The novel coronavirus has completely reshaped the way that we view sanitation. Over the past year, organizations and individuals alike have taken steps to control the spread of disease, and the population as a whole has become more aware of the impact of infectious disease. Another thing that people have become more aware of is the impact of chronic respiratory diseases such as COPD, asthma, and pulmonary fibrosis. Studies have shown us that these people are “high risk” when it comes to infectious disease, so we need to take steps to protect their health.
Unfortunately, simply telling someone to “clean more often” or “clean more thoroughly” is bad advice. These statements fail to acknowledge that cleaning products themselves can actually put our health at risk. Many household cleaning products are filled with toxic chemicals that can irritate the eyes, skin, and throat. And in the worst cases, they can even contribute to COPD symptoms by exacerbating chest pain, difficulty breathing, and chronic coughing.
In this post, we’re going to provide you with a comprehensive list of steps for cleaning your home as a COPD patient. We’ll give you advice on choosing cleaning products, how often you should clean, and other things you should take into consideration. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment. And if you find this information helpful, don’t hesitate to share it to help us get the word out about safe cleaning habits.
How to Choose Cleaning Products With COPD
The first step in cleaning your home is to choose the cleaning products that you will use. While this may sound like the easiest step, it’s actually the hardest. Cleaning products are rife with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are compounds that have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility. Many VOCs are artificial meaning they’re man-made, and they contain chemicals such as methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), trichloroethylene, oxygenates, and other industrial solvents.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), concentrations of VOCs are up to ten times higher indoors than they are outdoors. This is largely due to the fact that VOCs are found in many household cleaning products and many homes are not ventilated well enough to rid them of harmful chemicals. But VOCs aren’t the only harmful ingredients found in home cleaning supplies. Many of them also contain carcinogens, chemicals that are known to cause cancer.
As a COPD patient, your goal should be to eliminate all hazardous cleaning products from your home. However, it’s especially important to avoid cleaning products that can exacerbate your respiratory symptoms. Products like air fresheners are particularly harmful to COPD patients because aerosol droplets can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time, meaning they can be inhaled. Generally speaking, “scented” cleaning products should be avoided at all costs. While we may enjoy a fresh smell and equate it with a clean home, most of these products contain harmful chemicals.
Before heading out to the store, create a list of ingredients that you should avoid. The ingredients below are commonly used in cleaning products and should be avoided:
- Perchloroethylene (PERC)
- Sodium Hydroxide
Some common cleaning products you should avoid include:
- Spray cleaners
- Fragrance sprays
- Carpet fresheners
- Fabric softeners
- Drain cleaners
Another thing to note is that you should be wary of anything labeled “green,” “organic,” or “eco-friendly.” Just because something is “organic” does not necessarily mean that it is healthy or safe. However, you may see products labeled as “safer choice.” These cleaning products are actually regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and they’re aimed at reducing, eliminating, or preventing pollution at its source. In many cases, these cleaning products can be a safer alternative for COPD patients but many of them still contain chemicals.
How to Make Safe Cleaning Products at Home
Believe it or not, homemade cleaning products can be extremely effective and they can also be much safer to use than store-bought items. When you make your own cleaners, you’ll know exactly what’s in them and you won’t have to worry about reading through and researching a long list of ingredients.
According to Healthline, some of the safest and most effective ingredients you can use to make homemade cleaning products include white vinegar, lemon juice, methylated spirits (denatured alcohol, and baking soda. Unlike the harsh chemicals found in store-bought products, COPD patients typically don’t have any reactions when exposed to these ingredients.
If you want to clean your floor or countertops, combine boiling water with either lemon juice, white vinegar, or methylated spirits. This will make a great degreaser and prove much more effective than a wet rag. If you want to clean a mirror, vinegar and water is a great combination. For removing stains, soda water is your best bet.
Keep Your Home Well Ventilated
Ventilation is imperative when it comes to keeping your home clean. Simply put, ventilation refers to the healthy exchange of air between the inside of your home and outdoors. This prevents harmful chemicals, moisture, and other allergens from concentrating in your home and posing a serious health risk. One of the best ways to ventilate your home is to simply crack a window when you’re cleaning.
If you’re worried about allergens making it into your home through the window, you can install a screen. While this won’t block out all allergens, it will prevent some of the larger particles from entering your home. Another thing you can do is change up the air filters on your HVAC system. The air filter or “particle filter” is designed to remove allergens from the air as it’s circulated throughout your home. However, over time, these filters can become very dirty. Not only will this start spiking your utility bills, but it won’t filter airborne pollutants correctly.
Choose the Right Tool for the Job
Aside from choosing the right cleaning products, you also need to choose the right tools for cleaning your home. COPD is a debilitating condition so you may need to find creative ways of doing things that won’t add any unnecessary strain on your lungs and the rest of your body. For example, if you need to clean in a hard-to-reach area, be sure to use a cleaning device with an extendable handle. This way, you won’t have to strain yourself or risk falling just to clean your home.
If you’ve been prescribed long-term supplemental oxygen therapy, another thing that can help is a portable oxygen concentrator. If you already use a stationary oxygen concentrator or oxygen tank for your oxygen needs, a portable oxygen concentrator will provide you with much more freedom to navigate your home with ease. Rather than having to be plugged into a wall outlet, POCs operate off of powerful lithium-ion batteries so you won’t be relegated to one room of the house.
Portable oxygen concentrators like the Caire FreeStyle Comfort and Inogen One G5 are very lightweight and compact, so you can carry them around all day without feeling exhausted or out of breath. The FreeStyle Comfort even has an ergonomic curve design that will prevent the unit from sliding around at your side while you’re cleaning the house. Once you’re ready for a break from cleaning, simply plug your device into the wall and by the time you’re ready to go again, you’ll have a full battery.
If you’re someone who needs more oxygen to keep you going, the Respironics SimplyGo may be the portable oxygen concentrator for you. This is a continuous flow unit meaning it puts out a constant stream of oxygen rather than “boluses” of oxygen like the FreeStyle Comfort and the Inogen G5. While the Respironics SimplyGo is a bit heavier than these two, it will provide you with more options including the ability to use your POC with your CPAP or BiPAP machine while you sleep.
Don’t Forget to Declutter Your Home
While you’re up and about cleaning your home, it’s also a good idea to spend some time decluttering your home. “Decluttering” simply means reorganizing or getting rid of some of your belongings in order to make your home more comfortable and easy to navigate. This is very important if you’re a COPD patient because having to navigate a messy home can be very challenging and dangerous.
We briefly discussed decluttering in our post about COPD and balance issues, but the basic idea is that you want to create a living space that’s accommodating of your lung condition. First and foremost, you should remove any belongings from the floor that could be a tripping hazard such as clothing, cables, and even furniture. Taking the time to move these things out of the way of where you walk in your home can go a long way toward making your home safer and more accommodating for you and your guests.
If you want to go the extra mile, you might want to consider installing a medical alert system in your home. This consists of a receiver that’s plugged into the wall and a small button that can be worn around your neck. If you take a fall or experience a COPD exacerbation in your home, simply press the button and medical personnel will immediately be sent to your home. These are a must-have for any COPD patient, especially if you don’t have friends or caretakers who visit your home regularly.
Get Outside When You Can
According to the EPA, indoor air pollution can be 2 to 5 times greater than outdoor air pollution. The reason for this is because indoor air pollutants are concentrated in a small area whereas outdoor air pollution can dissipate. While you can and should take the time to clean your home, you should be going outside as much as possible to get some fresh air.
AirNow.gov has a great air pollution map that will give you a good idea of how clean the air is in your area. Simply visit their site and type in your ZIP code. You’ll be given a number anywhere between 0 and 500 with 0 being the least polluted and 500 being the most polluted. It’s recommended that COPD patients avoid going outside if the air quality index (AQI) is over 100. However, people with severe COPD may only want to go outside when it’s below 50 AQI.
While the AQI is a good indication of the air quality in your area, it’s not 100% accurate. If you live in a very urban area with a lot of traffic, the air quality may be lower than what the website tells you. As such, it’s important to use your best judgment before going outside. Try going out when traffic has settled down and try to stay away from the roads as much as possible.
The temperature is another important factor to consider before going outside. Extreme conditions of any kind can lead to exacerbation of COPD. Low temperatures can be particularly difficult for COPD patients because inhaling cold air can thicken your mucus making it more difficult to breathe. Hot temperatures can cause you to feel exhausted more quickly and also exacerbate respiratory problems.
Schedule a Home Inspection
If you want to take the extra step towards making your home as accommodating as possible for your COPD, you should consider scheduling a home inspection. This is when a professional safety inspector walks through your home and performs a variety of tests designed to determine the safety of your home. While you may think of a home inspector as someone who examines the structural integrity of a home, they also play an important role in determining its cleanliness as well.
One important thing your home inspector will do is evaluate your HVAC system. This includes things like your heater, air conditioner, air ducts, and air filters. He/she will check to ensure that there are no leaks and that your system is circulating clean air throughout your home. The inspector will also look for water damage or plumbing leaks throughout the home that could lead to the growth of mold. Several types of mold, like black mold, can be very hazardous to your health. Black mold poisoning is associated with a chronic cough, fatigue, and irritation in the throat and eyes.
Home inspectors won’t fix these issues within your home. Rather, they provide you with a list of potential problems in your home and advise you on what to do or who to call to get the issues resolved. However, hiring a home inspector is still a very important step because you may be exposed to harmful airborne irritants unknowingly. Many people live with health issues for years only to find out they had a mold or HVAC problem that they were unaware of.
Recruit Help With Cleaning
There’s no doubt about it, cleaning can be exhausting. If you feel like you have a lot to clean and not a lot of time to do it, you may want to start outsourcing work to friends, family, or even a caretaker. While physical exercise is a must for any COPD patient, too much exercise or overexertion can lead to a flare-up in your symptoms, most notably chest pain, breathlessness, and fatigue.
There’s no shame in asking for help with cleaning your home, especially when your well-being is at stake. However, if you decide to recruit help from a friend or family member be sure to let them know about your safe cleaning routine. Let them know that you’re concerned about the chemicals in common store-bought cleaning products and show them how to make the homemade cleaning products we discussed earlier in this post.
Maintaining a healthy living environment is one of the most important things you can do as a COPD patient. Poor air quality in your home will not only irritate your skin and eyes, but it can damage your lungs and lead to flare-ups in your respiratory symptoms. COPD patients who do not breathe clean air are more likely to experience exacerbations that can lead to hospitalization.
Unfortunately, simply cleaning more often or more thoroughly is not the solution. You need to be careful about what cleaning products you’re using and how they affect the quality of air within your home. You should also take additional steps like ensuring your home is well-ventilated and that you’re keeping dust and mold in check.
If you found this post useful, don’t forget to bookmark it so you can refer back to it in the future. And if you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below.