Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Mother's Torture: Cleaning

Before Eleanor's elevated lead levels (ELL), I had never really cared about dusting. Keith would notice if things were dusty before I would. I just never saw the dust gathering, and, therefore, certainly never did anything about it.

That particularly held true for the first year after Eleanor was born. I was wearing myself out, trying to keep up with everything, and enjoy time with Eleanor, AND get some sleep, too. Something had to go, and I made the conscious decision that housekeeping would be it. So there were tumbleweeds of dog hair blowing through the living room on occasion. So what? I just needed to stop running myself into the ground and let the house get a little messy. No one ever died from a little dust, right?

But post-ELL, everything changed. Suddenly, we were bombarded with information about how to clean our house, from top to bottom, and do it repeatedly. Once again, I felt overwhelmed with new information and incredibly frustrated. Why did I not hear anything about this before she tested above normal? Prior to the testing, anything I'd ever heard or read focused on incredibly expensive fixes—replacing windows and doors, installing vinyl siding over lead paint, removing tainted soil down to 2 feet and filling in with clean soil. We did what we could afford and what we thought was most urgent when we replaced the majority of the windows. But we couldn't afford to do all of it at once, so we stopped and kept our fingers crossed.

But just now, at this point, I'm learning about all of the low-tech solutions? Why the hell wasn't this info available before?!? If I had realized that the solution (at least a part-time one) could be so cheap and easy, of course I would have done it! Again, I blamed myself for not being well-informed. Somehow, I should have known this.... but now, nearly a year later, I wonder. I have an MA in English. I and my web developer husband spend a lot of time online. In my prior hours of searching for lead poisoning prevention, if I had never really come across this information, then surely it's not just me?

And thus, our cleaning purgatory began. In the short-term, we closed all of the old windows, never to be opened again. We forbid wearing shoes in the house, since they could track in lead-contaminated dirt. That patio project last August? That was to cover up the bare ground outside the house that was Beckett's landing spot off the back porch, because bare soil is a big "no no." We took down nearly all of the blinds in the house, because blinds hold a lot of dust. The only blinds that are still up are in the bedrooms, and those were washed and re-hung.

While we started looking at all of the expensive long-term solutions mentioned above, we cleaned exhaustively and repeatedly. At first we were advised to use Dawn powdered dishwasher detergent because, for some reason, it picks up lead dust particles better than your average cleaner. So we did use that for a few weeks, but then switched to our regular cleaners based on the advice from the lead inspector who said it wasn't necessary to keep using them on a regular basis.

The cleaning schedule went through many revisions. At first, we tried to clean the house from top to bottom, every week. This takes a serious amount of time and effort. Think of every knickknack on every surface of your house. If you have kids, picture all of the toys on every floor. Now imagine handling every single one of those items, carefully washing them down to get rid of any possible dust ... doesn't leave much free time, does it?

Additionally, we stopped sweeping because sweeping could kick up lead dust, and instead we started used our HEPA-filter vacuum everywhere. The main problem with this switch is that it meant we couldn't clean while Eleanor was sleeping. We could wipe down surfaces, but the vacuuming would have to wait and, therefore, so would the mopping.

A few times, Eleanor spent the night at my parents, which gave Keith and I a whole day to clean. It felt like the only way we could get it done. By the end of the day, we would be exhausted and frustrated. Was it even doing any good?!? We had implemented so many changes—how could we know which ones were effective? Was it really the monotonous cleaning, or was it simply the fact that we closed the old windows, and all of the cleaning wasn't really necessary? There was no way of knowing, and we didn't want to take any chances.

It quickly became apparent that we couldn't keep up with cleaning the entire house on a weekly basis. Plus, it was pretty hard to believe that a significant amount of lead dust was entering every floor, all the time, especially once it got colder and we closed all the windows. By this past Spring, the cleaning schedule had changed to:
  • The first floor vacuumed and mopped every week
  • One other floor vacuumed and mopped each week
  • The additional floor also has all hard surfaces wiped down
So one week we might vacuum and mop the first and second floors, and then wipe down everything on the second floor. We moved from basement one week, to first floor the next, then to second floor and attic. That meant each floor was getting extensively cleaned once a month. We felt like it was a decent compromise between our original, massive amount of cleaning, and a more reasonable schedule that still left us feeling like our home was relatively dust-free.

Of course, all of this was just an interim solution while we figured out what the long-term solution would be, and how we would pay for it.

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