While summer is a good time to tidy up the outside of your home and spring is the perennial favorite for decluttering, winter is the prime season for clearing out and cleaning up the basement and garage.
Do you really need all those almost-empty cans of paint from your living room renovation five years ago? Or that rake missing half its tines?
Still, while you’re sure to have a sweet feeling of relief when the job is done, there’s a potential dark side to your accomplishment: You risk stirring up all manner of microscopic, unhealthy particulate matter and other substances already residing in your basement and garage, further spreading it into the air—and perhaps even finding its way into the rest of your house.
The air down there is probably some of the unhealthiest in your entire home, so you really want to be careful when you’re cleaning that part of the house. Basements—and especially those unpleasant crawl spaces—are humid leading to a collection of mold and dust, both of which are potential allergens and irritants.
Common materials used in finished basements make the environment even worse. Gypsum wallboard, a standard in many finished basements, for example, absorbs moisture and, as a result can harbor lots of mold. Another potential problem: Carpeting, which can absorb moisture through the house foundation. That, in turn, creates more humidity and, of course, mold. And while the carpet might be mold resistant, all the dust and skin cells in the fibers are not.
Unfinished basements have their own hazards, with lots of debris, dirt and dust, all of which encourage fungal growth. And another thing: Just because you have a door separating the finished and unfinished parts of the basement doesn’t mean harmful particles will be completely blocked from entering the air.
You know all those household chemicals, glues, solvents, paints and the like you have in your garage, not to mention gas for your lawnmower and oil for your car? Even when they’re just sitting there, many of these substances slowly release pollutants into the air. When you start disturbing them in the course of a clean-up project, you’ll likely trigger the discharge of even more contaminants.
That’s particularly true for attached garages, from which unhealthy particles can seep into the rest of the house. Researchers at the University of Michigan who have studied attached garages in 15 single-family homes found that nearly all of the benzene and most of the fuel‐related aromatics detected in the houses resulted from migration from garages.
How to keep your winter cleaning healthy? Using a smart air purifier with a HEPA air filter can help you breathe easier as you clear out your garage and basement—and prevent your project from stirring up more trouble than it’s worth.