10 Ways To Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

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➀ Choose High Efficiency Air Filters To Trap Allergens

To maintain a safer indoor air quality in your home, air filters should be changed at lease every 3 months, often sooner.

A clogged air filter not only does not filter well, it also makes your HVAC work harder, raising your power bill. Clogged filters can even contribute to damaging your HVAC unit(s).

Cheap filters do nothing to trap allergens. The pleated type of filters can trap some or, depending on the filter, even most of the allergens in the home.

Did You Know… The unaided human eye can detect specks of dust down to about 50 microns (a human hair is around 70 microns).

Most allergens are invisible to us and frequently are under 10 microns. Good filters can capture down to roughly 1 micron – failing to capture viruses and some bacteria but fine enough to capture most allergens.

➁ Beware Not To Overdose On Cleaning Chemicals

Beware Not To Overdose On Household Chemicals

We simply tend to overuse household cleaning chemicals… period.

Many cleaning products, including many “green” products have ingredients in them that adversely affect indoor air quality.

Did You Know… Many cleaning products contain VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) which rapidly disperse into the air… an increasing health concern.

Disinfectants can leave toxic residues.

Many of the fragrances we use to make things smell ‘clean’ can actually aggravate allergies and other respiratory problems.

Chemical-based cleaning agents do have their place…

But, with the advances in chemical-free cleaning (steam, engineered water, etc.), it is increasingly possible to reduce their use and thus avoid adverse effects on indoor air quality.

We can improve the home environment substantially by strongly curtailing our gratuitous use of everyday cleaners.

➂ Upgrade Your Clean With A High Efficiency Vacuum

Your carpets act as the best filters in your house

Your carpets act as the best filters in your house… just ask Rover!

That being said, your floors need to be vacuumed regularly in order to remove the dirt, dust and allergens it has trapped in its fibers.

What does ‘vacuumed regularly’ mean?

If you have pets and an active family… especially in the country or the suburbs… you may need to spot vacuum as often as daily.

If not, maybe vacuuming weekly will suffice.

Quick Tip… To maintain your hard-earned indoor air quality, stop the dirt before it enters your home. How? Vacuum your entryways more frequently so that you won’t need to vacuum the whole house as often. We recommend vacuuming the first 4 steps from the inside of each entryway.

Unfortunately, many vacuums pick up allergens only to spew them out into the air again.

Remember, most of the allergens that are driving you crazy are too small to see. It takes a vacuum with high efficiency filtration to capture those allergens.

A vacuum with a HEPA filter may not guarantee good filtration as much of the air may be leaking around (bypassing) the filter.

Fortunately, there are many good vacuums available.

The CRI (Carpet and Rug Institute) Seal of Approval is awarded to vacuums that meet the metrics test and the industry considered the best rating system. See Carpet-Rug.org for more information.

Don’t forget to vacuum your hard floors as well

One study showed vacuuming was twice as efficient as dust-mopping on hard floors.

➃ Remove Those Pesky Allergens from Your Upholstery

Vacuum Upholstery for better indoor air quality

Carpets are NOT the only place allergens collect. Allergens collect in your upholstered furniture as well.

Plus, while you’re sitting on the furniture, you are shedding dead skin cells. Dust mites feed on those cells. Both they and their excrement can collect in your upholstered furniture.

Every time someone sits on the cushions, many of these allergens become airborne.

Try This… Place a white cloth over the end of your vacuum tube and while firmly holding the cloth (so it does not get sucked into the vacuum), make a couple of passes over your favorite chair’s cushion. You’ll be amazed at the dirt you’ll see on the cloth!

➄ Refuse To Share Your Bed With Dust Mites

Vacuum Your Mattress

Vacuum your mattress!

Most of us spend more time in bed than any other place. We tend to forget though, what a magnet for allergens that bed can be.

This is where dust mites live and breed.

If you’re waking up with a stuffy nose or aggravated sinuses, try vacuuming your mattress and pillows.

Quick Tip… Consider buying a dust mite cover for your mattress (and pillows).

Better yet…

Steam clean your mattress!

Vacuuming will remove many of the allergens, but you can go a step further.

Cleaning your mattress with either hot water extraction or dry steam will not only remove more soil and allergens, but kill dust mites as well.

As long as we are talking about beds, washing your bedding in hot water will kill the dust mites… the hotter the better!

➅ Regular Professional Cleaning Provides The Best Results

Vacuuming can only do so much.

Periodically, you will need to clean out the soils that even careful vacuuming leaves behind.

Most of the carpet mills (the companies that actually make your carpets) recommend professionally cleaning your home’s carpet every 12 to 18 months. They recommend using an IICRC-certified firm that uses hot water extraction.

More often may be necessary in the case of heavy traffic or resident pets.

This not only helps your indoor air quality but also protects your carpet investment.

Professional upholstery cleaning can clean more deeply and remove soils that vacuuming alone can’t reach.

➆ Battle Hidden Dust Bunnies With A Deep Clean

Heads up!

While the weekly cleaning you do may keep the house looking good, it likely still misses areas where dust builds up.

And that dust negatively affects your indoor air quality!

Once or twice a year, a deep clean is called for. How involved such a clean should be depends on your needs: e.g., an asthma sufferer might need a more involved clean. It also depends on your time, energy and your budget.

The Bedroom

Since we spend so much time in the bedroom, that’s a good place to start…

  • Move the bed out, if possible, vacuum behind and under it as completely as possible.
  • Vacuum behind furniture, moving it out slightly if possible.

Move on to other rooms…

  • Begin with dusting the space where your ceiling meets your walls.
  • Wipe or vacuum fans and other high fixtures. 
  • Vacuum or dust exposed beams.
  • Dust the tops of furniture.
  • Vacuum cabinet tops.
  • Dust behind and under furniture… moving it out slightly if possible (don’t try moving that breakfront full of curios unless you empty it first).
  • Remove curios from open shelves and dust them as well as the shelves.
  • Pull out and get behind appliances if it is safe to do so.

One word of warning… with all this high dusting you may stir up more dust than you can believe – in the short term.

Heads Up… Dust will resettle on your flat surfaces. This is common. When we do deep cleans, we often use an airscrubber (like a giant, high-volume fan with a near-HEPA filter) to minimize this problem.

➇ Check Air Ducts to Protect Indoor Air Quality

While you’re thinking of a deep cleaning, it might be a good time to have your air ducts inspected and cleaned.

Torn ducts can pull dust, mold spores, and other ‘nasties’ up from the crawl space or attic into the living area.

Dust and dirt can collect in ducts and provide a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Whatever is in the ducts gets blown throughout the house!

If you have an area near a duct that always seems dusty, this may be an indication that it is time to have your ducts checked. Look for a true professional. Beware of low price come-ons. People who aren’t properly trained can do more harm than good.

Bottom Line… Have your air ducts inspected and cleaned by a certified professional.

➈ Deal with Mold Quickly and Safely

Indoor Air Quality Mold

Mold can be a major contributor to unhealthy indoor air quality.

The effects of mold on you vary by type of mold and from person to person. Some people will notice very little effect from minor mold incursions while others may experience significant reactions. The most common effects of mold are sore throats and flu-like symptoms.

Small amounts in shower grout seldom present a health problem, but large amounts can be more of a problem. Mold outside of showers can indicate a moisture problem. Check for leaks as slow leaks can often cause hidden mold problems; inadequate ventilation in areas where moisture builds up can also lead to mold issues.

House Plants and Indoor Air Quality

Check your house plants for mold!

House Plants for Better Indoor Air Quality

I have a friend who was getting sicker and sicker until he realized the house plant next to his favorite chair was harboring mold between the pot and the saucer. When it was removed…so were his symptoms.

DIY Mold Preventionand Removal?

Small amounts of surface mold can be handled by first vacuuming with a true HEPA vacuum and then by wiping with a paper towel dampened with a mild detergent solution, folded into eighths. Turn the towel to a fresh side after every swipe. Dispose of the towel when all sides (all 8) are used.

Any large amount of mold requires people specially trained for this type of remediation; misguided efforts can make the problem worse and spread it to previously unaffected areas.

Beware using bleach as it may mislead you by discoloring the mold, rendering it invisible. Assume that bleach does not kill mold nor does it destroy mold spores.

Typically, House Cleaning Technicians are neither equipped for nor trained to remediate mold problems. Asking them to do so can be unhealthy both for you and for them. If you have any questions or see problems, feel free to call our office for advice or other assistance with a mold problem.

➉  Air Purifiers and Ozone

Portable Air Purifiers

Portable air purifiers may be able to improve health, however this is still up for debate.  EPA makes no broad endorsement of their use. The best ones will help rid a room’s air of particulate matter which would include many allergens.

Consumer Reports recommends getting a unit designed for a larger room even if your plan is to use it in a small room.

HEPA Filters

Air purifiers with standard HEPA filters will not remove gases or most odors.  Those problems may be solved with the addition of an activated charcoal filter or some future technology not yet offered.

Is Ozone helpful?

Ozone is a corrosive gas used in fire and other restoration needs. It is very effective in high concentrations but people, pets and plants must not be in the house while in use.

In the low concentrations found in home purifiers it is not very effective. It does, however, temporarily deaden the occupants’ sense of smell which can give the fleeting impression of improvement.

Is it good for you? Let’s just say that the EPA puts out ozone alerts for a reason.

Ahhh... Fresh Air

Town & Country Cleaning Services is a CleanTrust Certified Firm (aka IICRC Certified Firm). Our President, Bruce Vance is a Master Textile Cleaner and holds 16 total certifications. Vice President, Sarah Vance, is a Journeyman Textile Cleaner and holds 5 total certifications. Both are IICRC-certified as HCT instructors.


Disinfecting and Cleaning Home Surfaces

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House Cleaning and Disinfecting

House cleaning and disinfecting involves real science.The resulting cleanliness and health value can be verified by scientifically objective measures when needed.  At a recent meeting of the Chapel Hill Leads Group (which meets every Wednesday morning at the American Legion Post #6 off Legion Road),Town & Country Cleaning Services co-owner and President, Bruce Vance, gave a brief talk that left people gasping and applauding. That is one of the rewards generated by public speaking when you’re passionate about your topic – and yes, even if your topic is about something as mundane (and as taken for granted) as cleaning!

Traditional Disinfecting

Bruce revealed that disinfectants are governed under the same Federal organization (FIFRA) as pesticides.  That hints at their possible toxicity and the audience was taken aback. Not all disinfectants are toxic, but many are not safe for food surfaces and should even be wiped off of non-food surfaces after they have done their job.

Cleaning bath fixtures can remove build-up and pathogens

A toothbrush can dislodge germs even in tight spaces

Most people, whether cleaning their own home or serving others as professionals (other than in hospitals, surely) are not following label directions carefully or at all – a violation of Federal law, by the way.  Every disinfectant we have encountered has a number of steps that are frequently ignored.  Organic substances will render disinfectants ineffective, requiring pre-cleaning PRIOR to the disinfectant step.  They also require a minimum dwell time during which the surface must remain wet with the disinfectant.  This can be as brief as 30 seconds and as long as 10+ minutes in order to achieve the listed kill rate of the pathogens claimed on their product’s label.

Measuring Disinfection with an ATP Meter

Bruce discussed and demonstrated the ATP meter, which allows a relative measure of ‘organic load’ on a non-porous surface.  ATP stands for Adenosine Triphosphate, a component of all living or once-living organisms.  The system uses swabs to clean a roughly 4-inch by 4-inch part of a chosen surface.  Once the swab collects the sample it is inserted into the meter which is able to measure the efflourescence given off by the ATP in the sample and transforms the measurement of that pale light into a number.  For a useful frame of reference, know that a reading of 100+ is dirty, even for a non-commercial kitchen.

Collecting the Sample(s) for the ATP Meter

The sample was taken from one of the tables in the normal meeting room where breakfast had been laid out.  The initial sample read a whopping ‘526’ before any attempt to clean up began.

Checking relative soil levels on hard surfaces

ATP Meter registers ‘organic load’ on a hard surface

He once did a similar demonstration at a convention hotel and the initial swab gave a reading of over ‘1000’!  From the same breakfast table, one sample was taken from a 4×4 area cleaned by a disinfectant wipe; a second sample was taken from a neighboring 4×4 area close to but not contiguous to the first.  The second sample area was cleaned by an organic Shaklee product (Basic H) supplied by member Suzanne Chaney and one of Town & Country’s hospital-grade microfiber cloths from Perfect Clean.

Demo Results

The first sample, after cleaning an area using a disinfecting wipe, yielded a result (from ‘526’) down to ‘326’.  The second sample, after cleaning with the Basic H2 and microfiber came in at only ’58’).  This was where the audience gasped and applauded.  In prior tests by other investigators, a ‘rebound’ effect was common on the following day – where disinfecting wipes had been used, the organic load number rose significantly due to the food source provided by residue from the wipe’s ingredients. Note that the 2nd sample was cleaned by a system that removes soils and pathogens whereas a disinfectant acts by killing various ones when used correctly. The removal system works without spreading toxins on the surface but still achieves a remarkably impressive reduction of pathogens. Organic load measurements have been statistically shown to be correlated to levels of pathogens. Soils and pathogens are readily removed during laundering and for extra assurance, the microfiber wipers at Town & Country Cleaning Services are run through a sanitizing steam cycle each time.

Bruce thanks the Chapel Hill Leads Group for the opportunity to share his own and our company’s passion for creating healthy spaces and to demonstrate one of the ways we are able to prove the effectiveness of our chosen systems.

Updated and edited by the author for improved clarity on May 4, 2017.


Cleaning and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

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Cleaning and IAQ Go Together to Protect Your Health

Most of us already know that cleaning positively affects our indoor air quality (IAQ), right?  Have you also considered that what you USE to clean with can negatively affect your IAQ?  Fragrances, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and other ingredients can have a negative effect on both your IAQ and your health!

Cleaning Patients’ Homes to Improve their IAQ and Protect Their Health

Here at Town & Country Cleaning Services, we discovered that bleach and many other products can be very irritating to folks recovering from certain medical treatments or suffering from respiratory illnesses of all sorts. A few years ago, we became involved in Cleaning for a Reason, a charitable organization which solicits companies like ours to provide free cleans to women undergoing Chemotherapy or otherwise actively battling cancer.  Later, we also served a couple of clients returning from the Duke Medical Center after lung transplants.

Helping a New Lung Transplant Patient

We learned that the Medical Center had recommended some careful cleaning procedures to be completed for their patients before their release.  One patient’s wife, feeling overwhelmed by the daunting list began asking her neighbors for suggestions about who could do the meticulous cleaning they needed.  She happened upon a neighbor who remembered being impressed after talking with us about our services the year before and recommended she contact us.

We read the suggested cleaning needs and realized we had a variety of special equipment already in our warehouse and helpful procedures in our repertoire.  By applying our intense dust-down services with a professional high-efficiency vacuum and a sealed H.E.P.A. air-scrubber we were able to greatly reduce the dust in his temporary bedroom, bath and common use room(s).  This meant we were able to remove the majority of the rooms’ potential allergens and mold spores to help protect the patient.

We finished with steam-cleaning hard surfaces and some soft furnishings like mattresses (after thoroughly vacuuming them).  This procedure, combined with de-ionized water and microfibers and a very few other cleaning solutions (characterized by virtually no aroma) was all completed before he returned home from his major procedure — we helped create a healthier ecosystem for this vulnerable patient and later helped others in the same manner.

Helping other Patients Stay Healthy

Clean bathroom - better IAQ - better Health

Cleanliness helps your Health and improves your Indoor Air Quality

We did a similar procedure for another client, a long-time one, who was returning from a bone-marrow transplant. We were able to perform the major cleaning like the one described above, before they returned from the hospital. We followed up with special protective but common-sense procedures for maintenance cleaning during her home recovery period.

Special, practical procedures involved:

1) dusting solely with a damp-wiping method using de-ionized water and microfiber cloths, frequently turning them to a clean side,
2) avoiding disturbing any new high dust (that might settle above our standard reach) while she recovered,
3) continuing to use high-filtration vacuum bags, installing a new one each time at her house before we cleaned,
4) wearing foot covers upon entry to her home and
5) continuing to perform steam-cleaning in the rooms she was using during this period.

We have used these procedures to help others improve their in-home IAQ for asthmatic children and older folks suffering from breathing challenges.  If you would like more information on Chemical-Free Cleaning or on our Intense Dust-Down procedures to help reduce allergens in your home, our friendly staff at Town & Country Cleaning Services would be glad to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with you.

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