7 holiday cleaning tips for a healthy home

’Tis the season of joy and celebration – but with all the cooking and entertaining, our homes can quickly become a mess. Many of us may feel inspired to engage in a bit of seasonal cleaning – decluttering and scrubbing our living spaces from top to bottom – before guests arrive. Yet keeping our homes spick and span during the festivities poses its own set of challenges.

Conventional cleaning products may harbor harmful chemicals that can jeopardize our well-being. For young children, who crawl and explore with their hands, these substances pose a particular threat – fumes they can breathe and the possibility of skin contact or ingestion. 

Cleaning chemicals have been linked to health issues such as skin irritation, asthma, fertility disorders and, in severe cases, cancer. Many cleaning products contain substances that can exacerbate existing asthma, or trigger it in individuals previously unaffected. Respiratory irritants found in these products include some quaternary ammonium compounds, ethanolamines, glutaral and sodium hypochlorite, or chlorine bleach.

It’s important to read ingredient labels carefully and follow instructions. By steering clear of excessive use of harsh chemicals, you can ensure your home stays sparkling and safe throughout the festive season.

Here are seven cleaning tips to ensure a healthy home during the holidays.

1. Dust

Dust is more than just particles; it can contain harmful chemicals, allergens and even lead. It is a complex blend of dead skin, outdoor soil, fungal spores and chemicals from household items, some of which may be harmful. Dust itself is an allergen.

The origin of harmful chemicals in dust is twofold. Indoor items like furniture, electronics, shoes, plastics and fabrics can release chemicals, and outdoor pollutants can enter the home through shoes, windows and doors. 

Because of their developing bodies, children face heightened health risks from dust. 

Clean surfaces regularly to avoid dust buildup. Avoid dry mopping, which can stir up settled dust. Instead, you can “wet wipe” with a damp rag or sponge to clean surfaces and prevent dust accumulation. And use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to capture small particles. Make sure to change the filter regularly to maintain optimal functionality.

Encourage guests to remove shoes to minimize indoor pollutants.

2. Glass surfaces

Clean glass surfaces with a simple mixture of equal parts water and vinegar. If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, consider using ammonia-free glass cleaners, available at your local grocery store. 

Cleaners containing ammonia or ammonia compounds, which are commonly found in all-purpose and glass cleaners, can pose serious risks to human health. Exposure to ammonia can lead to allergic reactions and worsen asthma symptoms. It can also irritate and burn the skin, eyes and lungs.  

And it’s associated with aquatic toxicity, posing a threat to the environment.

To make your health a priority and minimize environmental impact, choose glass-cleaning alternatives that do not contain harmful substances like ammonia.

3. Bathroom deep-clean

Ensure your bathroom is ready for guests with a thorough cleaning that puts health and safety first. Choose a solution of warm water and natural soap for wiping surfaces, and use a baking soda and dish soap paste to clean the tub, ensuring a powerful yet non-toxic clean.

Ditch the chemical drain cleaners and choose a drain snake as a safer alternative.

Thiourea, commonly found in metal polishes and tarnish removers, has been linked to cancer.

Antibacterial or antimicrobial cleaners can be detrimental to health and contribute to microbial resistance. Instead, opt for plain soap and water along with wet microfiber cloths for everyday cleaning. 

Beware chemicals linked to an elevated cancer risk, such as crystalline silica, which is found in some powdered cleaning scrubs. Inhalation of this substance is linked to respiratory diseases.

Making it a point to use these safe and effective cleaning practices not only ensures a welcoming bathroom for guests but also safeguards your health and well-being as you clean. 

4. Kitchen prep

Prepare your kitchen for the holiday bustle with a deep clean, especially in areas like the oven, refrigerator, appliances and sink.

Instead of using conventional oven cleaners with harmful chemicals like sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and oxalic acid, for a safer alternative choose a baking soda paste. Sprinkle baking soda over the oven’s bottom, mist it with water to form a damp paste, and let it harden overnight. The next morning, a simple wipe with a sponge will reveal a clean oven without the release of harmful chemicals.

Beware other kitchen cleaning products, such as hard water stain removers and drain cleaners, which often contain high concentrations of corrosive chemicals. Inhaling or splashing these products onto the skin or into eyes can result in severe and permanent damage.

With these precautions, your kitchen will shine during the festive season.

5. Guest room ready

Create a clean and welcoming environment for your guests without exposing them to harmful chemicals. 

To let in natural light, wash windows with a mixture of water and white vinegar, an effective, chemical-free solution that’s gentle on the environment and your health. 

Vacuum window screens using a HEPA vacuum and upholstery attachment to help maintain a fresh, allergen-free environment without the need for harsh chemicals.

Using a microfiber or cotton cloth dampened with a solution of water and a mild detergent, wipe down baseboards, removing dust and dirt naturally.

And before guests arrive, launder bedspreads and linens using detergent free from borates and ethoxylates with the lowest possible levels of contaminants like 1,4-dioxane.

Look for the EWG VERIFIED® mark on laundry products to ensure they meet our highest health standards.

And avoid harmful chemicals in fabric softeners by using 100 percent wool dryer balls. These eco-friendly alternatives are safe for sensitive skin and reduce drying time.  

6. Pleasant smells 

Create a fresh and inviting atmosphere for the holidays while avoiding potential pitfalls related to some fragrance chemicals. 

Weather permitting, open windows and doors during and after cleaning to promote proper ventilation, eliminate lingering odors and ensure good indoor air quality.

Household cleaning products are significant sources of indoor air pollution, studies show. One study found frequent use of cleaning products increased the risk of childhood asthma.

Another recent EWG study found common cleaning products contain hundreds of volatile organic compounds linked to cancer and other health harms. The study, published in Chemosphere, analyzed 30 cleaning products, including air fresheners and more.

Consider simmering natural elements like citrus peels, vanilla or cinnamon sticks in water over low heat to naturally freshen indoor air. Other natural air fresheners include bowls of baking soda or fresh flowers. 

7. Cleaning after a meal

After your festive holiday meal, clean up promptly to prevent bacteria and stain buildup.

For soiled aprons, napkins and tablecloths, scrape off excess food using a table knife or a dry brush. For smaller areas, pretreat by rubbing diluted detergent directly into the fabric and rinsing. A helpful tip is to treat the reverse side to force the stain off the fabric, not through it.

Soak the linens in warm to hot water for at least 10 minutes and as many as a few hours. Wring out excess water and promptly launder, using stain removers like hydrogen peroxide or baking soda.

Avoid nonstick cookware to reduce your exposure to the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. Choose cast iron or stainless steel. 

To clean pots and pans, rinse cast iron skillets with hot tap water and use a stiff brush or scraper to remove burned or baked-on food. Wash thoroughly with soapy water, rinse and dry completely. To preserve the seasoning, apply a thin layer of cooking oil.

When it comes to copper, steer clear of tarnish removers containing carcinogenic compounds like thiourea. Instead, polish copper by rubbing it with a lemon dipped in kosher or coarse salt until it gleams.

Consult EWG resources

Use resources like EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning and the Healthy Living app to find the top-rated products for transparency and health. Look for the EWG VERIFIED mark on products, indicating that they meet EWG’s strictest standards and are made without potentially harmful chemicals.

By following these cleaning tips, you can ensure a healthy and sparkling home for memorable holiday celebrations with family and friends. Make your well-being a priority by choosing products that won’t compromise your health.