As the days remain brighter and the weather continues to warm up, thoughts turn to freshening up the house for spring. But, spring cleaning, the yearly rite of passage that makes every homeowner cringe with anxiety, may actually be hazardous to your health, especially if you have lung disease.
For those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and other lung diseases, spring cleaning is often more hazardous. In addition to dealing with normal dust and grime that may trigger allergies and breathing problems, there is the issue of household cleaners, many of which are potentially harmful for those with lung disease.
“Dust, strong-scented cleaners, and physical exertion are all hazards people with COPD or asthma need to consider when preparing to clean,” said Donna Hawk, RTT, AE-C, a respiratory therapist in Pulmonary Rehabilitation at Baystate Medical Center.
“Dust can be a real irritant, so wearing a simple dust mask can make a difference. If people use supplemental oxygen, they should remember to use it when cleaning, even though it might be bulky and get in their way,” added Hawk.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunization classifies household cleaners and perfumes in the air as “irritants.”
Hawk said using aerosol cleaners without a mask can cause irritation and bronchospasms. She suggested anyone using aerosol cleaners to select those with
the lightest scents and then to spray it directly on the cloth rather than on the surface being cleaned. Hawk also recommended those who use a bronchodilator to use it before they start cleaning.
“Homemade cleaners are less expensive and work just as well,” said Hawk.
The respiratory therapist offered a simple recipe for “a good all-purpose cleaner:”
- 1 Tsp of liquid soap
- 1 Tsp of baking soda
- Mix in 1 qt. of water
For cleaning supplies, Hawk suggested purchasing micro fiber cloths which trap dust instead of releasing it back in the air.
“It’s also surprising how effective a simple damp cloth can be for picking up dust,” she said.
Hawk noted people should focus their spring cleaning in several areas.
“Remember to change or clean the filters on air conditioners, air purifiers and dehumidifiers or vents. Also make sure you clean mold and mildew all year-round, especially in the bathroom,” said Hawk, who stressed that mold can be a big trigger for people with asthma.
Other general cleaning tips include:
- Removing wall-to-wall carpeting. If soft floor coverings are desired, use washable rugs. Dust mites not only love carpets, but upholstery and bedding as well.
- Vacuum thoroughly and often with a HEPA filtered or micro filtration system vacuum.
- Wash floors and baseboards often with warm soapy water.
- Replace heavy window coverings with easily washable curtains or blinds. Drapes need to be dry cleaned, and machine washable light curtains are easier to take down and wash.
- Thoroughly clean any area where there is evidence of pest infestation. Cockroach and mouse droppings are strong triggers for asthma.
Hawk reminded those with lung disease to pace themselves when cleaning.
“People with pulmonary disease, and even those who breathe easily, often end-up exhausted and sore for days after cleaning. Don’t do all your cleaning at once, instead pace yourself by completing one room at a time. And for those who find cleaning just too exerting, they shouldn’t push themselves and should hire someone to do the work,” said Hawk.
“Try to limit the amount of time you spend reaching overhead, it increases difficulty breathing. And when vacuuming, remember to use your legs by walking with the vacuum cleaner and not just pushing it with your arms,” she added.
And when it’s not too cold, Hawk recommends keeping the windows open while cleaning.
“Keeping the house well-ventilated will help to prevent any asthma attacks which might result from dust particles that can remain suspended in the air for 30 minutes after cleaning and vacuuming your house,” said Hawk.