- Basement 101
- Store it Safely
- Basement Allergen Control Tips
By definition, a basement is partly or wholly below ground. That means it's more likely to be darker and moister than the rest of the house — a perfect place for mold spores to hang out and multiply. An unfinished basement also may be a dumping ground for things you don't use very often. And those little-used things accumulate dust. If you store old newspapers, books, magazines, letters, bags, boxes or other papers in the basement, they may, over time, get damp and become a breeding ground for mold. If you must save them, store in airtight bins and check periodically for moisture problems.
Many basements also contain heating and cooling equipment, washing machines, water heaters and utility sinks. Each of these presents opportunities for leaks and mold. Check periodically for moisture, mold or smells of mustiness. Even though it's a great idea to run a dehumidifier in the basement, if the machine isn't checked and maintained properly, it, too, can leak and contribute to mold problems.
In addition, you may store paints, paint thinners, fertilizers, antifreeze and other chemicals in the basement or garage. If not stored properly, these can give off fumes that aggravate allergies or asthma and may pose a danger to your children or pets.
Store it Safely
You may not give it a second thought when you carry that half-empty can of paint thinner to the basement and add it to the shelf beside other similar cans and containers. But maybe it's time to give it a thought. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generate 1.6 tons of household hazardous wastes per year, and the average home can accumulate as much as 100 pounds of household hazardous wastes in the basement, garage and other storage areas. The EPA defines household hazardous waste as leftover household products that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable or reactive ingredients. Among those commonly found in homes are paints, cleaners, oils, batteries and pesticides.
If you want to live in a healthy home, it's important to know how to store and dispose of anything containing potentially hazardous ingredients. Before you even get to that stage, EPA recommends reduction, reuse and recycling. Start by reducing your purchase of products that contain hazardous ingredients. EPA suggests these alternative methods and products — without hazardous ingredients — for some common household needs:
- Use a plunger or plumber's snake instead of drain cleaner.
- Avoid oven cleaner by cleaning spills as soon as the oven cools using steel wool and baking soda; for tough stains, add salt (do not use this method in self-cleaning or continuous-cleaning ovens).
- Clean glass by mixing 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice in 1 quart of water. Spray on and use newspaper to wipe dry.
- Use a toilet brush and baking soda or vinegar to clean the toilet bowl; this will clean but not disinfect.
- Polish furniture with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice mixed in 1 pint of mineral or vegetable oil.
- Deodorize dry carpets by sprinkling liberally with baking soda. Wait at least 15 minutes and vacuum. Repeat if necessary.
- Polish silver using nonabrasive toothpaste.
- Use cedar chips, lavender flowers, rosemary, mint or white peppercorns instead of mothballs.
- For flea and tick control, put brewer's yeast or garlic in your pet's food; sprinkle fennel, rue, rosemary or eucalyptus seeds or leaves around animal sleeping areas.
- Use caution in making and storing homemade mixtures:
- Do not mix anything with a commercial cleaning agent.
- Mix only what is needed for the job. Mix homemade mixtures in clean, reusable containers. This avoids waste and the need to store any cleaning mixture.
- If you must store a homemade mixture, make sure it is properly labeled and do not store it in a container that could be mistaken for food or beverage.
To recycle hazardous household wastes, the EPA suggests you find out if your community has a facility that collects hazardous household wastes. Some facilities even have exchange areas for unused or leftover paints, solvents, pesticides, cleaning and automotive products and other materials. If your community doesn't have a year-round collection system for hazardous household wastes, see if there are designated days for collecting solid wastes at a central location to ensure safe management and disposal. If not, you may be able to drop off certain products at local businesses for recycling or proper disposal. Some garages, for example, may accept used motor oil for recycling.
Certain types of household hazardous waste have the potential to injure sanitation workers or contaminate wastewater treatment systems and septic tanks if poured down drains or toilets, and they present hazards to pets or children if left around the house. Federal law allows disposal of household hazardous wastes in the trash. (However, many communities have collection programs for household hazardous waste to eliminate potential harm, and the EPA encourages people to participate in these programs.) If in doubt call your waste disposal agency. Many local agencies have Web sites that offer specific guidelines and tips.
For storing products in the basement, garage or other storage area, follow these tips:
- Store hazardous products out of reach of children and pets. Use safety caps and cabinet locks as appropriate. A pet or child could knock a container off a shelf and cause dangerous spills. Antifreeze has a sweet smell and taste that pose a particular danger for pets. Each year, thousands of dogs and cats are poisoned by discarded or leaking antifreeze. It takes a very small quantity to harm a pet or small child, so keep antifreeze in a securely fastened cabinet and be alert for any puddles that may leak from your car. Wash down or absorb puddles of antifreeze with an absorbent material such as kitty litter and dispose of the absorbent in the trash.
- Never store hazardous products in food containers.
- Keep hazardous household products in their original containers and never remove labels. Corroding containers require special handling. Call your local hazardous materials official or fire department for instructions.
- When leftovers remain, never mix hazardous household wastes with other products. Incompatible products might react, ignite or explode.
- Call your local environmental, health or solid waste agency for instructions on proper use and disposal and to learn about local household hazardous waste drop-off programs and collection days.
Basement Allergen Control Tips
- Inspect entire space for any signs or smells of moisture and mold. If you find any, clean with a bleach solution.
- Have central air conditioner trays and coils cleaned annually.
- Clear out old stored papers and fabrics that can become moldy.
- Check visible insulation for dampness and replace if even slightly wet.
- Use a dehumidifier with a filter that has a MERV 8 rating.
- Keep the humidity in your finished basement below 50 percent.
© 2013. National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. All content provided in this guide is for information purposes only. Any information herein relating to specific medical conditions, preventive care and/or healthy lifestyles does not suggest individual diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for medical attention.Healthy Home Room-by-Room Guide Home Page
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