(Health.com) -- After a long winter, every home needs a thorough spring-cleaning.
But if the prospect makes you want to crawl back into bed, here's some comforting advice: Simple changes in your routine can make your living space (and the planet) healthier. To get started, try these tips.
Buy a safer, smarter vacuum
Have an old one? It's probably time to switch. Aging models weren't designed to eliminate dust. They tend to spread it around your house, which is anything but healthy. Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the University of Iowa recently found that bacteria in household dust are a major problem for asthma sufferers.
Peter Thorne, PhD, professor of toxicology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, recommends vacuuming floors at least once a week with a unit that has a highly efficient filter. Look for the HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) label. Vacuums with HEPA filters prevent dust from escaping as you clean. The Miele S4 series models (from $399; call 800-549-4583 to find a dealer or go to www.miele.com) have HEPA filters and a second dust buster -- self-sealing bags that prevent you from inhaling dust when you change them.
Getting rid of dust-accumulating clutter is essential, too. And be vigilant in the bedroom. You spend so much time there that dust builds up quickly and your chance of exposure is high. To kill dust mites and remove allergens in sheets and blankets, Thorne says wash with hot water. He also recommends allergen covers for pillows and mattresses.
Clean glass without ammonia
There's no need to use a glass cleaner with ammonia and a whole roll of paper towels in your quest for streak-free, sparkling windows. Betsy Taylor, co-author of Sustainable Planet: Solutions for the 21st Century, recommends a plant-based remedy like Seventh Generation Free and Clear Glass and Surface Cleaner ($3.99 to $4.29 per quart at health-food stores, some Target locations, and Internet retailers like Amazon and Drugstore.com).
Also, take a tip from the pros: A reusable squeegee (available at home-improvement stores) can make the job easier and save trees.
Use a nontoxic bleach
Regular bleach helps keep your bathroom mildew-free. But the harsh cleaner is the culprit in most household poisonings, and a whiff can cause breathing problems and burning sensations in your nose and throat, says Lisa Mastny, an editor at Worldwatch Institute, a think tank that studies environmental issues.
A safer alternative: simple hydrogen peroxide (available in most supermarkets), or oxygen bleach products with hydrogen peroxide or sodium percarbonate instead of chlorine.
Try Naturally Yours Natural Bleach ($6 per quart at Naturally Yours).
Switch to cloth rags
The siren call of throwaway wipes is hard to resist -- and unkind to the environment. Experts estimate that more than 160,000 metric tons of wipes and related material were dumped into landfills in 2005, and Taylor says the total keeps rising.
A smarter bet is to convert a beat-up old cotton shirt into a rag (or three), says Jenn Erick, a researcher with environmental advocacy group The Center for a New American Dream. That'll save you money and reduce waste. Just remember to wash them between cleanings. E-mail to a friend
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