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A fresh start: Spring cleaning tips from a microbiologist and professional organizer

Spring is officially here which means it's time to honour tradition and give your home a good cleaning.
spring cleaning concept shutterstock
Canadians spend over $377,700,000 on house cleaning products a year. Photo/Shutterstock

Spring has sprung in the capital and as tradition would have it, that means it’s time to clean house.

According to Statistics Canada, spring is a popular time to clean, redecorate and declutter. In fact, Canadians spent over $3 billion on warehousing and storage in 2015. 

On top of that, Canadians also shell out over $377,700,000 on household cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, bathroom cleaners and surface cleaning systems each year, global data company Nielsen Canada reported in a 2018 report

For Kathy McEwan, organizing expert and owner of Ottawa’s home organizing business Second Set of Hands, spring is one of the busiest times of the year for her. 

“I think it’s because the weather is getting nicer, it’s getting sunnier and our days are getting longer and people have that itch to get organized and have their home clean and tidy,” McEwan said.

For Canadian microbiologist Jason Tetro, spring signals a new beginning. 

“In essence, you’re getting a fresh start,” he said. “In a way, [cleaning in the spring] makes sense. The weather is warmer and we tend to open our windows and doors to the newly arriving spring. We also tend to have more energy as we experience more daylight. It just makes sense to do something good.”

If knowing where and how to start is a mystery, McEwan and Tetro offer up some easy tips that will help you organize and clean your home like a pro.

Organizing tips from McEwan

Before you start going through boxes and bins, organize yourself and place a recycle bin, trash can and a box for paper nearby, McEwan said. 

“The whole thing with organizing, it’s really just sorting,” she said. “So when you’re going through the sorting process, you want to have everything right beside you so that if you come across recyclable paper (for example) that you don’t have to run to the recycle area to put it away and then come back.” 

One of the biggest mistakes people make, she says, is rushing out to buy products and storage containers before they start to organize because they may not necessarily be needed. 

“Especially with containers, a lot of times you are actually emptying them when you’re organizing and you’re deciding what items you’re going to keep and which ones aren’t,” she said. “So first go through your items and decide what you want to keep, and then when you know what you’re keeping, you’ll be able to know what you need for containers.”

Organizing isn't going to work, though, if there are too many items in a space — that’s where the decluttering and purging comes in. 

“When you’re going through the process of letting things go, don’t pick up every item and ask, ‘Who could I give this to?’” McEwan said. “A lot of people don’t want to let go of their items but they think that if they do they should give it to somebody, but then end up just end up putting it aside. Unless it was valuable or in the family for a long time, then that’s a different situation.”

But if you haven’t used an item in a year, then McEwan says it’s time to let it go. Also, ask yourself, would you buy this item today? If the answer is no — toss it. 

Another thing to do is to just focus on only one room at a time and don’t move onto the next until the first one is completely done with. Even if that one room is overwhelming, McEwan says pick an area of the room to start, like organizing the side table drawer or the closet. 

And don’t feel the need to complete everything in a day, McEwan stresses. Instead, take just 20 minutes a day to do some cleaning or organizing. 

“Organizing is like having a breath of fresh air — we feel so elated when things are organized,” she said. “Even if you tackle one small thing for 20 minutes a day, you’re going to see result by the end of the week.”

Cleaning tips from Tetro

“There are potentially hundreds of different species of bacteria, as well as some fungi and yeast, that can inhabit a home,” Tetro said. “Most of them tend to be harmless and many are the same as our own human microbiota.”

For example, refrigerators in kitchens could be colonized by bacteria which can contaminate other stores foods. They can also attach on to the internal surface of the fridge, posing a risk of indirect and long-term contamination when prepping food, a 2013 study published in the journal Current Microbiology reports. 

To prevent contamination, the study says to wrap stored foods and regularly cleaning fridges.

But if you want to do a thorough cleaning, think about wiping down as many nooks and crannies as you can spot.

“Household dust can carry a variety of species and that will be deposited everywhere,” Tetro said. “For the most part, soapy water will do the trick, but some areas might need disinfections because of the potential pathogens. These include the bathroom, the kitchen and the laundry room.”

Other places to put on the list are the microwave and washing machine basin. 

According to Tetro, these areas tend to accumulate microbes that may possibly develop biofilms that could include potential pathogens. To clean these areas, give them a good wiping with a disinfectant. 

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