The birds are chirping, the sky is blue, your windows can finally stay open for a while…it’s time to clean winter out of your house! Before you start liberating your cluttered cupboards and flinging dust all about, you should take time to make sure your approach is the safest possible one. Cleaning can be dangerous work, after all. All the bending, lifting, twisting, climbing, spraying and scrubbing you’re about to do could land you in the hospital if you’re not careful.

CLEANING CHEMICALS

When was the last time you checked out the instructions and warnings on your bottle of window cleaner? Do you always wear goggles and a respirator when you spray down your shower walls with mold and mildew killer? Did you know that most cleaning products are corrosive? This might be a good time to review the back of the bottles on those cleaners you use. Go ahead; we’ll wait for you to come back.

Okay, now that you’ve refreshed your memory about what kind of substances you’re working with we can talk about some specific safety tips:

  • Though most of the products available for home-use are fairly safe, you should keep cleaning agents in their original containers and NEVER mix chemicals.
  • Ventilation is critical to indoor air quality and your health. Make sure you’ve got good airflow where you’re using chemicals, and avoid using them around children.
  • Be sure you know exactly what the following “signal words” mean:

Caution: the product should be used carefully but is relatively safe.

Warning: the product is moderately toxic.

Danger: the product is highly toxic and may cause permanent damage to skin and eyes.

See more at Cleanlink’s website.

Washington’s Poison Center provides free and expert treatment advice over the phone. If anyone ingests cleaning chemicals, you should immediately call them at 1-800-222-1222, or dial 711. It’s a good idea to post these numbers somewhere you will be able to look in an emergency, or save them to your contacts list on your cell phone.

If you get a chemical in your eye, flush it clean with water for at least 15 minutes.

LIFTING, BENDING AND TWISTING

We’ve all done it – just couldn’t wait for help to get that box out of the way of your attic organizing could you? So you donned your superhero cape and, with a grunt and a swift exhale, you picked up that cardboard interloper yourself and hauled it across the room to its new home. Now you can’t seem to bring yourself back to an upright position. The following tips would have been helpful, and now that we’ve learned what the wrong way feels like, we’re ready to review the correct way to lift, bend and twist.

  • Know how much you can lift and don’t try to lift more than that. You’re not going to suddenly turn into The Incredible Hulk, and it’s really hard to call for an ambulance when you’re trapped under something heavy.
  • Stand as close to whatever you’re lifting as possible, and hold it as close to you as you can – most things won’t bite, unless you’re lifting a child – then we can’t make any guarantees.
  • Bend at the knees and engage your core muscles. Using your abs makes you look awesome, and your legs are actually designed to carry around lots of weight (i.e., you) – using the right muscle groups goes a long way to preventing injury.
  • Lift slowly and do not twist or bend forward as you pick up your object. Remember the tortoise and the hare – slow and steady wins the race.
  • When you set your object down, remember to reverse the process you used to pick it up. Pretend you’re back in gym class doing squats – keep your back straight, use your abs and bend at the knees. Try to avoid leaning too far forward – your knees shouldn’t be further forward than your toes.

CLIMBING

This is the year! You’re going to clean ALL the windows – even that one way up high above the stairs that has been collecting dust and grime for years, right? Before you set up your ladder and grab your window cleaner, let’s go over a few things to keep you on the ladder, above the ground, as you intended.

  • Make sure you’ve got the right ladder for the job. You don’t always need the giant extension ladder, but the top of the one you select should extend at least 3 feet above your working surface. You don’t want to be on the top rung or the “bucket” step – it’s very dangerous, and you can avoid it by simply making sure your ladder is tall enough for the job. Also, you wouldn’t want to use a metal ladder near a power line, or a ladder that won’t hold your weight.
  • Always set up on firm, level ground. If you can’t get level ground, you can purchase leg levelers at nearly any hardware store. You want to make sure, with straight, single or extension ladders that you have a 75 degree angle with whatever you’re leaning it on – test this by standing with your toes touching the ladder’s feet as it leans away from you and extend your arms in front of you. You’ve got the right angle if you can touch the rung that is shoulder height.
  • While you’re getting your ladder in place, take a second to make sure the feet are slip-resistant. Also, make sure you’ve properly secured any rung locks or spreader braces.
  • Climb the ladder only one person at a time. It is a good idea, especially if you’re up really high, to have a “spotter” – someone standing at the base of the ladder, holding onto it for some added stability and to call emergency assistance if you fall off.
  • Okay, this might seem like common sense, but we’ll say it: heed the warnings and follow the directions on the ladder. Manufacturers’ warnings exist for a reason – however silly it might seem, if it’s warned about, it probably happened to someone and that means it can happen to you, too!
  • When you’re done, put the ladder away promptly. It’s not a good plan to leave a raised ladder unattended – someone might walk under it and then have so much bad luck, or a neighbor child could be tempted and climb up to your roof and fall off – you don’t want to have to explain that to your homeowners’ insurance representative.

Okay, so now you’re having flashbacks to that one spring cleaning spree that landed your friend in a cast for three months. You’ve decided to hire someone to do this for you, eh? Well, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that person or people have insurance (in case they fall off your ladder) and to check all your equipment out before they get there. It’d be pretty embarrassing and a waste of cash if your vacuum shorted out because of cord damage and electrocuted the Molly Maid while she was vacuuming your ceiling on a ladder, way high up above the stairs, she fell back, and as she did the rung she was standing on gave way, now wouldn’t it? Doing a run through and making sure everything is in proper working order (whether you’re using it or some other unfortunate soul is) will help prevent injuries and subsequent claims against your homeowners’ insurance policy.