Spring Cleaning

There are times when spring cleaning can be dangerous…

1.Close up of mouse droppings

1. Close up of mouse droppings

By Marcia Anderson

I live in a suburban area, surrounded by woods, lots of woods. So an occasional visit by an insect or rodent is inevitable.

Field mice drop in for the winter, especially when my family unintentionally invites them by leaving the garage or deck doors open. The mice also slip into the basement through the gap between the door and the floor we keep meaning to seal. Even though the gap is small, they still manage to squeeze through. Mice can squeeze through a hole the size of a dime, and rats can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter! Once inside the little critters seek food, water and a warm shelter.

During the winter months the little pests usually go unnoticed. However, every spring or summer when I clean sections of my basement, I find mouse droppings, patches of urine, nesting material and occasionally a dried corpse. The same scene also plays out as warm weather motivates us to clean out our backyard shed and open our little vacation cabin in the woods.

More than just a spring nuisance, cleaning up after rodents in and around your own home, cabin, shed or barn can put you at risk from the allergens and illnesses that go hand-in-hand with rodents. Rodent droppings can be prime allergy or asthma triggers in urban or rural settings. Even worse, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome a severe and sometimes fatal disease caused by the hantavirus, is spread by rodents. The American Lung Association provides helpful information on rodent-borne illnesses, including hantavirus.

2.This gap between the brick wall and cement step provides the perfect entryway for a mouse.

2. This gap between the brick wall and cement step provides the perfect entryway for a mouse.

Rodents throughout most of North America carry forms of hantavirus, deer mice in the west, cotton rats in the southeast, and white-footed mice in the northeast. The Centers for Disease Control reports that Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome has occurred in 34 states. The disease is spread through either direct contact with rodent urine, droppings and saliva, or by breathing in dust that is contaminated with rodent urine or feces.

There are things that you can do to both prevent rodent problems and to safely clean up if you find them indoors. Focus on prevention – remove the food sources, water, and entry points into your home or other shelter. This is the cornerstone of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a smart, sensible and sustainable way to reduce pests, including mice and rats.

Keep pests out by sealing gaps or holes outside your home, garage or outbuilding. Look for holes in the roof near the roof among the rafters, gables, eaves, windows, attic vents and crawl space vents. Check for holes around the foundation and where electrical, plumbing, cable, and gas lines enter. When you find small holes, pack them with steel wool then apply a sealant to keep it in place.

To fix larger holes, use lath screen, lath metal, hardware cloth, metal sheeting or cement to repair. Install a door sweep to close off gaps under doors. As long as these entry points remain open, rodents will continue to get inside.

Other steps you should take on your property are aimed at eliminating outdoor nesting sites. Position compost bins and woodpiles at least 100 feet from buildings. Elevate garbage cans and, if possible, woodpiles at least one foot off the ground. Get rid of old tires, cars, and trucks that mice and rats could use as homes. Keep grass cut short and shrubbery trimmed away from buildings. Keep bird feeders away from the house and use squirrel guards to limit squirrels and other rodent access.

Remember a few key points to keep food away from any rodents that do make it indoors. Store your non-refrigerated food in thick plastic, glass or metal containers with tight lids. This includes pet food, grains and domestic animal feed. Uneaten animal feed should be returned to its storage container or disposed of each evening. Wash and dry dirty dishes and make sure there are lids on your trash cans.

If you have a building with signs of rodent activity inside, take care when cleaning to avoid potentially serious health consequences. Avoid actions that raise contaminated dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming rodent feces. Instead, follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for cleaning up after rodents that include wearing gloves when cleaning and properly disinfecting.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Tips for a More Environmentally-Friendly Spring Cleaning

By Ashley McAvoy

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Spring has arrived! It’s time to say goodbye to the cold weather and hello to new life once again. The flowers are just breaking through the soil, the birds are singing, and the trees are growing new leaves. These are familiar images and usually mark the beginning of longer days, picnics in the park, riding bikes and more than anything else, enjoying the warmer weather. If you’re like me, one annual task looms in the way of that fun: the dreaded spring cleaning. This chore is tedious and incredibly time consuming, but it’s necessary after months of being cooped up indoors. There are so many things to do: tidy up the garden, wash the car, dust the curtains, sweep the floor, etc. Don’t forget to use cleaning methods and cleaning products that are the safest for your family, your home, and the environment. Here are some reminders before you get started.

Reuse whenever possible

  • One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Give your unwanted clothes a new life by donating them to your local thrift shop or charity. By reusing clothing and other goods, we can cut down on waste entering landfills.

Recycle all that you can

  • Always check with your local recycling center for any recycling restrictions in your area. Some places only accept certain types of plastic or metal. You should check the bottom of any glass or the back of any plastic container for the recycling number. This number will indicate the type of plastic that it is.
    Check out more at the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle website.

Use cleaning products that are safer for your family and the environment

  • Look for products that are labeled biodegradable, eco-friendly, or non-toxic

Find more information about environmentally safe cleaning products at the Protecting Your Health website

  • Avoid products with labels that read toxic, corrosive, irritant, flammable, or combustible

Conserve water

  • To water the lawn, consider using grey water or even rainwater. An average family typically uses 30% of its water for the garden or the lawn. By using alternative water such as rainwater from a rain barrel, you can cut down on wasted water and even lower your water bill.

For more information about safer cleaning methods for your home and the environment, please visit the Green Homes website.

Happy cleaning!

About the author: Ashley McAvoy is an Intern with the Office of Web Communications for spring 2013. She is a double major in Environmental Studies and Hispanic Studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Spring Cleaning? What About Air Ducts?

By Kelly Hunt

It’s spring. How can I tell? Mailings about air duct cleaning. It makes sense that they come now, while us home dwellers prep for the warmer months by cleaning and doing home repairs. But do I need to get the air ducts in my home cleaned? Can this affect the air I breathe indoors? Does that impact my health?

Lucky for me, I work with experts who happily helped me navigate this question. Don’t you fret, though — all of their words of wisdom are on EPA’s Web page on air ducts for you to view anytime, so you’ll be able to make the best decision for you.

Things I learned:

  • First, be familiar with general indoor air quality tips to reduce risk: control pollution sources in the home, change filters regularly and adjust humidity.
  • Air duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Scientific studies are inconclusive on whether dust levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts.
  • Indoor pollutants that enter from outdoors or come from indoor activities — like cooking, cleaning or smoking — may cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts.
  • You need to inspect your air ducts to determine whether or not they need to be cleaned.

You should consider air duct cleaning if:

  • There’s substantial, visible mold growth inside the ducts or on parts of your HVAC system. (If there’s mold, there’s likely a moisture problem. A professional should find the cause of the water problem and fix it.) If you consult a professional, make sure they SHOW you the mold before moving forward.
  • The ducts are infested with rodents or insects. Not okay.
  • The ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris that are actually released into the home from vents.

If you find any of those problems, identify the underlying cause before cleaning, retrofitting or replacing your ducts. If you don’t, the problem will likely happen again.

There’s little evidence that cleaning your air ducts will improve health or, alone, will increase efficiency. To learn about HVAC maintenance and efficiency, see our Heating and Cooling Efficiently page.

Decision, decisions. If I decide to get my air ducts cleaned, I’ll make sure to follow the advice of EPA experts. I’ll also carefully check the service provider’s track record before doing anything. And I’ll remember to SEE, with my own eyes, mold growth or other problems before making a final decision.

About the author: Kelly Hunt, is a communications specialist with EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Her career in public affairs began in 2001 and she now focuses on emergency response, outreach and engagement for radiation and indoor air issues.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Controlling Mold Growth Indoors During Spring Cleaning and the Rest of the Year

By Laureen Burton

Spring is around the corner and with the season’s warming weather we often open up our windows and take on the task of spring cleaning. As a toxicologist for EPA’s Indoor Environments Division, I’m often asked if I have any indoor air quality tips that people might use during spring cleaning.  One step people might not think of  is to check for excess moisture that could lead to mold growth and take steps to prevent mold from becoming a problem in the home.

Remember, the key to mold control is moisture control.

Molds are everywhere in the environment and can grow on virtually any organic substance where moisture and oxygen are present. There are molds that can grow on wood, carpet and insulation. Mold growth will often occur when excessive moisture accumulates in buildings or on building materials.  If the moisture problem remains undiscovered or unaddressed, not only can the damage from mold growth be costly, but it can affect your home’s indoor air quality and the health of people sensitive to mold, too. Potential health effects and symptoms associated with mold exposure include allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints.

To avoid that, here are some tips you can use:

  • Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.
  • Make sure the ground slopes away from the building foundation, so that water does not enter or collect around the foundation.
  • Identify and fix plumbing leaks and other water problems immediately.
  • If you see condensation or moisture collecting on windows, walls or pipes dry the wet surface and reduce the moisture/water source.
  • When water leaks or spills occur indoors – ACT QUICKLY.  If wet or damp materials or areas are dried 24 to 48 hours after a leak or spill, in many cases, mold will not grow.
  • Scrub any visible mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water and dry the area completely.
  • Keep air conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly.
  • Keep indoor humidity low.  If possible, keep indoor humidity below 60 percent  — ideally between 30 and 50 percent — relative humidity.  Relative humidity can be measured with a moisture or humidity meter, a small, inexpensive instrument available at many hardware stores.

For more information and links to EPA mold guidance, please visit our mold website. Happy spring cleaning!

About the author: Laureen Burton is a chemist/toxicologist with EPA’s Indoor Environments Division where her work for the last 15 years has addressed pollutants and sources in indoor air.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Spring Cleaning for a Healthy Home

By Lina Younes

As we see the first signs of the new season, it’s easy to get into the mood for spring cleaning around the house. We just want to open the windows, freshen the air, put away the heavy coats and signs of winter inside the home. During this process, we start thinking of giving a thorough cleaning around the house and even a fresh coat of paint or doing some renovations. How can we make sure that during this process, we are making our home environment healthier? Well, here are some green tips for your consideration.

Thinking of giving your kitchen or bathrooms a good scrubbing? Do you want to make sure that the chemicals that you are using are safe and green? Here’s a suggestion. Use cleaning products with the Design for the Environment label. (DfE). What is the DfE exactly? It’s an EPA partnership program. Those products with the DfE label have been screened carefully for potential human health and environmental effects to ensure that they are produced with the safest ingredients possible.

Another common spring cleaning practice? Painting! It’s an easy way to give a whole new look to home. However, if your home was built before 1978, it is very likely that it has lead-based paint. Lead is a toxic metal found in paints and buildings built before 1978 and it can cause serious damage to the brain, learning problems and even hearing problems. So if you are thinking about painting around the house or making some renovations, get some useful information on making these renovations safely or getting a certified contractor.

Thinking of some major repairs such as getting water efficient toilets or new household appliances? Look at products with the WaterSense label for greater water efficiency or Energy Star appliances to save energy, money, and protect the environment.

Over the winter, did you have problems with snow and a leaky basement? Make sure to correct the any mold problems and get proper ventilation to ensure good indoor air quality in your home.

So, do you have any grand spring cleaning plans in mind? Share your thoughts. We love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Spring Sneezing Leads to Spring Cleaning

By Lisa Lauer

That fabulous time of year is here again: spring. I love it, but really, who doesn’t? My typical morning commute changes from being surrounded by headlights and taillights in the darkness, to seeing the sun rising and the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin. During the commute back home, the warm weather beckons me to roll down the car windows. Of course, I do so against better judgment. I know that the dreaded P-word will come blowing in, forcing me to inhale it… and everyone with seasonal allergies, do it with me now: deep breath in, big sneeze out.

I refuse to let the pollen control my life. I’m armed with my neti pot, my daily-used prescription nasal spray, and my choice supply of over-the-counter sinus decongestants and pain relievers. So as usual this time of year, I’m forced to visit the closet where I keep over-the-counter and prescription drugs. I dread it as I know what I will find: lots of expired medications. The reasons why people keep unused medications around are various. But for me, I find it difficult to toss out unused medications because I have spent money on them. It just seems so wasteful. Besides, there’s the whole issue surrounding their disposal. For me, flushing or pouring medications down the drain is out of the question, and while the Office of National Drug Control Policy does offer guidelines for disposing of medications into the garbage, I’ve just never gotten around to it.

However, this spring I vow to cleanse my house of expired medications. I’m scouring the usual locations where medications may be stashed,including the bin with pet supplies in the laundry room, because my pets have expired medications, too. I’m also going to take advantage of National Drug Take-Back Day which the Drug Enforcement Administration is holding on Saturday, April 30th, from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. The DEA website shows numerous locations in my zip code that will be collecting unwanted medications. Is there one near you? If not, your state may already have an on-going pharmaceutical collection program.

About the author: Lisa Lauer works in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery and has been with the Agency for 9 years. Now that she has spring-cleaned her medicine cabinets, she can focus her spring cleaning efforts on the windows (using just vinegar and water, of course).

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Climate for Action: Spring Cleaning

About the Author: Loreal Crumbley, a senior at George Mason University, is an intern with EPA’s Environmental Education Division through EPA’s Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP).

For many of you, spring cleaning is just around the corner. I don’t know about you but my family has already begun cleaning our home. Washing windows, dusting, cleaning pipes, washing and packing away winter necessities are just a few things families do when cleaning.

We all use household cleaners, solvents and detergents. Most household shelves are filled with toxic substances. Ordinary household cleaners and solvents contain materials that can pollute our air and water systems. These materials contain acids, volatile organic compounds (VOC), lye, and other toxic chemicals. The release of these toxic chemicals into our environment can cause air pollution, as well as soil and groundwater damage. Contaminating our air and water can threaten human health and other organisms living in our environment.

We can limit the amount of toxic chemicals that are released into our environment by changing how we clean our homes. To begin non-toxic cleaning, you should use natural methods to clean your home. Some examples are:

  • Baking soda is frequently used to reduce the effects of odors in water and in the air. Many use baking soda to freshen-up carpets and as air fresheners. It can also be used when cleaning kitchens, bathrooms and windows.
  • Vinegar and lemon juice can be used to clean scum and grime off of dishes. They are also good when cleaning copper or brass objects. Vinegar can be used when cleaning bathrooms, kitchens, floors and appliances.
  • Bar soaps can be used in the place of bleaches, ammonias, and detergents. When doing laundry these detergents can be harmful to our environment and sometimes cause allergies and skin irritation. Bars soaps are less toxic and can reduce allergies and skin irritation.
  • Hang drying your clothes can be an alternative to using a dryer. Chemically loaded fabric softeners are sometimes used in dryers; hang drying can eliminate this as well as reducing the amount of energy you use in your home.

These are just a few tips to non-toxic cleaning around the home. I’m sure lots of you have your own special home recipes that you use. Please let me know; we all need to reduce the amount of toxics that we release into the environment.

Remember it is our job to keep our environment healthy and beautiful!! Keeping our environment clean and safe will protect the earth and our health!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.