Blog :: 01-2017

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Houseplants that Improve Indoor Air Quality

Who knew that having a green thumb could help with air quality in your own home? As the winter months set in, we are sealed up inside of our ever-more energy efficient homes. The "tighter" the home, the less fresh air that will naturally circulate within that home. I know that in our household, it seems my family members and I take turns feeling lousy this time of year. We live in an energy star rated home with a circulation system to keep fresh air moving through the house - but still, access to fresh air is limited as compared to warmer months. I have often thought that the lack of fresh air can lead to this increase in illness or allergic responses. The following article from Northampton's The Daily Hampshire Gazette on Tuesday, January 17th, makes helpful suggestions about how homeowners can keep indoor air cleaner during the winter. I love that adding beautiful plants to your home has the added benefit of making the air cleaner!

Plants, techniques to keep indoor air clean in winter

  • Peperomia, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is a plant said to purify air.

  • Poinsettias, seen at Hadley Garden Center, are plants said to purify air

  • Chinese evergreen, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is a plant said to purify air.

  • English ivy, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is said to purify air. GAZETTE STAFF/Jerrey Roberts - Buy this Image

  • Orchids, seen at Hadley Garden Center, are flowers said to purify air.

  • Angela Karlovich, who works at Hadley Garden Center, beside a display of plants that are said to purify air. At left a close-up of a Chinese evergreen. Gazette staff/Jerrey roberts 

  • A spider plant, at Hadley Garden Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS 

  • Angela Karlovich, who works at Hadley Garden Center, holds an aloe vera plant, one that is said to purify air, Dec. 12, at the store.

  • Chinese evergreen, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is a plant said to purify air


By LINDA ENERSON
For the Gazette
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
 
The ravages of winter drive us inside, where we take comfort in a warm home well protected and insulated from the elements.

But while a weather-tight home is great for saving energy and resources, that efficiency often comes at the expense of indoor air quality. 

When the windows are closed for the season, a variety of indoor air contaminants can accumulate and bother residents. Some of these contaminants are allergens such as mold spores or dust mites. Others are toxic organic compounds off-gassing from furniture, building materials or carpets. 

Dr. Jonathon Bayuk, medical director of allergy services at Allergy and Immunology Associates of New England, says there are many things homeowners can do to clean indoor air. 

Getting rid of allergens 

Air purifiers can remove allergens and other air contaminants, including dust mites, smoke and mold particles. Bayuk advises buying one that is big enough for the area of the room and uses a HEPA filter to trap contaminant air particles. He cautions against products that utilize blades. This type of air purifier creates ozone by generating tiny electrical sparks when the blades strike a contaminating particle. While each spark generates a minimal amount of ozone, over the course of a day, the ozone can accumulate to toxic levels. 

Keeping the relative indoor humidity below 50 percent helps to discourage mold growth, according to Bayuk, but it’s important not to let humidity drop too low as dry skin can often become a problem when relative humidity drops below 35 or 40 percent. 

Mold growing on a hard surface, such as a tub, can be relatively easy to clean (Bayuk recommends a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water). However, porous objects, such as a box of books in the basement, may need to be disposed of in order eliminate that source of mold spores in the home. 

Dust mites are another common indoor allergen that can cause year-round problems for people with a sensitivity to the enzymes they excrete.

Dust mites feed on the dead skin cells that humans and pets naturally shed, as well as dust, pollen and other organic material. They live in areas where they can find food, sufficient moisture and warmth. 

Carpets, couches, and mattresses are common areas where dust mites live and breed. As these surfaces are porous, they gather below the surface of the fabric, making it difficult to get rid of them. 

Bayuk says a mattress cover is a great place to start in curbing dust mites. The cover is made of a very tight fabric the mites cannot penetrate. Cleaning the cover on a weekly basis keeps them from piling up on these surfaces.

Reducing clutter and keeping a house clean can also reduce the number of dust mites. Bayuk recommends using a high-efficiency vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove mites and their food sources from carpets and sofas. 

Dust mites are fairly easily removed from hard surfaces as they stick to a damp cloth. Bayuk says using a feather duster is virtually useless, and simply moves the mites and the particles they feed on to another surface.

Chemical contaminants 

Organic compounds off-gassing from dry-cleaned clothes, and from newly applied paints, lacquers and varnishes, as well as from newer furniture, carpets and building materials are another source of indoor air pollution. 

In the late 1980s, NASA conducted a series of experiments to see if indoor plants could be used to purify the air of future space habitats. The agency’s final report on the experiments showed that some of the most common and easily cared-for houseplants were surprisingly effective at decreasing levels of the most common organic compounds found circulating indoors. 

Hadley Garden Center stocks many of the plants named in the study. Greenhouse manager Angela Karlovich is familiar with the NASA study, and can lead customers to a wide variety of air-cleaning plants that perform well in a wide variety of indoor settings. 

Karlovich says that many of the plants cited by NASA can thrive in low-light conditions, which makes them versatile and easy to care for indoors, including: 

Dracaena: Several varieties were tested by NASA and were found to be effective at removing trichloroethylene (TCE), benzene and formaldehyde.

Spider plants: effective at removing formaldehyde. Spider plants are also non-toxic to pets. 

English ivy: removes TCE, benzene and formaldehyde 

Chinese evergreen: removes formaldehyde and benzene 

Bamboo palm: removes TCE, benzene and formaldehyde. Bamboo palm is non-toxic to pets. 

Golden pothos: removes formaldehyde 

Philodendron: removes formaldehyde 

Peace lily: removes TCE, benzene and formaldehyde 

While sun-loving Gerbera daisies are usually planted outside, these plants removed the most TCE and benzene of all the plants tested at NASA. They are also non-toxic to pets. 

Bayuk says like all plants, those mentioned above also add to indoor air quality by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.

 

Winter Projects for Homeowners

This time of year, many of us find ourselves homebound on our days off (some of us choose to be homebound on our days off :)). Winter is a great time to attack our indoor homeowner to do list - since we certainly can't do any landscaping in the cold, wet, windy winter months of the Pioneer Valley. This recent article by Jolie Kerr makes great suggestions for indoor cleaning/organizing projects, best done when you don't feel like being outside!

 

 
Quick, Not Dirty: Four Projects You Can Do in 45 Minutes
 
By Jolie Kerr 
 
Quick, Not Dirty
 
(Timor Davara)

Welcome to “Quick, Not Dirty,” cleaning and organizing projects from expert Jolie Kerr. These discrete jobs are easy to pick off and will earn you the satisfaction of seeing a task to completion without an enormous amount of effort. (Read previous columns here.)

Do you ever have a day where you don’t feel like leaving the house, not out of laziness but because the weather is frightful or because the thought of having to interact with another human being is more than you can bear? I don’t mind admitting that I do! On those days, I like to survey my domain to identify a task in need of doing that will help me justify a day spent indoors. These are the kinds of projects that may not be high on your psyched-to-do list but that are well worth the time investment to make your life and your home less chaotic and more lovely. 

Mail-Pile Triage

It’s tempting to fool ourselves into thinking that in this, our golden digital age, piles of bills, magazines, and catalogs are no longer a thing that plague humanity.

Not so. Lennys, may I level? This one is so personal for me. I’m drowning in catalogs. Dear Scully & Scully catalog, you are so lovely, but from whence did you come? And would it be possible to get buyer data on the Sleek Black Walking Sticks? I must know who is buying these beauties. 

Instead of suffering under the yoke of unwanted mailings and a recycling bin in constant need of emptying, I finally sat down one day with a pile of catalogs that I’d been setting aside for just this purpose, and set about unsubscribing myself from them. Should you feel moved to do the same, here are some tips to get you on your way. 

Bills: You know that one stray bill you’ve been meaning to convert from paper to electronic? Go ahead and do it now. I’ll wait.

Catalogs: Catalog Choice can unsubscribe you from even the most insidious mailers (I’m looking at you, Pottery Barn). Are you more of an app kind of gal? PaperKarma allows you to snap a photo of the offending junk-mail label and will contact the mailer to remove you from its list.

Magazines: Head straight to the magazine’s website, where you’ll find instructions for canceling subscriptions in the customer-service or frequently-asked-questions section of the site.

Credit-Card Offers: Use OptOutPrescreen to remove yourself from unsolicited preapproved credit-card-offer lists. 

Miscellaneous Junk: Sign yourself up for the National Do Not Mail List

Personal Mail: It’s nice to get personal mail, but it’s also worth acknowledging that there’s a cap on how long you should allow it to linger willy-nilly in your home. Thank-you notes, holiday cards, birthday wishes — they’re all lovely, but unless they’re especially sentimental, give yourself a time limit for how long you’ll hold on to them. A day? A week? A month? All are fair. Just pick a window that seems reasonable to you and be diligent about purging (or filing, if you plan to keep it) personal mail before it becomes clutter.

Deep Clean the Fridge

You know those fake holidays like National Pet Your Dog Day and National Eat a Pound of Bacon Day? They’re fun and all — who doesn’t love petting a dog, or eating a pound of bacon?! (Cat lovers and vegans, I suppose.) But they’re made-up and, often, are just marketing schemes created by brands like Iams or IHOP. There is, however, one very real “national holiday” that occurs on a specific day, for a specific, if terribly United States–centric, reason: November 15 is National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day, falling as it does just before Thanksgiving to account for the demands the holidays make of your icebox.

Now, you don’t have to wait until November 15! Regardless of when you decide to tackle the fridge, here are a few tips that will help you on your way.

1. Take everything out. Everything. All of it. Nope, don’t leave the bottle of ketchup in the door, or the box of baking soda on the bottom shelf in the back. Everything comes out. Highly perishable items can be stashed in the freezer or a cooler while you scrub.

2. The choice of cleaning product, whether it’s a commercial all-purpose cleaner, a white-vinegar solution, or diluted bleach, is entirely up to you and what you feel comfortable using in a place where you keep food.

3. You should, however, get yourself a Dobie Pad, which is super handy for scrubbing dried-on splatters and spills without scratching the plastic interior of your fridge.

4. You can (and should!) wash removable shelves and crisper drawers the same way you would dishes, using dish soap and hot water. If your kitchen sink isn’t big enough to accommodate such an operation, the bathtub is a good alternative. If you have outdoor space that allows for it, shelves and drawers can also be hosed off.

5. For spills that have congealed egregiously, make a compress of sorts by wetting a rag, sponge, or thick stack of paper towels with very hot water, wringing it out, and pressing it on the sticky substance. Repeat as needed until the spill begins to loosen, then wipe it up.

6. Before putting condiments back, wipe off the exterior of bottles and tighten the caps (you may also want to open infrequently used jars to check for mold!)

If you feel so inclined, we would be tickled if you’d share before and after photos with us, like this set that a reader who wishes to remain anonymous granted us permission to share with you. If you’d like to share your own set, email me at joliekerr@gmail.com, tweet photos to me @joliekerr, or tag me on Insta @joliekerr. We may even feature the fruits of your fridge-cleaning endeavors on Lenny’s Instagram account
 
“Fridge

God, isn’t that so satisfying?!

Clean and Style a Bookshelf

Now that it’s winter, many of us look forward to getting back in touch with our inner indoor kid. You know, the one who much prefers to have her nose stuck in a book while the other kids are outside making mud pies? Sure you do, and if you identify with that description so hard, have I got a project for you! 

Cleaning and styling a bookshelf is a straightforward endeavor, but it’s still a process — and a dirty one, at that. Books, and the shelving in which we store them, are dust magnets, so be prepared for this to be a grimy job. And because the shelves themselves get so dirty, like scrubbing out a refrigerator, doing a thorough cleaning of a bookshelf requires that you remove everything from its place, rather than trying to clean around things.

Other than that one piece of advice, there’s not much to a shelf-cleaning project. But here’s a list of what the order of operations may look like: 

â— Gather your supplies, such as rags or dusting cloths, dusting spray (if using), and a vacuum.

â— Take a photo of the current arrangement if you plan to re-create it.

â— Remove all books and knickknacks from shelves.

â— If it’s a freestanding unit, move shelves away from the wall so that you can dust from the top down and vacuum the floor underneath and behind the unit.

â— If you need or want to pare down your collection, assess what you’ve got by first grouping like items together, then systematically deciding what stays and what goes.

â— Wipe dusty books with a rag or dusting cloth.

Now comes the fun part, because once your shelves are clean and bare, you can begin putting everything back in a way that pleases you. How you style your bookshelf is entirely up to you, and one of the great joys of this kind of project is getting to spend some time with your beloved books and the collection of shiny dimes that makes no sense but brings you joy nonetheless and those decorative geodes that remind you of your great-aunt Linda’s house, with its conversation pit and creeping spider plants. 

Deep Clean the Tub, Shower, and Grout

Now that you’ve spent so much time with your book collection, remembering old favorites and digging out titles you always meant to get around to, wouldn’t it be nice to grab one of those tomes and settle into a lovely bubble bath with some reading? Sure! Except maybe your tub isn’t looking so inviting? I can help with that.

Doing a deep clean of your tub, shower, and surrounding grout isn’t complicated, but let me be really straight with you and tell you that it is hard work. You will sweat, is what I’m trying to warn you of. You’ll also get a pretty righteous shoulder and back workout, so that’s nice. 

For this endeavor, you should invest in a good scrub brush (Casabella and Rubbermaidare brands that offer a variety of scrub brushes for bathroom cleaning) and a heavy-duty cleaning product — save the tea-tree oil for regular cleaning, and opt for a more powerful product, like X-14 or Zep, that will do a lot of the work for you. Not all bathrooms have the same needs, so instead of going into super detailed instructions on how to clean grout, or glass shower doors, or a porcelain tub versus a fiberglass one, I’m going to leave you this link, in which you will hopefully find answers to every bath-cleaning quandary you may encounter, and some you hopefully never will

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. Her weekly column “Ask a Clean Person” appears on esquire.com, and its companion podcast is available on AcastiTunes, and Stitcher.