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Speed Clean the Healthy Way The cleanest, safest—and often fastest—ways to kill germs and clear grime ■ BY PAIGE GREENFIELD ■ PHOTOGRAPHS BY TED MORRISON

Who doesn’t want a spotless, sweet-smelling house? But when you hear that the wrong cleaning methods can cause allergies or asthma, or even spread disease-causing toxins through your home, suddenly a little mess doesn’t seem so bad. So we quizzed leading immunologists, microbiologists, and cleaning experts to find the healthiest ways to tidy up. Turn the page to see how they answered our top questions. Surprise: The safest ways to clean can also be the quickest. Even better: It’s okay to leave behind a little grime! continued >

PREVENTION.COM

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Deodorizing with a scented candle or an air freshener? Answer: Neither. “You’re just masking a foul odor by introducing a stronger one,” says James Sublett, MD, chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. Worse, candles release particles of soot, and candles and air fresheners give off synthetic fragrances—all of which can exacerbate allergy and asthma symptoms. If you love the look of candles, don’t despair—try unscented beeswax candles, which have a light honey fragrance that won’t worsen symptoms. (They also produce much less soot than paraffin.) But the healthiest way to get rid of an odor is to crack open a window and turn on a fan to circulate air.

Jr., PhD, director of clinical microbiology at New York University Medical Center. Stand the mop up in the shower to dry to keep germs from multiplying.

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WHICH IS HEALTHIER

Dropping a tablet into the tank or using a toilet brush? Answer: Toilet brush. Though tablets release cleansers with each flush, you still need to scrub to get rid of dirt, says Tierno. Try pouring 1 cup of bleach into the toilet before going to bed. The bleach breaks down bacteria and fungus overnight, making your job easier.

WHICH IS HEALTHIER

WHICH IS HEALTHIER

Sponge mop or rag mop?

The oven’s self-cleaning feature or elbow grease?

Answer: Sponge mop. Even after rinsing, more dirt and bacteria sticks to the strands of a rag mop than to the sponge. Besides, the sponge’s flat surface cleans more effectively. Use a solution of 1 ounce of bleach per quart of water, plus some soap, to clean floors. When you’re done, rinse the mop with a fresh batch of the solution, says Philip M. Tierno

A n n ifi it a S h t o it T o w

Answer: Clean it yourself. A “selfcleaning” appliance may seem convenient, but it can create a toxic home environment, says Jeff May, a certified indoor air quality investigator and author of Jeff May’s Healthy Home Tips. The feature heats the oven as high as 900°F and burns off everything inside. Even if the oven is sealed tightly, it’ll release smoke, fumes, and carbon monoxide, he says. Instead, sprinkle baking soda in a quarter-inch layer. Spritz the baking soda with water until damp, says Annie Bond, author of Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living. Let it sit overnight—the grime should lift right off the next day.

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Cleaning a humidifier once a week or not using one? Answer: Not using one. Dry air parches nasal passages, making you more vulnerable to catching a virus. But a humidifier does more harm than good because it encourages mold growth, which can aggravate asthma and allergy symptoms, Sublett explains. Measure the relative humidity in your home with a hygrometer (such as Honeywell’s digital wireless one, $25, amazon.com), and make sure it falls between 35 and 65%, says May. Too low? Float some blossoms in bowls of water throughout the house; as the water evaporates, the humidity will rise.

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Reach for these gentle products the next time messes happen. FOR STAINS Use baking soda Sprinkle it on the stain until completely covered; spray with water. When baking soda is absorbed, wipe clean with a cloth. FOR MOLD, BACTERIA, AND GREASE Use vinegar Fill a spray bottle with distilled white vinegar. Saturate the affected area and then simply let the vinegar evaporate. FOR SOOT, WAX, AND OIL Use washing soda (sodium carbonate) on stone or glass. A cousin to baking soda, it can be found in the detergent aisle. Make a thick paste with 1⁄4 cup of soda and water. Cover stain and let it set for an hour; scrub.

WHICH IS HEALTHIER

Bleach or ammonia?

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NATURAL SOLUTIONS FOR DIRT

WHICH IS HEALTHIER

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Answer: Bleach. Ammonia fumes are more irritating to the skin, eyes, nose, and lungs, Tierno says. Bleach is better at cutting dirt and killing germs. But a little goes a long way: One ounce of bleach per quart of water will remove the toughest mold from the tightest spots. Whatever you do, don’t mix bleach and ammonia. The combination creates chloramine, a gas that can damage your airways.

WHICH IS HEALTHIER

Cleaning pet accidents with baking soda or vinegar? Answer: Vinegar. Animal excrement is full of bacteria and possibly parasites. The most important thing to do is to break up the enzymes in the urine or stool, says Sarah Hodgson, author of Puppies for Dummies, because the enzymes are what encourage your animal to mark in the same spot again. Fill a spray bottle with a half-and-half mixture of vinegar (apple cider or white) and water. Saturate the area with the solution and pat it dry with a paper towel; repeat and let dry. PREVENTION.COM

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