Sarah: You’re Listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. A podcast that explores the interaction between people, design, and activity. Good Fit Poor Fit is part of The Universal Design Project, a nonprofit organization with a vision for every community across the USA to have a surplus of homes and opportunities for social participation that are universally and financially accessible.
[00:00:27] Learn more at universaldesign.org.
[00:00:31] Hi Good Fit Poor Fit listeners, Rebecca and I are excited to be back with you for another episode. Being at home a lot with this pandemic has really gotten us thinking about all of the cleaning we’re doing in our homes. We are making more meals, doing more activities around the home, and I’m constantly making sure our floors and surfaces are clean with a toddler around.
[00:00:52] Plus I think everyone has sanitizing on their mind with COVID. So that got us thinking about universal design and cleaning. Are there decisions and choices that could be made during the design process to make it easier for everyone to keep their homes clean?
[00:01:07] What about the products and surfaces we choose for our homes? Can they go a step further in reducing the burden of keeping our home safe, sparkly, clean, and healthy? Well, we think so. And I’m excited to discuss some ideas today. Also, something that’s important to note. Though everyone, disability or not, would jump on some ideas to make it easier to keep their homes clean, there are a few other reasons why people living with a short-term or long-term illness or disability may find this particularly important.
[00:01:38] Some people may find it difficult to reach things to give them a deep scrub and operating traditional cleaning tools like brooms, vacuums, and mops can be difficult due to pain or lack of mobility.
[00:01:51] Some people may struggle with just getting motivated to start cleaning so things tend to keep building and building and it makes this task seem too difficult to complete. Some people are very sensitive to allergens, mold, dust, and even chemicals used to clean the environment or maybe in building materials and may have neurological symptoms arise with some of those things present.
[00:02:14] So I’m sure there are many others, but those are just a few thoughts I had. So let’s get our clean on. Rebecca, let’s start with one of those weekly tasks that come up in any home: cleaning floors.
[00:02:27] Rebecca: Ah, yes, my Mom’s favorite Sunday football time chore. But actually, I’m going to take a few pages out of my Aunt Diane’s book for this topic.
[00:02:37] She is a clean home expert. She recently told me that in her all her years cleaning, she’s found that the carpet is the least time-consuming surface to clean. She made the point that other than carpets, every other floor surface wood, laminate, et cetera, takes at least two steps to get fully clean and clear of debris and dirt.
[00:03:00] Sarah: Well, that’s a really good point about the two steps. There are times where Scott will offer to help use our steam up on our hardwood floors and I’m always saying that I need to vacuum before he uses it so we just don’t push that dirt around and get it wet.
[00:03:14] Rebecca: Yes exactly. The very same conversation occurs in my house.
[00:03:19] And I hadn’t really thought of it that way until Diane said it, but it’s like I said, a fantastic point. That being said, if you’re prone to allergies or sensitive to mold, avoiding carpet may be the best bet for you. In this case, hardwood is ideal because it’s sealed with polyurethane and can prevent moisture from getting into the subfloor.
[00:03:40] Sarah: Yes, I can totally see that. Plus sometimes thicker carpet and throw rugs can be difficult to clean with high traffic areas. Whether feet are going through or wheels are going through or accidental spills. I’ve spent many hours scrubbing wheelchair tracks out of light-colored carpet in a previous apartment.
[00:04:00] And while we’re on this topic I have to touch on the safety of choosing carpet. Many may know this already, but carpet can be harder for folks to move on that use mobility devices and can act like they’re moving through mud if it’s a really high pile carpet. Plus those little throw rugs are definitely a tripping hazard and people get twisted up in them all the time when trying to move around in mobility equipment.
[00:04:26] Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. And on the topic of moving around with mobility equipment, I think it’s important to note that level floors are critical in homes too. That’s something we talk about a lot, actually in universal design, decreasing the steps and ledges in between rooms to make it easier to pass in and out.
[00:04:46] But if you think about this for cleaning, it makes a whole lot of sense too. By not having a lot of ledges and doorways, it’s a lot easier to vacuum if you do it by hand and it could even allow you to use technology like a Roomba automatic vacuum, if you so prefer. And we can link to a Roomba in the show notes, if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
[00:05:09] Sarah: Yes, that’s a really good point. We actually had a listener write in about topic ideas and she uses a wheelchair. She was actually wondering how to best clean her floors since her shoulders have become sore over the years. And using a traditional vacuum is actually really difficult, especially from a seating seated position.
[00:05:29] I think a Roomba would be a great option for her and a good consideration for others too. I also think they even make Roomba mops, which is really cool too.
[00:05:39] Rebecca: I think you’re right. I think I saw that over the holidays. What a great gift idea. Another thing that you can think about to make vacuuming day easier is furniture that’s a little bit raised as opposed to furniture that sits directly on the floor. This makes it easier to vacuum under pieces. And again, would allow your little Roomba buddy the slide in there, if that’s the way you prefer to clean. So your floors are sparkly clean, but what about your countertops?
[00:06:08] Again, my cleaning expert, Diane said it’s important to think about finishes. Different types of countertops have different cleaning needs. For example, granite is easy to clean, but needs to be resealed every few years, marble is notoriously high maintenance and quartz is becoming more and more popular in recent years as many people actually claim it’s easier to handle than granite and marble while still giving that really beautiful look.
[00:06:37] Regardless of the molecular makeup of your countertops, the color can make a big difference in cleaning ease. A really busy countertop may hide some spills and crumbs, whereas a monochromatic surface will not be so kind.
[00:06:51] Mostly these conversations come up in regard to kitchen countertops, which makes a lot of sense because the kitchen is probably one of the most needy spaces in terms of cleaning. There are some choices that you can make though, that might make it easier for everyone to keep the home spic and span.
[00:07:08] Garbage disposals and dishwashers should not be taken for granted. These products work wonders for cleaning up food and ensuring that your kitchen doesn’t become a restaurant for unwanted critters. If you know what I mean. And on that topic, being proactive about checking for spoiled food can save hours of cleaning time and protect homes from mold. In spaces like cabinets, where there’s poor airflow, this is especially the case.
[00:07:36] I’m in the habit of using Sundays as fridge clean-out days to prevent any science experiments from growing in my kitchen. On a similar note, if we think about the spaces in which we actually store these items, cabinets, and we can make purposeful choices that support cleanliness.
[00:07:54] Though it can look cool to have open shelving, it can create the illusion of clutter, which can be both unnerving and unsightly. Closed shelving provides a more finished and clean look, typically. Also designing cabinetry, such that it stretches all the way to the ceiling with no space on top for dust can be critical in preventing mold. It’s also one less spot to have to climb up to dust and clean, which really isn’t so safe anyway.
[00:08:23] Sarah: Right. And there are devices that you can even install into those top shelving units that pull down, so you can still reach those items on the top shelves. And so there is still hope for those of us who are shorter in stature or can’t reach up that high onto that high shelf because you’re seated.
[00:08:41] We also have to remember that not all people are short. So some people do actually use those upper cabinets. Another important area for cleaning is, of course, the laundry room. There has been a debate about top-loading washers and front-loading washers for many years in regard to getting your clothes clean and actually being able to use those machines. In regard to getting clothes clean. I’ve heard many say that top loaders actually clean clothes better than front loaders because they have that middle agitator to scrub clothes around more. And top-loading washers are also less likely to have mold buildup around the door.
[00:09:20] Front-loading washers typically have more mold build up in that rubber gasket at the door area, which then transfers onto clothing when items are pulled out. We leave the door open on our washer after the cycle to help reduce mold buildup. But I do have to make sure I clean that gasket frequently. I’ll link an article about what manufacturers say about front loaders and keeping them clean. But talking about how people actually use the machine, front loaders are typically more functional for those who are seated or short in stature, because people don’t have to reach over and bend into the machine to get things out.
[00:10:00] Many can’t even see into the machine to get those pesky socks that are stuck to the bottom. So I think people have a few things to consider here when they’re deciding on the right machine to get their clothes clean.
[00:10:13] Another thing that’s important for the design is making sure there is a floor drain in the laundry area. Laundry rooms and bathrooms are two places where water is likely to overflow. So it’s important to have that safeguard there, so you don’t have to deal with a mess or potential mold issues in the future.
[00:10:31] Rebecca: Yes, the drainage is critical. Like you said, in both the laundry room and the bathroom. And I actually think that the bathroom can be one of the trickiest places in the home to clean because that’s definitely not the kind of place you want to be negligent with, but it has some funny nooks and crannies that can be hard to maneuver around.
[00:10:53] As some of you may know, a universal design staple is the zero entry shower. So a shower that you can just walk, or roll, or, move into, without having to step over a ledge. And this actually helps with cleaning, if you think about it. Because with this design, it’s not necessary to reach over a ledge to clean or contort your body into a weird and uncomfortable position to get into the bathtub to clean or into the shower to clean.
[00:11:24] Also from a design standpoint, selecting larger tiles for the shower still can decrease the amount of grout. On the one hand, this can make it easier to clean, but on the other hand, having smaller tiles, and therefore more grout, especially on the floor, can make it easier for your feet to grip the ground beneath you and prevent slipping.
[00:11:45] And this is one of those cases where personal preference and need would come into play when designing your shower stall. Sarah wasn’t there a previous Good Fit Poor Fit all about a bathing apparatus. Standalone tub, I think?
[00:11:58] Sarah: Yep. That’s right. In one of our previous episodes, we did a segment on standalone tubs. I’ll make sure we link that episode in the show notes, but basically, our team and our Design Advisors didn’t think those standalone tubs were very functional at all.
[00:12:13] Unsafe actually. But another reason they did not like this item in their bathrooms was the placement and relation to the wall. Many of these tubs are located in a corner or along a wall with a big gap between the tub and the wall. This open space requires you to have to clean in between the tub and the wall where all that dust, hair, and dirt can collect.
[00:12:36] Also, on your point above about grout, I know a lot of additional scrubbing comes along with grout, whether it’s either in the shower tiles or on the bathroom floor. So that is important to note too. If tile is desired, maybe having those grout lines a different color than white, so high traffic areas don’t end up looking discolored.
[00:12:57] Rebecca: That is a great point. My mom always laments about her very old shower, “never looking clean,” to use her words for that exact reason. You can scrub and scrub, but after all those years, the white grout is just not going to be so white anymore. Another feature of the bathroom is, of course, the toilet and wall-mounted toilets might be easier to clean under, which is great.
[00:13:22] But these types of toilets are hard to make widely accessible due to the height issue. In universal design, we want to make sure that a lot of different people could use the toilet safely. So this might not be the best choice. One less difficult consideration is a toilet with a seat that easily pops off to allow for simple access to disinfect.
[00:13:46] And again, not necessarily design-related, but using the cleaning tablets you can just pop in the toilet may be a really functional method for some people. Whether it’s tough to position yourself to clean the toilet, or to hold a brush and scrub, or frankly if you just don’t have the time or the patience to sit there and do it. We do not judge you cleaning haters out there.
[00:14:08] We do not judge you.
[00:14:11] Sarah: Exactly. I like to keep my cleaning time down to a minimum. Another point about bathrooms, before we move on. With all these temperature changes and added steam in this area of the home, a window and an exhaust fan in each bathroom, if possible, can also help cut down on mold and keep moisture from sticking around longer than desired.
[00:14:32] And that brings me to another point about areas in the home that might not get a ton of attention in regard to cleaning. Windows and doors. I usually notice I need to clean them when I can’t clearly see through the toddler fingerprints. Other people may have to say the same thing with dog nose prints, but I also notice the dust at other grime that tends to build up, especially with condensation that occurs in colder weather. Considering the type of windows you have installed and how easy they are to reach and clean is important.
[00:15:03] Windows that slide up and down and flip down for cleaning aren’t the easiest to manipulate and reach for everyone. But windows that crank out can make it easier to operate. Also those screens. Can they easily pop out to clean? Considering the height that windows are installed is important to think about in the design for ease of cleaning and being able to see outside if you’re shorter or taller.
[00:15:27] I know it’s not possible to get the entire window within reach for everyone to clean, but I’m sure there’s some long-handled options to clean windows efficiently without having to jump onto a wobbly step stool. Most of all though, quality efficient windows and doors are really important to prevent the buildup of condensation, which could lead to unwanted mold and mildew growth like I’ve mentioned before. Positioning windows and doors on either side of the house also allows for full airflow too, when you just need a good cross breeze and some fresh outdoor air.
[00:16:01] Rebecca: Yep. I hear ya. I am all about a good cross breeze, especially in the transitional seasons. Those nice, cool fall nights?
[00:16:10] It’s beautiful. Another tricky spot to access in the home are chandeliers and light fixtures, and these can get pretty dusty. So if it’s possible, installing a chandelier elevator, which allows such fixtures to raise and lower with a switch can be a real lifesaver if possible.
[00:16:29] Sarah: Well, that’s pretty genius.
[00:16:31] I have not heard of these chandelier elevators, how convenient. I know my parents also struggle to keep fans clean that are up in high ceilings and they got some of those long-handled brushes to do the task. But that could really do a number on your neck too. So if you’re able to get high things down to do some scrubbing, I could see that being much easier.
[00:16:54] Rebecca: Yeah, I absolutely love this idea. I walk by my chandelier all the time and think, “ew, when was the last time that thing was dusted?” So I personally would love to have this feature. Now, Sarah, before we wrap up, did you want to share some of the unfortunate lessons that some of your friends learned regarding overall house considerations to reduce the possibility of mold?
[00:17:17] Sarah: Yes. So you’ve probably noticed quite a bit of talk in this episode about cleaning related to mold. When Rebecca suggested this topic of keeping your house clean in regard to the design of your home, I instantly knew I needed to reach out to two of my friends. Both of their families have had significant health problems due to mold issues in their homes.
[00:17:37] And I know that they’ve made some big changes to keep some things clean. This includes potential mold in the air, mold on surfaces, and mold in water. Their exposure was so extensive that they actually moved out of their homes, relocated to another area of the country, and had to get rid of many of their belongings.
[00:17:58] Thankfully their symptoms have been reduced, but they’ve learned a lot in the process. And I know they’d be a great resource helping out with some content for this episode. So thanks Amy and Heather. In addition to some of the design considerations they contributed to above, I also asked them about what cleaning products they used and what type of things can be done to help with air quality that’s a concern.
[00:18:22] I know these days, many people are concerned about what’s in their cleaning products and have moved on to some more natural ways of cleaning because they may be sensitive to chemicals as well.
[00:18:33] But if you haven’t heard of Norwex, they have a great line of products that have silver in them and actually cleans things naturally. My friend suggested using Norwex Envirocloths as they pick up the mold and dust off surfaces. And they also use a Norwex mop as well. I like to use these products too, and I try to get my daughter involved in the cleaning.
[00:18:55] So I know she can easily help and not get chemicals all over her hands, too. They also suggest a vacuum with HEPA filters, SEBO or Miele are very good brands. And then consider air purifiers in most rooms of the house.
[00:19:10] So, why air purifiers? My friends and their families are so sensitive to mold that they have neurological symptoms pop up when they are exposed. So they have to try to keep their home as clean as possible. Unfortunately, when their home may become exposed to moldy food, or even when people visit who live in a moldy environment or have mold on their clothing, they actually need to take extra measures with the air purifiers.
[00:19:37] They shared that there are also sprays and laundry additives to help with the mold and air quality. But first and foremost, you would need to identify the underlying cause of the mold from wherever it is, and then figure out how it can be removed or remediated. They’ve also noted that they tried air purifiers from Costco, Reme Halo, and Air Safeti Brand air scrubbers, which was used when they had direct exposure from others.
[00:20:05] Obviously cleaning and regular home maintenance are highly important, so you can quickly address any issues that arise. So maybe water leaking, moldy food in the pantry, and checking the HVAC handler for mold.
[00:20:19] This was a really good point. The location of the HVAC is important too. They suggest not putting it in a crawlspace or attic because condensation is easily able to collect on the air handler, which is the perfect condition for mold to grow and spread throughout the entire house. They suggest checking for leaks under the sink when you get your supplies out to clean, or maybe get that dishwasher tablet to put into the dishwasher.
[00:20:47] 48 hours of moisture left untouched, especially in a humid environment, allows mold to grow. The same goes for making sure you monitor the overall humidity and the home regularly. It should be below 50% on all floors of the home to keep any mold or mildew from growing.
[00:21:04] And one last thing in regard to the design and build of your home. Considering the building materials. Building materials can be delivered moldy, but a responsible builder will send it back instead of using them. They said there is a mold-resistant drywall that can be considered as well. Also, glues and paints can have chemicals in them that cause difficulty for people.
[00:21:29] So I’m really thankful for a lot of these little tidbits and information they shared with me. I’ve seen firsthand with them, how mold can really cause some concerning issues for their health. And I’m glad they were able to share some of these things that they learned to hopefully help others consider it in their design decisions or daily cleaning decisions to help reduce mold exposure.
[00:21:54] Rebecca: Yeah, I would say that mold was not something I was expecting or hoping to learn through this job, but I do feel more prepared to someday be a responsible homeowner now. So that’s a plus and I appreciate that knowledge.
[00:22:11] Sarah: Definitely.
[00:22:12] Rebecca: Whew, okay. After all of this, I feel ready to take on my next round of cleaning with a new fervor.
[00:22:19] Thanks to our contributors for this episode. And thanks to you for tuning in. Stay healthy, happy, and clean. And we’ll talk to you again real soon.
[00:22:28] Thanks for listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. I’m your host Sarah Pruett, Program Director and Occupational Therapist at The Universal Design Project. Learn more about our work at universaldesign.org, and find more episodes and links to subscribe at goodfitpoorfit.com. If you have questions or topics you’d like to discuss, email us at [email protected]
[00:22:55] Thanks for fitting us into your day!