From dustbusters to a soda fix: 20 health hacks for your home
We’ve compiled a list of easy changes that could benefit you and your family
Keep surfaces clean and rooms well ventilated. Photograph: Getty Images
It’s mid-January and most of us are either successfully winning with our New Year’s resolutions or floundering at the half-way line and wondering whether or not we have the will to continue.
But while lifestyle changes always top the list when we decide to turn over a new leaf, few of us turn our attentions to our homes which with a few simple alterations could provide the necessary boost to support us in our never-ending quest to become healthier and happier.
We’ve all heard jokes about changing lightbulbs, but in actual fact, taking the time to ponder your bulbs, could make a big difference to your health; an ionising light bulb is not only energy saving, but also produces negative ions which are thought to help clean the air of dust and bacteria and improve air quality. And daylight bulbs replicate the colour of sunlight which is thought to be beneficial for our mental health and help reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
2. Floor coverings
Anyone with asthma or allergies should keep carpets and rugs to a minimum. “If you have asthma or are allergic to dust mites (invisible microscopic organisms), then it’s important to see your doctor for treatment, advises Dr Marcus Butler, medical director of the Asthma Society of Ireland. “But it’s helpful to restrict the use of carpets, rugs (unless regularly washed), drapes and upholstered furniture especially in bedrooms.”
3. Keep the dust down
Whether you have allergies or not, a dusty house can be an unpleasant thing. So it is important to stay on top of vacuuming the floors and polishing the furniture – it might be tedious, but not only will your home look great, you will also have much cleaner air to breathe.
Stuffed toys are another source for house dust mites. So it’s important to wash these on a regular basis along with pillow cases, mattress pads and blankets every week. It is also a good idea to use dust mite impermeable covers which act as a physical barrier to these pesky mites.
More sought after than any other commodity, a good night’s sleep is key to our physical and mental health. So if you’re having problems getting some decent shut eye, make some changes in the bedroom – black-out blinds, a new mattress, firmer pillows and crucially, a ruthless eviction of all media devices, be it TV, phone or tablet.
6. Food safety
Recent research has shown that many of us aren’t storing food properly. “When it comes to keeping food in your fridge, ready-to-eat products such as cheese, yoghurt, cooked meats and leftovers should be on the middle or top shelves,” advises Dr Linda Gordon, chief specialist in food science with www.safefood.ie. “Raw meat, fish and poultry should be kept in sealed containers on the bottom shelf so they don’t touch or drip on to other foods. And leftovers should be stored in the fridge within two hours of cooking and eaten within three days.”
7. Clean your fridge
Food safety experts recommend cleaning your fridge regularly, especially the handle, shelves and storage compartments. Every couple of weeks is a good rule of thumb – use warm soapy water, then rinse clean and dry with a clean towel or kitchen roll. Cleaning products aren’t advised as these can leave a taste in your fridge or could damage the rubber seals.
8. Food supply
While most of us are no stranger to grocery shopping, we often buy in a hurry or worse, when we are hungry. So in order to stay healthy this year, it’s a good idea to go through your larder, check what supplies are in stock and make sure there are plenty of basics for a quick, healthy meal – and nutritious snacks also.
9. Check the date
When it comes to date marks on foods, “use by” is a deadline and “best before” is a guideline. So, according to Dr Gordon, it’s important to consume meat products, prepared food and salads within the “use by” date. “And when pre-packaged foods are opened, the use-by date no longer applies and the product should be consumed within 2 or 3 days and by the original use-by date,” she adds. “‘Best before’ dates relate to the quality of food rather than safety and the ‘sell by’ dates are used by retailers for stock control purposes and shouldn’t be confused with ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ dates which are the ones to be aware of.”
10. Go natural
While we all want our homes to be spick and span, most of us are aware that toxic cleaning materials can play havoc with both our health and the environment, but what is the alternative? Well sometimes our grannies really did know best and natural cleaners such as bicarbonate of soda, salt, lemon juice, vinegar and essential oils really do bring out the shine in every surface. While the antiseptic properties of oils such as tea tree will help to disinfect. So not only do these products do the job, but they are kinder to you and the environment and smell great too.
11. Keep medicines out of reach
It sounds obvious, but many people forget to move their medicine supplies when their children get taller and if they have seen adults reaching for a painkiller, may be tempted to self-medicate themselves – so take the time to move out of reach.
Equally make sure to keep dangerous chemicals under wraps – cleaning products may seem innocent enough, but in the wrong hands, can cause burns or injuries – so place products on high shelves and make sure to dispose of hazardous waste carefully.
Allergy specialist, Dr Joe Fitzgibbon, says air vents and open windows can do wonders for good health. “There is no evidence that ionsisers or atomisers are of any real benefit, but ventilation is good as it’s important to keep mould growth to reasonable levels – as too much can affect asthma and rhinitis.”
Cheap to buy, easy to look after and pretty to look at, houseplants are making a big comeback. They’re a quick way to add personality and nature into a living space, and they can also act as air purifiers. Winter is a good time to cultivate houseplants like the humble spider plant; quick-growing ferns and sculptural plants like aloe vera that will eventually reward you with thick gel-filled leaves that can be harvested to make soap, lotions or an excellent cure for burns and sun burn.
We all know that pets are part and parcel of family life, so while that doesn’t mean they should eat at the table or sleep in our beds, it does mean we should pay as much attention to their health as we do our own. Regular checks-ups, a clean, dry bed, enough (but not too much) nutritious food and plenty of exercise should be adhered to by humans and animals alike.
While we don’t have the climate to support a thriving fruit industry, we can certainly grow our own vegetables. Putting the work into a small section of your garden, a local allotment or even a window box is not only immensely satisfying, but the produce couldn’t be more organic or fresh and the exercise involved in weeding and harvesting will help towards a fitter family.
Insects and bugs may be a source of great annoyance to budding gardeners, but don’t be too liberal with toxic pesticides – so if it is necessary to treat plants or growing vegetable crops, try to use an organic alternative.
18. Food for your house
We all know that olive oil is good for our diet but it also works wonders on natural wood – so mix three parts with one part vinegar for a restorative and healthy polish that will nourish treasured pieces of furniture or wooden floors.
Reducing the amount of packaging you bring into your home will not only be environmentally sound, but will also lower your refuse bills as not everything can be recycled – so buy loose fruit and vegetables and visit the butcher and fishmonger for produce without excess packaging.
Everyone knows that plastic can be catastrophic for the environment but it also clutters up your household causing unnecessary stress, so get re-usable alternatives. Also, try using soap bars instead of liquid soap and filling up detergent bottles at your local health food store. “Tackling plastic waste and increasing the level of recycling is a key priority for Minister [Richard] Bruton,” says a spokesperson for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. “The Minister has recognised that plastic has been identified as causes of the chronic problem of pollution, including ocean pollution.”