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Spring cleaning for a healthier home

You’re all set to roll up the rugs, hose down the deck, and wash a window or two. But if you add just a few more chores to your spring-cleaning routine, you can help improve your family’s health and safety while you make your home shine. Here are five steps worth taking:

Go on mold patrol.

Exposure to mold can trigger allergic reactions or respiratory ailments in some people, and for those with compromised immune systems or lung infections, the problem could be even worse. While you’re cleaning, check for the discoloration and musty odor that can signal mold around the house. Likely hot spots? Wherever there’s moisture, such as bathrooms and kitchens or near leaky pipes. If you do find mold, follow our expert advice for cleaning it up. Repair the source of the moisture or add ventilation to the room as soon as possible. That might also help to keep humidity levels between 40 and 60 percent.

Get your chimney cleaned.

If you regularly use a wood-burning fireplace or stove, have your chimney professionally cleaned at least once a year. Otherwise, soot, debris, and creosote, a flammable tarlike substance, can build up and put you at increased risk of a stove and chimney fire or exposure to dangerous fumes. And, according to the nonprofit organization the Chimney Safety Institute of America, there’s no better time for that annual maintenance than the spring. It’s easier to book a sweep, or professional cleaner, in the spring than in the fall, and necessary repairs can be made well before the winter.

Target dust mites.

You can’t see dust mites, the microscopic insects that thrive in warm, moist environments, but they’ve probably made themselves at home in your carpets, pillows, and furniture. And their excrement can trigger allergic reactions or asthma attacks.

You can’t completely eliminate mites, but you can reduce their numbers. During spring cleaning, get rid of clutter that can harbor dust and subsequently dust mites. If you’re allergic to mites, use this time to zip mattresses and pillows into mite-proof cases, since much of your exposure to the bugs happens in the bedroom. If your mattress is approaching 10 years old, consider changing it. Old mattresses are an important risk factor for a high level of dust mites, according to a 2006 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. It would also help to steam-clean your carpets or remove them altogether.

During your regular cleaning, wash all bedding in water at least 130° F (“hot” cycle); wash throw rugs and curtains, and use a vacuum with a microfilter system or high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

Clear out your medicine cabinet.

Start by tossing old medications and supplements. All drugs and vitamins gradually break down and lose strength over time. Our consultants recommend that you discard pills more than two years past their expiration date. But you should throw out drugs or vitamins of any age that show signs of spoilage, such as crumbly tablets, sticky or melted capsules, or a change in color. Check with your pharmacist if you are uncertain whether it’s safe to use a medication.

To prevent the misuse of drugs, new federal guidelines released in February recommend that you mix unused or expired medications with an uninviting substance, like used coffee grounds, and put them in a nondescript container before throwing them away. You can also check to see if your pharmacy has any programs where unused medications can be returned. Don’t flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless the label or accompanying pamphlet says it’s safe to do so.

Power up your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

You should replace the batteries in your smoke detector (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers) and carbon monoxide detector (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers) about once a year. If you have a hard time remembering to do so, make it part of your annual spring cleaning. Keep in mind, though, that you should test all smoke and carbon-monoxide alarms at least monthly to ensure that they’re operating properly.

Our Spring Cleaning Guide has many more free tips on getting--and keeping--your home in tip-top shape.

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