Tuesday 16 July 2019

How often should you wash - and throw out - your pillows?

Clean means different things to different people - but do you know just how often you should throw out your pillows? Kathy Donaghy asks the experts

Kathy Donaghy is ready to tackle the grime that may be lurking in her house. Photo: Lorcan Doherty Photography
Kathy Donaghy is ready to tackle the grime that may be lurking in her house. Photo: Lorcan Doherty Photography
Kathy Donaghy is ready to tackle the grime that may be lurking in her house. Photo: Lorcan Doherty Photography
Sweeping it under the carpet simply won't do.

'Is your home toxic?" the magazine article asked. I certainly hoped not. As I read on, it helpfully suggested the myriad ways my home could indeed by harbouring toxins and allergens in corners where the hoover and dishcloth didn't reach.

When it comes to home hygiene, what's clean to one person isn't going to cut the mustard with another. But are there some basic rules around cleaning your home that are non-negotiable?

Aside from having to clean the bathroom more than once a day ­- I have two boys ­- I'm pretty much a "lick and a promise" kind of person when it comes to cleaning. "It'll do" is my mantra.

While there is no doubt that certain satisfaction can be taken from clean floors and gleaming surfaces, I'd usually rather be doing anything else than cleaning.

Sweeping it under the carpet simply won't do.
Sweeping it under the carpet simply won't do.

But a whole new body of research suggests that cleaning your home ­- not just of the grit and grime, but of the clutter - is also good for the mind, allowing you to create space for new things in your life, not just more stuff.

I have a look around and decide that I could definitely do with a major belated spring-clean and a clear-out. Toys the kids have grown out of - but don't want to part with - books that have been read, drawers full of chargers and gadgets, snippets of paper that I kept for some reason and stacks of CDs I never play means every space is crammed beyond capacity.

Where to begin is the problem. I decide to take it on a room-by-room basis and start in the kitchen. According to Dr Linda Gordon of Safe Food, which promotes food safety in this country, while it's important to give your kitchen a thorough clean daily, people often mistake this with spraying anti-bacterial gels and liquids on every surface and this isn't necessary.

She says anything that comes into contact with raw meat should be washed in warm, soapy water and that it's a good idea to keep separate chopping boards for vegetables and meat.

How often should I wash my fridge?

Dr Gordon says it's also a good idea to get into the habit of giving your fridge a good clean out every two weeks. However, she advises that you check every week for food that's past its best-before date. If food has been opened, the use-by date doesn't apply and you should bear that in mind when getting rid of leftovers. The basic rule of thumb is if it's been open and in the fridge for three days or more, bin it.

Dr Gordon says surfaces in the kitchen should be dried as well as washed as moist surfaces with warm temperatures are breeding grounds for bugs. Dishcloths should be changed every two days, but if you've cleaned up raw meat juices, you should discard the cloth as rinsing it under the tap can risk spreading germs, she says.

Other things to keep an eye on in the kitchen are food debris building up in cupboards where food is stored and making sure that raw meat stored in the fridge is in a covered dish on the bottom shelf.

Research conducted by Safe Food shows that putting on a wash at 40 degrees was enough to clean tea towels sufficiently. The temperature combined with the friction of movement in the machine showed the temperature did not need to be dialled up for kitchen hand towels and other washing. So far, so good. I'm not a complete slattern. I fear that I may be when it comes to other areas.

I suffer from hay fever and find that cat and dog hair irritates my eyes and nose. Our cat is well-known for taking lazy naps on a comfy arm chair. I also fear that dust may not be doing my symptoms any good. So is hoovering the carpets and giving the soft furnishings a shake enough to make sure that dust and animal hair is banished?

I call Dr Paul Carson, an allergist who works in Dublin's Slievemore Clinic, for advice. He explains that dust mites and pet hair are the most important cause of allergy problems. And because they may not always be avoided it's best to minimise the "allergy load" in your home.

How often should I wash my bed linen?

Here comes the science bit and it's not comforting. Mites live comfortably in mattresses, pillows, duvets, blankets, carpets, soft furnishings, curtains and similar fabrics. Female mites lay up to 50 eggs, with a new generation produced every three weeks. Each mite produces about 20 waste particles every day.

Dr Carson says people who have tested positive for dust allergies must put in place a more comprehensive regime which involves completely stripping beds and airing mattresses once a week, buying low-allergy pillows and keeping soft toys to a minimum.

He says that it's not a good idea to let animal hair build up on soft furnishings as while you might not be allergic to it, a caller to your home may well be. In an ideal world, he says, animals would never be allowed in bedrooms.

According to Dr Carson, allergies are on the increase. "One of the reasons why experts think there's such an increase in allergies is because everything is so hygienic. There was none of this anti-bacterial stuff when I was growing up. It's a modern phenomenon. The specialists that investigate this believe that the over-sanitisation of society means children are not being exposed to bacteria and allergies are forming," he says. I'm starting to feel that my mantra of "it'll do" is actually OK. A phrase my mother used to use when we were children comes to mind when she would differentiate between "clean dirt" and the real nasty kind.

How often should I throw out my pillow?

Sleep expert Lucy Wolfe is also adamant that a bedroom environment should not be a place overburdened with distractions. It should be cool, comfortable and dark and not full of clutter. Her advice is that mattresses should be replaced every seven to ten years and pillows every two and all bedding should be laundered weekly.

It looks like I'm doing well in some areas and not so well in others. I think the simplest thing is to break things down into manageable parts reminding myself that Rome wasn't built in a day. I'll start with a cup of tea before taking on the odd sock drawer.


And lastly to the bedrooms. I fall down spectacularly here, largely because I refuse to get rid of any of my clothes. If one's bedroom is meant to be a space of relaxing calm with muted tones of dove grey, mine is a riot of colour with dresses hanging inside and outside my overflowing wardrobe. It would literally kill me to part with a single dress, even if I haven't worn it in years. I fear Marie Kondo, whose best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying invites self-purging of stuff, would run a mile from me.

There's science to back up all this tidying. In 2011, researchers at Princeton University found that clutter can actually make it more difficult to focus on a particular task. Specifically, they found that the visual cortex can be overwhelmed by task-irrelevant objects, making it harder to allocate attention and complete tasks efficiently.

Decluttering experts Frances Murphy and Mary Shannon from Cork, who set up mnfdecluttering.com - a decluttering service - several years ago, say for most people, the bedroom is the worst place in the house and they advise people to start there.

Their advice is simple: don't put stuff in bags - put it away properly. They believe if you can't see stuff hanging in the wardrobe, there's too much in there.

They suggest that not only is tidying and making space in your bedroom good for aesthetics, it's also therapeutic and frees people from the burden of simply having too much stuff. When they go to someone's house - in some cases people have clothes they haven't worn in over 20 years - the decluttering is like an unravelling of all their psychological baggage, says Frances.

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