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Do you like to clean?

Hm. I can probably guess your answer.

Most people find cleaning a necessary evil and even for those of us who get a certain amount of satisfaction out of this ongoing chore, we want the process to be quick, efficient and effective.

If you employ a spring-cleaning ritual each year, you especially want the task to go smoothly. Here are some common cleaning 'mistakes' that can slow you down or even be downright dangerous.

1. Not having the right tools or supplies for the job. You don't clean your mirrors with toilet bowl cleaner (I hope)! Not only is it not effective to do such a thing, but it can be unsafe, as well. Likewise, assemble the right sponges, scrub brushes, and spray bottles to do the job and you'll see faster, easier results. Collect old toothbrushes for hard to reach tiny corners and recycle old t-shirts into hardworking cotton rags.

2. Waiting too long to clean. Quick weekly cleanings generally take less time than monthly scrubs when the dirt and scum has had time to accumulate.

3. Running around for cleaning supplies. If you are using non-toxic or 'green' cleaners that can safely be stored inside your home (see number 9 below), keep a separate supply on each level of your home. Store them in a carrier or bucket (out of reach of children) for easy toting. Keep a shopping list near your cleaning supplies and when you are running low on something jot it down. Simply collect the lists before you head to the store.

4. Lack of proper ventilation. Are you using toxic cleaners? You are if you are using most common store brands. They certainly work (kill germs) but they work indiscriminately, often harming the 'good stuff' along with the 'bad stuff'. If the label on your cleaner says to 'use with adequate ventilation' or something similar, the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) says to open windows and turn on fans. Breathing these chemical vapors is hard on anyone’s respiratory system and if you have asthma or other related breathing problems, you probably shouldn't be using these cleaners at all.

5. Not using gloves. Chemicals can be ingested, inhaled and absorbed through the skin. (Your amazing skin is like a sponge...that's why things like birth control and nicotine patches work so well.) Getting a household chemical on your skin once probably won't hurt you, unless you are extremely sensitive or have an allergic reaction, but I'm guessing you've cleaned your home more than once. Again, read the label. Many products read 'eye and skin irritant'. Protect yourself!

6. Not having a place for everything. Does your household struggle with clutter? Examine where that clutter tends to pile up and take note of patterns. Put another basket here, another bin there and you will solve a lot of clutter problems quite easily. Set a container at the bottom of your stairs and at the top of your stairs for things that need to go up or down. Once a day take the container with you and put the items away. (This is a great task for children).

7. Bandaging messes instead of fixing them. Let's say your dog regularly chooses one corner of your porch to shake off in after coming indoors. You can keep cleaning it everyday, scrubbing on the painted walls and all the surrounding fixtures or you can place some plastic sheeting on the wall and floor and move away any items that are in his path. Additionally, you can try retraining him to use a more convenient spot. The point is, you have to do the job anyway, why not make it as efficient and painless as possible?

8. Do I dust first, or vacuum? While there are plenty of opinions on the proper order of dusting and vacuuming, make sure you are using your own experience to guide you and increase your efficiency. Taking a few moments to examine your processes in other areas could reveal you're having to do double duty unnecessarily. The kitchen floor may need sweeping, but the time to do it is AFTER you cook, not before. Getting those clothes out of the dryer promptly may save you from ironing later. Cleaning the mirror in the bathroom is best done last, after all the splashing from the sink is finished.

9. Storing household cleaning products incorrectly. The US EPA states NOT to store cleaning products next to food. For years I stored my household cleaning products in the pantry, high up, on a shelf of their own. But then I learned about outgassing. Ever walk down the cleaning products aisle at your favorite grocery or discount store and smell the chemicals from those sealed bottles and boxes? For some people, their eyes burn and they cough. Now think about bringing those products home, opening them and leaving them in your storage closets for months at a time. These are potent chemicals; make sure they are doing the job you purchased them to do and ONLY that job. Either store them in a locked cabinet away from your family's living spaces or choose non-toxic products that work just as well, but are safer.

10. Dispose of cleaners improperly. Caustic chemicals are often not meant to be poured down the drain. Doing so is hard on your pipes, can release toxic fumes into the air and is polluting to your water supply. And you certainly don't want to be mixing chemicals! That is extremely dangerous! If you have left-over cleaning products that are toxic and you want to get rid of them, contact your local city government for the hazardous waste disposal location in your community.

Since we all have to clean, why not make the process as safe, efficient and effective as possible? Often it's not a matter of doing MORE, but of doing DIFFERENTLY that can really make a daily difference. Spend a little time studying your home and your family's needs and see what simple changes you can choose that will make a lasting difference for your loved ones.

Colleen Langenfeld delivers helpful resources to working moms. Find simple ways to make your home and family healthier by visiting and clicking on the happy kids picture now!
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