When we’re talking about improving our health, we tend to put the spotlight on diet, exercise and our sleeping habits. But since our homes are where we spend most of our time, it’s just as important to figure out ways to improve the atmosphere of our living spaces. From filtering out pollutants and purifying the air to adding a touch of green and swapping out dirty rags, these are some ways to help you create a healthier home.
Let the fresh air in
Opening your windows and pulling back the drapes not only lets natural sunlight into your home, but it also allows fresh air to come in and flush out indoor air that may be polluted. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if you’re not letting enough outdoor air come indoors, pollutants can accumulate in your house to levels that can pose health problems. In fact, the most effective way to improve your indoor air is to ventilate it with clean outdoor air.
Use water filters for your drinking water
You can evaluate your home’s water quality by calling your local department for water-test results to know how quickly you need to act. But one of the most important things you can do is install a water filtration system to filter out harmful pollutants such as ammonia and radium from your tap, or even just get a water filter pitcher like a Brita. Having easy access to safe drinking water is also great for filling up reusable water bottles instead of using single-use plastics.
Decrease chances of mold growth
Though there is no practical way to eliminate mold altogether, you can take steps to minimize it by controlling indoor moisture. Per the EPA’s recommendations, you can reduce indoor humidity by 30-60% by venting the bathrooms in your house, using the exhaust fans when you cook and run the dishwasher, and by using air conditioners and dehumidifiers.
Be mindful when choosing cleaning products or make your own
Many cleaning supplies contain ingredients that contribute to respiratory problems, allergic reactions and headaches. When you’re buying household products, look for “Low VOCs” on the label. VOC stands for volatile organic compound, which is the main culprit when it comes to hazardous cleaning products. And if you have a little more time on your hands, make your own all-natural sprays and solvents with things like baking soda, lemon juice and white vinegar.
Say goodbye to dust mites
Dust mites are one of the biggest allergy culprits and can quickly turn an otherwise happy and healthy home into sniffles and sneezes. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) recommends encasing mattresses, box springs and pillows in special allergen-proof fabric covers. It’s important to reduce dust mite levels in the bedroom since so much of our time at home is spent there.
Get some houseplants
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Houseplants add a touch of natural greenery to any living space, but they can also purify the air of your home. In a decades-ago report on using indoor plants to combat air pollution, NASA researchers determined that certain houseplants can remove some of the most common pollutants like benzene, xylene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde. A few NASA-approved plants to decorate your place include Chinese evergreens, peace lilies, dracaenas, Madagascar dragon trees and ferns.
Dust your blinds
Window blinds are one of those places you likely forget to clean when you’re working your way through the house.
Create a zen corner
This is especially enticing if you have kids running around and the whole place is a disheveled mess. Creating a small space for “me time” to practice yoga, meditation or to retreat away is a great way to keep your mental health in check.
Wash your dishes the right way
The way we wash our dishes is an overlooked part of creating a healthy home. You want to make sure you’re doing it properly to avoid residual food scraps that can turn to bacteria and mold if left unclean.
Don’t use air fresheners
Though air fresheners add a pleasant smell to a space, experts at the EPA say they are only masking other odors that might be present in your indoor environment. Many air fresheners are also made with harmful chemicals that can pollute the air you’re breathing and pose certain health risks.
Diffuse essential oils throughout your home
Essential oils can be used for a variety of purposes, from boosting mood to relieving headaches and adding a calm aroma to a home. In a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, researchers indicated orange oil promotes positive mood and a higher level of calmness, and lavender oil increases relaxation. The pleasant vapors from the diffusers are perfect for putting your mind at ease, and some diffusers turn off automatically after the water runs out, making it absolutely OK to keep them running all day. Adding aromatherapy will also make your home feel like an expensive spa.
Be aware of pests
Pests like mice, fleas and cockroaches can really put a damper on any space. The EPA suggests stopping pest infestations at home by reducing ways pests can get food, water and shelter. For one, store food in sealed containers. Also, make sure any garbage containing food scraps is placed in tightly covered trash bins.
Wash your bedsheets often
A healthy home also means a healthy bedroom. Some of the 500 million cells we shed daily, along with sweat, pollen, pet dander, fungi and mold, are probably going to bed with us every night so you should be keeping up with the laundry. So you should be washing your sheets frequently. And if someone has been sick or down with the flu, the sheets should be washed immediately.
Add an air purifier
Indoor air pollution is a problem you can’t see, but one that has harmful consequences on the health of your home. Consider an air purifier to control odors, chemical vapors and pollutants in your house. The EPA recommends HEPA filters, which can theoretically remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria and other airborne microscopic particles.
Install carbon monoxide detectors
Carbon monoxide is known as the “invisible killer” as it is odorless and colorless but can be deadly if leaked. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends installing CO detectors on each level of the home and near sleeping areas.
Turn off lights when you’re not in the room
A healthy home can also mean an environmentally friendly one, and you really don’t want to be using unnecessary energy throughout your living space. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, incandescent lights, in particular, should be turned off whenever they’re not being used because they are the least efficient type of lighting as 90% of the energy they use is given off as heat.
Replace your vacuum filter
If you have pets, this one is especially important to keep your house dander free. Make sure you replace your vacuum filter to ensure it keeps working. According to vacuum manufacturer Bissell, if you have a paper vacuum filter, it can be shaken out between uses and cleaned — you just have to replace it according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. You’ll know a vacuum needs replacing if the vacuum starts to leave trails of dust and scraps behind, which is a healthy home no-no.
Try to use less water
The EPA says on average, a family of four uses 400 gallons of water every day in the United States. An easy way to be more sustainable is turning the faucet off while you brush. According to the EPA’s calculations, if you turn off the tap while you brush your teeth twice a day, you can save up to 8 gallons of water, which adds up to more than 200 gallons a month.
Switch to soy candles
Candles are a joy to have around the house, but you can make a healthier choice when it comes to which kind you burn. Seasonal, scented candles are made from petroleum-based paraffin wax and can potentially emit hazardous chemicals. Those pollutants can lead to health risks like cancer, common allergies and asthma, according to a study from South Carolina State University. Instead, opt for cotton-wicked vegetable-based candles, which are often soy, or beeswax candles to give your home a soft, comfy glow.
Use a humidifier when you sleep
Humidifiers are not only useful for improving indoor air, but they’re also a smart choice for anyone wanting to make their bedroom better for sleep. A humidifier keeps the air in your room moist and light as opposed to dry and dense, making it easier to breathe and sleep through the night. Just make sure to clean and dry out the machine regularly as mold and bacteria can collect inside.
If you have kids, disinfect their toys regularly
Being a parent can be messy. Children’s toys get dragged around inside and outside and sometimes even go to bed with them. Besides the obvious wear and tear, toys can be a hotbed for germs, allergens and even mold. Plush and cloth toys should be tossed in the washer/dryer once a week and harder toys should be sanitized or cleaned weekly.
Keep electronics away at bedtime
Make bedtime an electronic-free zone and enforce mental relaxation. Try putting the phones away an hour or two before you sleep. Not only do phones stimulate the brain and keep it active, but according to Harvard Health, the screen’s blue light also suppresses the secretion of melatonin more powerfully than any other light.
Swap out cutting boards
Cutting boards are yet another breeding ground for bacteria, especially if you cook with meat often. A general rule to follow is replacing plastic cutting boards after they have cut marks or become scratched. A University of Michigan study found that more bacteria was found on plastic cutting boards than wooden boards, and once a board becomes too scratched up, it is impossible to disinfect completely. Bacteria can also transfer from the board and collect in the crevices of the knife, increasing your family’s chance of foodborne illness.
Sanitize cell phones often
Things like cell phones (which are now in the hands of almost every child and teen), TV remotes, iPads and even a computer keyboard can harbor far more germs than people think. A 2017 study published in the journal Germs found a host of viruses and bacteria on teenagers’ cell phones. To clean your phone, first wipe the phone with a microfiber cloth and then gently with a disinfectant wipe.
Doorknobs are one of the dirtiest places in your home, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why. Make it a habit to regularly clean every doorknob in the house with either disinfectant spray or a microfiber cloth followed by a disinfectant wipe. (And remember to throw the microfiber cloths in the wash, too.)
Clear the clutter
Clutter is a glaring culprit of an unhealthy home. Not only do piles of unfolded laundry and overflowing trash destroy a relaxing vibe, but they also collect dust particles. A fantastic home organizing hack is to pick an area when tackling a messy house — like the laundry room that doubles as untidy storage — and focus on getting that space in order before you move on to a different area. This way you’re not overwhelmed and you’re not making a bigger mess trying to clean one up.
Wash towels more frequently
As a general rule of thumb, you should wash your bath towel or switch to a fresh one at least once a week. And if you’re sick, as with bedsheets, throw them in the laundry immediately. If you’re wondering when to replace them completely, aim to do so every one to two years.
Set your thermostat to automatic
A quick way to save energy in your home is by getting a programmable thermostat that automatically adjusts the temperature of your space when you’re out. According to the U.S Department of Energy, you can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees from its normal setting for eight hours a day.
Change your light bulbs to LED
Likewise, changing your light bulbs to LEDs can help you be more sustainable and save money while you’re at it. Quality LED light bulbs use 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Store food in good-quality containers
Good-quality storage containers will help your food stay fresh longer and taste better by locking bacteria and foul odors out. Whether you buy them online or at the store, you can choose from combo kits, containers with dividers (ideal for veggies and dip), stackable storage jars and glass containers. Stocking up on these containers is also a great hack for meal prepping.
Keep the shoes at the door
There may be some debate on whether or not it’s OK to wear your shoes at home, but research published in the journal Microbiome has found that shoes can be a carrier for microbes like bacteria and viruses. If you’re wearing shoes in the house, you could be transferring those germs all over your living space. Speaking of shoes, cleaning your doormat is a super easy home maintenance task you’re probably forgetting to do.
Make sure everyone at home is washing their hands
This should be rule No. 1 for just about anything. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular hand-washing is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and to prevent the spread of germs to others. When at home, ensure everyone is washing their hands properly and frequently.
Swap out your dish sponge regularly
Many common household items unfortunately double as breeding grounds for germs, including kitchen sponges. In a 2017 study, researchers in Germany found that bacteria that can cause foodborne disease stay on dish sponges or scrubbers even if they’ve been cleaned in the microwave or in boiling water. We should be changing our sponges every week, the researchers added. Kitchen sponges are pretty inexpensive, and you should consider stocking up on them to easily swap when needed.
Change dirty dish towels
The same rules apply for dish towels — they need to be swapped out just as often. In fact, not changing them out is a common home mistake that could be making you sick. According to the University of Nebraska’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, once a dish towel or dishrag has been used, bacteria grows on it pretty quickly and takes minutes to multiply. And if you use the towel to wipe down multiple surfaces, that bacteria is coming with. You should be changing your dish rags every day and throwing used ones in the wash.
Change out other overlooked items in your home
Chances are you’re probably not changing your bath loofahs, bath mats or even your shower curtains frequently enough. Bath loofahs, for instance, have bacteria all over them, especially when they’re kept in a warm and moist bathtub or shower and rarely ever dry out fully. To ensure proper home hygiene, it’s important to change your bath loofahs every three to four weeks. It’s also incredibly important to know how often you should change your toothbrush, pillowcase and other household items.