The healthy house
Wellness begins at home, writes Caroline Foran who shares expert tips on purifying your environment
In January, health becomes the primary focus for most people. We ease up on the alcohol (well, at least we try to, midweek) we prioritise our sleep and we embark on new fitness routines. But if you're looking for a 360 approach to your health and wellbeing, perhaps you should start at home - where you'll spend most of your time in January, anyway. After all, if you want to have a healthy new year in every sense, they say it pays to start with a healthy environment. But it's not a merely a case of taking down the tree and giving the place a bit of a tidy. Here, we ask the experts how to go deeper to create a healthy home this year.
Declutter & get washing
Spend your cosy nights in deciding on the style and tone of your living space. If you begin the year with this in mind you will make better purchasing decisions, you'll be less likely to pick up things for the sake of it and you will find it easier to do away with the soft furnishings that are just taking up space - both physically and mentally. Do you really need six cushions for one sofa? Get rid of festive scents you've been burning throughout December. Pack them out of sight for the next 11 months and introduce a small sample of fresh new candles. Throw out the bed sheets you are no longer using, and make upgrading your sheets a priority if they're old and balling. A healthy sleep won't happen without healthy sheets. Wash all bedsheets, cuddly toys and towels in a 60°C wash to ensure the quelling of dust mites.
Greenery won't just fill the void where the Christmas tree once stood, or tick your aesthetic boxes, it has its health benefits too. Releasing oxygen and soaking up carbon dioxide, plants cleanse the air in your home, eliminating harmful toxins. In fact, extensive research by NASA says that house plants can remove up to 87pc of air toxins within just 24 hours. Beyond this, studies have also shown that houseplants boost your mood and productivity while reducing stress levels. Give some thought to the plants you choose and the environment they need. For example, succulents and cacti love the heat, so if you have a room that bakes during the day, fill it with these babies. On the other hand, Aloe Vera is a plant that's said to enhance sleep, so that one works for the bedroom. Not just for the hallway, "add plants to every room", says Helen James, author of A Sense of Home, "for a cost-effective way to improve air quality at home".
Air it out
Set the oven to self-clean mode if you can, and open the windows while that takes care of itself, cleansing the air in general. Leave upstairs windows open while you focus on chores downstairs and then switch. Window opening doesn't happen much throughout winter but from mould spores to chemical off-gassing from paint, carpets and cleaning products, the air inside our homes can be up to five times more polluted than outside air. This is particularly important for asthma sufferers, according to the Asthma Society of Ireland: Cracking windows "helps clear out the fumes, smoke and dust in the air which can cause asthma symptoms, as well helping to reduce the indoor humidity that leads to mould."
If you suffer with allergies, switch to allergen-free cleaning products, of which there are many. Asthma or no asthma, instead of dusting your furniture with a spray that just adds more chemicals into the mix, swap for microfibre dusters that need no product. These attract dirty particles instead of scattering them, which, a lot of the time, is what we wind up doing. Don't just cleanse stuff, cleanse the energy too. Helen James recommends a sage cleansing ritual at home. "Do this by burning a smudge stick and carrying it throughout the house, paying attention to corners, high traffic areas and entryways." This changes the ionic composition of the air and is said to have a direct - and positive - effect on stress levels.
Let there be light
We vacuum every week, sometimes twice or three times, but how often do we get industrial with our windows? Cleaning windows isn't as easy as it sounds, because the wrong products will leave you with a streaky mess. Even water from the garden hose is ill-advised, because of the minerals and sediments that dry and appear visible on the outside. Invest instead in a professional window cleaner for the whole house at least once every three months. Tend to the interiors of your windows once a month and if you prefer to steer clear of chemical products, mix one-part hot water to one-part distilled vinegar for an effective solution. Vinegar can also work well on mirrors. The more light you let in, the more you raise serotonin levels in the brain which boost the mood and can combat the low feelings associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Thinking practically, you will decrease your chance of a trip or fall - and you'll be better able to see any dust building up, too.
Be carbon monoxide alert
This is not something you deal with when it happens, says Owen Wilson, Networks Safety Manager for Gas Networks Ireland. Carbon monoxide is often known as the 'silent killer' and, at high levels, it can kill in as little as three minutes. On average six people in Ireland die each year as a result of unintentional CO poisoning. At low levels, it can cause serious illness. Carbon monoxide is colourless and odourless, making it very difficult for households to detect. The poisonous gas can be caused by any fossil fuel that burns including oil, gas, peat turf, wood and wood pellets, petrol, diesel and coal. There are a number of ways to prevent CO poisoning and simple steps you can take to protect you and your family. Installing a carbon monoxide alarm is essential in homes burning any fuels to detect the deadly gas. Make sure all appliances are installed and serviced annually by a qualified service technician for your fuel type. Sweep chimneys regularly and make sure flues are kept clear. Visit carbonmonoxide.ie for more information.