Allergies- Easing Sneezing: House Cleaning Tips

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Easing the Sneezing: House Cleaning Tips

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Does allergy season make you run inside and bolt the door? Be careful, your home may hold more allergens than the great outdoors! We found out how to make our living spaces sparkling and allergy-free when The Queen of Clean®, Linda Cobb, joined us on WebMD Live, April 7, 2004.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD Live, Linda. Why do my dust bunnies breed as quickly as real bunnies?
COBB:
That's a cute question. Dust bunnies seem to grow larger by the minute, because dust attracts dust. Just like people, dust bunnies like companionship, so what started out as a small one on Monday, by Friday can become a dusty monster.

MODERATOR:
So you're saying that it's probably a good idea to nip dirt in the bud?

COBB:
Exactly. If you have allergies, the first thing you want to consider is removing the things that are difficult to clean from your home. Carpet is the very first thing that comes to mind, because no matter how often you vacuum carpet, it still maintains the dust in the lower levels of it. It's a great place for pollen and other things that you're allergic to, which come off your shoes on to the carpet. If you have pets, carpet will also hold the dander, which is what causes the allergies.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I can't get rid of the carpet. I rent. What can I do to get it as clean as possible?

COBB:
First of all, use a vacuum cleaner that has a beater bar and a canister instead of a bag. Every time you vacuum, empty the canister. That increases the vacuum suction, so it picks up more, basically. Also, have the carpet cleaned or clean it yourself with a steam cleaner every six months. Adding about a half cup of white vinegar to the solution you use is a good idea. Vacuum every day, if you have serious allergies. If you don't have serious allergies, a couple times a week is a good idea.

MODERATOR:
What does the vinegar do?

COBB:
The vinegar, because it's an acid, rinses out the alkaline from the carpet cleaner, and many times the residue from the carpet cleaner will give you allergies, too.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What can I do to prevent dust from returning almost immediately after I dust? I use Pledge or orange oil.

COBB:
When you dust, use a lamb's wool duster. Lamb's wool contains lanolin, which attracts the dirt and holds it, but doesn't put any chemical on the furniture. Furniture polishes mostly contain silicone, which is not good for your furniture, or for you.

The other thing is to change your furnace filter every month, if you have allergies and a dust problem. On other hard surfaces, such as glass or appliances, use 1/4 cup liquid fabric softener, combined with 1 cup water in a spray bottle. Spray it on and wipe it off, and that will help to repel the dirt.

MODERATOR:
The fabric softener doesn't cause streaks on windows?

COBB:
Use it on glass tables or metal appliances, not windows.

MEMBER QUESTION:
So should I not use any type of furniture polish?

COBB:
About three to four times a year use an olive oil polish, which is 1 cup of olive oil, ¼ cup of white vinegar. Apply it with a soft cloth and buff. It actually nourishes the wood. It's all natural. You're not going to have allergies from it.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What about alcohol for TV screens?

COBB:
Alcohol is a good cleaner for glass surfaces. Shut the TV off first, of course, and mix the alcohol 50-50 with water and spray it on to your cloth or paper towel. Never spray directly on to your TV screen. Again, a good alternative is to use your lamb's wool duster there.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Where do you find lambs wool dusters?

COBB:
You can find them at linen stores; you can go into cleanofqueen.com for more information on them. Make sure they're lamb's wool dusters, not those magic dusters that you have to recharge by rubbing over a sweater. Lamb's wool will last for years, and is washable.

MEMBER QUESTION:
When I sweep the floor, the dust flies. What's the best way to get the dirt off of the floor without buying one of those expensive floor-cleaning systems?

COBB:
First of all, vacuuming is better than dust mopping. If you have a vacuum with a beater bar, it should have a hard floor setting. Also, the small battery-powered stick vacs work well. If you have wood floors, vacuuming them and then washing with tea and I do mean t-e-a tea, is wonderful for the wood and won't cause any allergies. Boil a quart or so of water and steep three or four tea bags until it comes to room temperature. Mop or hand-wash the wood floor with that. Tannic acid is great for wood floors.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Can you use tea for furniture?

COBB:
Yes. Ring a cloth out until it is just damp, then wash and buff.

MODERATOR:
What about cleaning linoleum floors -- any great tips?

COBB:
For cleaning linoleum floors use 1 gallon of warm water and 1 to 2 tablespoons of 20 Mule Team borax. If you keep the water clean, no need to rinse.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What type of mop do you prefer? I hate string mops and sponge mops aren't so hot either.

COBB:
I prefer a microfiber mop. I personally use an Act Natural mop that I have had for six years. The beauty of these mops is that the head pulls off and is machine washable and you use nothing but water to clean with. If you have tile, never use a sponge mop. It acts like a squeegee and pulls the dirty water into the tracks. I am not a fan of the new throwaway mops because of the cost involved. If you are not changing the pad on those mops continuously, you are cleaning with dirty water. And it is not unusual to spend $100 or more each year for refills. When you buy a mop, look for a mop that has a handle that can adjust to shoulder height. That will save your back.

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MEMBER QUESTION:
What's a microfiber mop?

COBB:
That refers to the material the washing surface is made of. For information on microfiber, go to actnatural.net.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What do you think of those special disposable dust cloths? I use them to gather the dog hair from the floor. They don't do much for the rest of the dirt, but they're good for dog hair. I just hate to spend the money.

COBB:
Vacuuming will gather the hair and contain it just as easily and won't cost you anything. I am not a fan of anything disposable. It is manufacturers' way of getting you to continue spending money with them.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Do the canister vacuum cleaners with filters really help?

COBB:
Vacuum cleaners with filters are important. When buying a vacuum, look for a true HEPA filter. To test to see if it's a true HEPA filter, remove the filter and gently press with your fingernail. If it is HEPA, it will indent. If it is just HEPA-like, or HEPA-type, it's more likely to be cardboard.

MEMBER QUESTION:
How often do you replace HEPA filters?

COBB:
Some of them are lifetime, others will tell you in the vacuum directions when they need to be replaced. It's important to read the vacuum instructions when you buy it because each vacuum is a little different.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What about air purifiers?

COBB:
An air cleaner can be a good thing. I use one myself; however, when you buy an air cleaner, it should have a three-stage filter:

  • A foam piece that catches the thick debris
  • A HEPA filter that filters out very tiny particles
  • And a charcoal filter for air freshening

If your cleaner comes with an ionizer, only run the ionizer for an hour or so a day or every few days. If run continuously, an ionizer will collect and contain so much dirt that it will actually be hanging on the walls and ceiling.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What's the easiest way to clean ceiling fans?

COBB:
The easiest way to clean a ceiling fan is with a telescoping lamb's wool duster or look for a fan cleaner that has a catch tray under it, like a little dust pan, so that the dirt doesn't fall on the floor. To wash the blades, mix a solution of 1 quart warm water, one small squirt of dishwashing liquid, and 1/4 cup of white vinegar. Putting white athletic socks on your hands, and ringing them out in the solution, will allow you to quickly clean both sides of the blades. And by gripping the blade with both hands, they won't spin.

MODERATOR:
Would that work for cleaning mini-blinds too?

COBB:
To clean mini-blinds, dust with a lamb's wool duster frequently. To wash them, make a solution of 1 gallon warm water, one squirt of liquid dish soap, 1 tablespoon washing soda, and 1 tablespoon of borax. If you want to do the blinds hanging at the window, put the socks on your hands and wipe the blinds on one side first and then reverse them and wipe the other side.
To clean off the window, hang the blinds from loops on a clothesline or between two ladders. Spray the cleaner on, let it drip off, rinse with the hose on mist, roughdry the blinds and re-hang immediately. Don't wash them in the bathtub. It just makes another area for you to clean. That's my motto: if it's not dirty, don't clean it!

MODERATOR:
Now that we have the dust off of the mini-blinds, how should we be cleaning the windows?

COBB:
For outside windows, combine two quarts of warm water and 1/2 cup of cornstarch. Using a natural sponge, wash the window and buff dry with a paper towel. For stubborn dirt on windows, such as mineral deposits, or greasy windshields, use 1 pint of rubbing alcohol, combined with 2 tablespoons of liquid dish soap and 2 tablespoons of ammonia. There is no water in this recipe. Clean the window with a nylon-covered scrubbing sponge, rinse, and buff. If you have streaks on the window, erase them with a blackboard eraser.

For inside windows, use 50% rubbing alcohol, 50% water in a spray bottle and buff with paper towels. Clean when the windows are not in the direct sun, and never use window cleaner that has color in it inside the house. If the bottle tips over, you have a stain even the Queen can't get out.

MODERATOR:
The beauty of your cleaning solutions is that they are made with things around the house and are fragrance free. Some people with allergies are sensitive to the perfumes used in so many cleaning products today. Although rubbing alcohol and vinegar have an aroma, they are quite diluted in your solutions, aren't they?

COBB:
That's the beauty of the things I recommend; they're things people already have in their pantry. Generally they're safe, and they're inexpensive.

MODERATOR:
Clean and cheap -- what a beautiful combination!

COBB:
Any Queen who uses Tang in her toilet and Massengill on her dog, likes simple products.

MODERATOR:
Please explain about the dog!

COBB:
To deodorize your dog, if it is smelling doggy or it has met the wrong end of a skunk, saturate the dog's fur with Massengill outside the house. Let it shake it off and dry and the dog will be springtime fresh, or any fragrance you choose.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Why Massengill for the dog? What if the dog has allergies -- is it safe?

COBB:
If it's safe for us, it's safe for the dog. It's totally safe.

MODERATOR:
If you are worried, check with your vet. But think about where Massengill is usually applied; it is probably quite mild.

MODERATOR:
O-K -- so toilets cleaned with Tang?!

COBB:
Put 1 to 2 teaspoons of Tang in the toilet, let sit 20 minutes to overnight. Swish and flush. The citric acid cleans the toilet and if the dog drinks out of the toilet, the worst thing that can happen is orange lips.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Our challenge is keeping the bedroom clean of allergens. Do you have any advice, especially about the laundry? I seem to be washing sheets and towels all of the time.

COBB:
If you have allergies, wash your sheets and towels in the hottest possible water for the fabric. Use detergent marked "free" meaning that it is free of color and scent. To boost the cleaning power and deodorize sheets and towels, use 1/4 cup of 20 Mule Team Borax in each load of laundry (it's all-natural with no scent). Instead of fabric softener, use 1/4 cup of white vinegar to soften clothes; and no, your laundry won't smell like a salad. If you have allergies, keep your pets out of your bed and out of your bedroom.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What about washing detergent with bleach?

COBB:
Detergents with additives are expensive and not necessary. If you need bleach, add bleach. If you don't, forget it. For dark clothes, such as blacks, never use a laundry soap that has bleach and always turn the clothes wrong side out when you wash them. To whiten white clothes, such as underwear or socks, consider soaking them in a pail of hot water with a quarter cup of lemon juice or a tablespoon or so of automatic dishwasher detergent. When you're ready to launder, pour solution and laundry into the washer and launder as usual. That's great for cleaning dingy, gray socks, and underwear. If you have a front loader, pour out most of the water and dump in.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Put the vinegar in the wash or rinse cycle? Can you use the little balls that dispense in the rinse cycle?

COBB:
Yes, in the rinse cycle. However, if you have a softener dispenser on your machine, put it in that. If you have the balls, you can use those.

MODERATOR:
You have a book on doing the laundry, don't you?

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COBB:
Yes, Talking Dirty Laundry With the Queen of Clean . That also has a spot and stain removal guide in it.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Don't you agree with me that using of all these chemicals inside the house is dangerous itself?

COBB:
Yes. Normally when we clean, we use up to seven containers of cleaning fluids. When we open those, we are exposing ourselves to those chemicals. Nowadays, more people have allergies and asthma than ever before. If we switch to more natural cleaning products, we will cut back on allergies. And we'll save money in the long-run.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What's the best way to clean upholstery? With a machine and what solutions?

COBB:
Be sure that the upholstery can be cleaned with water. Then use a good quality steam cleaner using the hottest water you can get out of your tap I like to pre-treat the soiled areas with a cleaner and your favorite carpet spotter. Then remove that by extracting with the hot water. That way you leave no residue in the upholstery. Extract very, very well and let a fan blow across the piece to dry it quickly. NEVER take the cushion covers off their forms and wash them in the washer. If you're cleaning a heavily used piece, consider treating with fabric protector when you're done.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Any tips on cleaning quilts? I can't wash it often like the sheets, but assume it gets the same dust mites and dander as sheets. What can I do?

COBB:
If it's a quilt you use for warmth, consider putting it in a duvet or slipcover you can frequently launder. If it's a bed type of quilt, then be sure it's easily washable, and in between vacuum it with a hand-held vacuum to remove pet hair and dander and so forth.

MODERATOR:
We are almost out of time, Linda. Do you have any final words for us?

COBB:
To find more information on any type of cleaning visit my web site, queenofclean.com or pick up a copy of my new book, Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean, New and Improved . Also, look for my show Monday through Friday on the DIY Network. It's called Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean . I had a great time today. And thanks for talking dirty with the Queen of Clean.

MODERATOR:
We are out of time. Thanks to the Queen of Clean®, Linda Cobb, for sharing her expertise with us today. For more information, please read Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean or one of Linda's other books.

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Reviewed on 10/4/2004 4:36:37 PM

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