Home & Garden

Green fall cleaning: A user's guide

Is it just me or is fall just as good a time — or even better — to commit to household cleaning as spring is?

After all, fall is when you start to batten down the hatches and prepare for a bit of housebound hibernation, right? It's the season for preventative cleaning so that you don't spend all winter — when you'd rather be curled up in bed or entertaining holiday houseguests — futzing with mundane household odds and ends.

In that spirit, here are a few eco-cleaning tips and tidbits to consider this fall.

The heat is on

Before firing up your furnace and/or fireplace it's crucial to ensure that everything is in working order. This way, you'll lessen the chance of a dreaded "Something's wrong and I don't know how to fix it" situation in the dead of winter and keep your energy costs in check.

Start off with the fireplace if you have one. Make sure that everything is clean and functioning. If it's been a while since your fireplace has gotten a deep clean and inspection, consider hiring a professional chimney sweep to clean the flue and tackle any repairs, if needed. If your fireplace damper is damaged or nonexistent, install a chimney balloon to keep warm air in and cold air out of your home.

A less daunting task is replacing or cleaning a furnace filter as recommended by the manufacturer. Before you do, sweep or vacuum the area around your furnace. Regular cleaning or replacing of a furnace filter increases efficiency and prevents dirt and allergens from circulating around your home. And while you're at it, sweep or vacuum in and around heat registers to get rid of accumulated dust and dander.

Finally, inspect caulk around windows and doors to ensure that any leaks are nipped in the bud before winter hits. Fall is also a good time to venture up to the attic and check on the condition of the insulation.

The air in there

Since fall cleaning involves efficiently buttoning up your home for the winter, you'll want to make sure that the air inside your home is as clean as possible — obviously, as fall turns to winter you're going to be doing a whole lot less window opening to let fresh air in.

As described above, ensuring that your primary heat sources are clean is one step but you should also clean or replace the filters of any air purifiers or humidifiers. It wouldn't hurt to introduce a few new air-purifying houseplants to your home, too.

And while you clean, take a good look at your arsenal of cleaning products. Many conventional cleaning remedies contain caustic chemicals that can compromise the indoor air quality of your home — oven cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and drain openers are top offenders — so consider replacing them with plant-based alternatives or inexpensive DIY concoctions.

Clean out closets

Need to make room for all those bulky winter sweaters that you're bringing out of storage? Fall is an excellent time to root through your wardrobe for castaways and free up closet space.

Since some of your summer clothes and linens may not have survived the season — I'm talking about frayed beach towels and white shirts bearing the stubborn summer stain trifecta of underarm sweat, ketchup/BBQ sauce, and grass — you may not want to donate them or haul them off to a consignment store. For items that don't make the donation/resale cut, keep them around as cleaning rags or incorporate them into craft projects for when you're stuck inside in January in two feet of snow.

Nontoxic DIY cleaners

Fall's the time to start prepping the pantry for the holiday baking season and for have-the-munchies-but-too-cold-to-leave-the-house kind of days. While you're fiddling around with foodstuffs and taking kitchen cabinet inventory, why not experiment with staples like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice and make your own natural cleaning and laundering solutions?

If you've never done it before, you'll be surprised at their effectiveness (not to mention their money-saving appeal).

If DIY cleaners aren't your proverbial cup of tea and you're concerned about the presence of back-to-school germs in your home, try the newly released line of Method Antibac antibacterial cleaners which includes all-purpose wipes, bathroom cleaner, and kitchen cleaner. Like Seventh Generation's botanical disinfecting line, Method Antibac products are "powered" by CleanWell's effective, EPA-registered thyme-based disinfecting technology.

On the checklist

* Flip mattresses.

* Inspect (and clean, if needed) the gutters.

* Vacuum drapes/window treatments and upholstered furniture.

* Clean the four C's: carpets, cupboards, chandeliers and (refrigerator) coils.

* Wipe down outdoor/patio furniture before storing.

* Test smoke/carbon monoxide detectors.

* Wash the windows.

* Polish the silver.

* Drain and store your garden hoses.

* Organize your kitchen.

* Launder all linens and bedding.