cleaning supplies

Keeping a box of borax around for extra-tough cleaning jobs is a good start. Borax is a natural product made of sodium, boron, oxygen and water and it's unbeatable for tough cleaning jobs, as a bleach substitute, or mixed with water for a disinfectant.

Dr Gerba suggests surgical spirit as another good natural disinfectant. Just don't light any matches around it. Here are some more homemade, environmentally and health-friendly products:

  • Furniture polish. Mix olive oil and vinegar together for an excellent cleaner and polish.
  • Mildew remover. Mix equal parts of water and hydrogen peroxide (20 per cent strength). 
  • Laundry whitener. Use hydrogen peroxide rather than bleach. Soak your dingy white clothes for 30 minutes in the washer with 125ml of 20 per cent peroxide, then launder as usual. This removes the greying that is caused by chlorine bleach.