Branch Basics Headquarters recently expanded into a larger office space in our building on West 6th Street in Austin. Although the previous tenant did a great job cleaning the office for us, we asked our whole team to join us for a proper “deep cleaning” before we moved any of our desks or inventory into the space. We decided to do the deep cleaning because we know that our indoor air quality is important, especially in a place where our team spends 8+ hours each day!
You may not realize it, but the average indoor air quality in a home is actually more toxic than the outside air, which has been directly linked to the increase in degenerative disease. This deep cleaning method provides an immediate reduction of pollution in your home or office and can dramatically improve your home’s indoor air quality.
The Branch Basics Deep Cleaning Method should always be done when moving into a newly constructed home or apartment, a new home or office, and as an annual routine deep cleaning practice. It is also useful when you or someone in your family is trying to recover from illness, as this process will reduce the toxic load on the body. Branch Basics Concentrate is the perfect tool to use for this project due to its versatility. It not only removes dirt, dust, grease and grime, but also removes germs, viruses, and bacteria, and removes VOCs by breaking down toxic chemical residues on surfaces into harmless byproducts (such as hydrocarbons/petroleum products, pesticides, and other chemicals).
Notice how dirty our buckets became after cleaning the walls, ceiling and floor. Even when a space looks “clean”, there are often residues in the walls and ceiling. This Branch Basics Deep Cleaning Method addresses both surface cleaning and air quality cleaning to remove not only visible dirt and grime, but invisible toxic residues as well. Toxic residues are made up of two components – VOCs and SVOCs.
What is a VOC?
A VOC is a volatile organic compound, which may be a familiar term to you. Products, particularly house paint, are sometimes advertised as “low-VOC”. VOCs are easily recognizable because they have an odor and often carry a strong smell – this is usually the cue that you need to air out a space when you are painting or cleaning with products that contain toxic VOCs. And for good reason! VOCs are aromatic compounds that off-gas readily into the air and are associated with a range of health effects. VOCs emit at peak levels when first installed, with declining emission levels as time goes on. Wet applied products like paint and finishes give off VOCs very intensely for the first few days or weeks, then taper off. VOC emissions from solid materials such as flooring have much lower levels of outgassing, but taper off more slowly than wet applied materials and may contribute to long term air quality issues. They are released from a variety of sources, including certain building materials, products we use, and even from natural sources such as a fragrant rose.
What is an SVOC?
There is a good chance you haven’t heard about SVOCs – although they have recently become a hot topic in the United States with the growing awareness of the dangers of flame-retardants in furniture. SVOCs are semi-volatile organic compounds that ride on dust, are odorless, and give no warning that they are present. They migrate from their source into the breathing space by attaching to dust particles. While VOCs release quickly into your environment and decrease over time (think of the strong smell that immediately escapes from products you use), SVOCs release very slowly and increase over time, which makes them an insidious underminer of health.
SVOC levels can persist for years indoors because of their slow rate of release from sources. In addition, the SVOCs stick to surfaces and can persist even though the source is removed. Deep cleaning removes those persistent SVOCs. Some SVOC sources commonly found in homes are phthalates (plasticizers/PVC and vinyl floors, vinyl shower curtains, toys made of pliable plastics), biocides, pesticides, flame-retardants (furniture, beds, electronics), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) (asphalt containing materials, cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust).
What are some immediate benefits of this deep cleaning method?
A thorough HEPA vacuuming will immediately reduce your exposure to particulates such as animal dander, allergens and SVOC’s. Washing down all surfaces with Branch Basics removes toxic residues, breaks down and neutralizes chemicals (VOCs) and improves air quality in the room. For example, since VOCs incorporate into porous surfaces such as drywall, deep cleaning of the walls and ceilings is a good way to reduce chemicals incorporated inside them. Another very good reason a deep cleaning is important is because even if sources of SVOCs have been removed from the home, the SVOCs stick to surfaces such as the ceiling, walls, and floors and a deep cleaning removes them. Many people immediately can feel and sense that the air quality has improved and if there was a specific irritant to that person that was removed, the symptoms should no longer be present. For example, if someone moves into a home where the previous owner had cats and the new owner is allergic to cats, a deep cleaning will remove animal dander that has attached to the ceilings, walls, and surfaces.
Precaution: This deep cleaning process may stir up allergens, chemicals, and pesticides into the air depending on the history of the space. Although a quality HEPA vacuum is excellent at containing them as you clean, if you are an allergy sufferer, have asthma, or otherwise are feeling sick, we recommend you ask someone else to complete the Branch Basics Deep Cleaning Method for you, as this process results in possible exposures during the procedure. You will not be introducing new chemicals or toxins as you clean, you will just be pulling them out into the air for a time during the cleaning process. Babies, children, the elderly or those with weakened immune systems should not be present during a deep clean. The good news is that after completion the air quality will be better than before. However, we ask that you exercise caution during the cleaning.
Now that you know why this process is so important, let’s get started!
Official Branch Basics Deep Cleaning Method
- Branch Basics Concentrate
- HEPA Vacuum*
- 2 Buckets
- Sponge mop (the kind that squeezes out water)
- Clean rags or sponges (2-3)
- Spare towels (1-2) that you won’t mind getting dirty
- Ladder or step ladder (to reach the ceiling)
- Face mask that filters non-oily and oil-based particles (optional but recommended)**
- A friend or cleaning partner (to make things go more quickly!)
*Your vacuum should be an abatement level HEPA vacuum that has a completely sealed system, which means that no contaminants (SVOC’s) such as flame-retardants, pesticides, biocides, plasticizers will escape back into the air as you clean. Although high end abatement vacuums are expensive to purchase, you should be able to rent a quality vacuum for this deep cleaning procedure. We recommend looking for the following HEPA vacuums when you are renting or buying:
- Nilfisk GM 80 – this is an abatement level vacuum used to abate mold, lead, and asbestos and is the most highly recommended vacuum
- Miele S8590 Marin HEPA Vacuum Cleaner with AirClean Sealed System
- Miele S8390 Calima Canister Vacuum Cleaner with AirClean Sealed System
- Shark Rotator Professional Lift Away – the most economical option with sealed system
**If you feel like toxic chemicals will be released from your ceilings, floors, and walls because it is a contaminated space, then hiring a professional abatement company would be recommended. If there is any question about contamination issues and you do not hire a professional, then further protection such as a respirator should be used.
Why is it important to use a HEPA Vacuum?
Dust in your home serves as a reservoir for chemicals that have been tracked in or used indoors. HEPA vacuums are the best way to trap dust and allergens, but the entire vacuum must have a system that is completely sealed so that the dust and allergens you vacuum up don’t escape back into the air before they even reach the HEPA filter. This is important for the deep cleaning procedure, as you want your air to be cleaner when you finish vacuuming, not more contaminated.
In this Deep Cleaning Method, we will explain in detail how to thoroughly clean a room. This process removes chemical residues, pesticides and allergens and immediately boosts your indoor air quality. We recommend doing this process barefoot or in clean socks so that you don’t track toxins from your shoes around your space as you clean. This process will take roughly 2-4 hours for one person to complete one furnished, average sized room. An unfurnished space like ours took about an hour to complete, including a few breaks and a tag team effort from our staff.
Here are the four basic steps we will cover in this deep cleaning tutorial:
- Tidy up your space
- HEPA vacuum all surfaces in the room
- Wipe all surfaces using Branch Basics
- Dry surfaces with a towel, or ventilate with fans and air-dry
Step 1: Tidy Up the Space
Remove all clutter from the room and only leave what belongs. This includes piles of paper, shoes, toys, and any other misplaced objects. Donate, throw away, or put away anything that does not belong in the room. Clutter piles are magnets for dust bunnies and navigating around and through them will make your deep cleaning more challenging. The deep cleaning process will go much faster if you remove these items first! Did you know that pesticides and chemicals love to hide in dust bunnies?
Anatomy of dust bunnies – why are they so bad?
Dust bunnies are composed of dust or particles called particulate matter. Dust is more than unsightly, it’s a chemical and microbial reservoir. Research suggests that house dust is the main source of an infant’s exposure to allergens. A study by the Silent Spring Institute found 66 hormone-disrupting chemicals, including flame retardants, home-use pesticides and phthalates, in household dust. Dust is a concern both for the particulate direct effect on lungs and for the chemicals that may hitch a ride on the dust. In general, frequent HEPA vacuuming can prevent the build-up of dust into dust bunnies.
Step 2: HEPA Vacuuming
Once you have the room looking organized, gather your vacuum and ladder and head to the corner farthest from the doorway to the rest of your home. You’ll work from up to down, in to out, finishing at the entrance to the room so you can leave it undisturbed when you are finished. Starting with the ceiling and moving down to walls and floors, HEPA vacuum all horizontal and vertical surfaces using careful, overlapping strokes by 30%. Make three passes over each area. HEPA vacuum all surfaces, trim, items, and furnishings: sides, underneath and back of tables, chairs, furniture, desks, lamps, and anything else in the room. The goal with all of these steps is to work with gravity and not to backtrack any areas you’ve already cleaned. This is why it’s best to start at the ceiling, work down the walls, and finish with the floors, as the process releases dust and dirt that falls to the ground. This is why a particulate mask is recommended.
Step 3: Wipe Down
After you have vacuumed the room, prepare your two buckets for wiping everything clean. Your first bucket will be the water with Branch Basics solution: 1 tsp. of Branch Basics for each gallon of water. The second bucket is a rinse bucket – just fill it with clean water. Before you start wiping down large areas, make sure to test a small area of all surfaces to be cleaned with this cleaning solution to make sure it doesn’t affect the finish or paint. When you are ready, dip your mop in the Branch Basics solution and squeeze as much out as possible. Thoroughly wipe all large horizontal and vertical hard surfaces, starting with ceiling, then walls, then floors. Be sure that surface looks slightly damp after wiping, but not truly wet. Make three passes over each area. As you need more Branch Basics solution, first rinse the mop in the clean water bucket, squeeze out the water, then dip again in the Branch Basics solution. You will notice the “clean” water bucket will start turning gray quickly. You may need to empty this one and fill with fresh before you complete the process.
After you have washed ceilings, floors and walls, use your sponge or rag to do the same process to your trim, corners, and all furniture. Refresh clean water bucket as needed. Do not skip over any areas or items, no matter how small. For any small pieces and all solid, non-porous items such as figurines and lamps, you can first spray the rag with All-Purpose and then wipe clean.
Step 4: Towel Dry
Congrats! At this point, you’ve completed the cleaning process and you can safely take a big deep breath! The last step is simple: taking a clean towel, quickly dry off any areas where they may still be extra moisture, particularly wet spots on the walls or floor. You may also want to dry off any objects, like picture frames, that you don’t want to leave to air dry.
After we cleaned the floors, we toasted to our new office with a picnic on the (very clean!) floor.
As you can tell, this process is really not designed for weekly cleaning! When you thoroughly clean a room using this Deep Cleaning Method, you shouldn’t have any reason to go through the process again until next year. To keep your space clean in between deep cleans, we recommend a few simple changes to your routine:
- Remove your shoes when you enter your home. Shoes track chemical residues and pesticides (not to mention mud or other grime) through your living space, leaving particulates on surfaces and in the air. Removing your shoes, and asking guests to remove theirs as well, will cut back on the times you’ll need to vacuum!
- Try a Himalayan Pink Salt Lamp to help settle dust particulates floating in your air.
- Aim to vacuum thoroughly at least once a week. This will help keep down SVOC levels and reduce exposure to particulates. Remove as many sources of SVOCs as you can.
- When you vacuum, opt for a HEPA vacuum as much as possible. HEPA vacuums are much more effective at containing particulates and will not create a dust storm as you try to vacuum and remove dirt and dust.
- Limit clutter as much as much as you can. As we’ve mentioned, clutter piles are the most hospitable homes for dust bunnies, which may be tidy piles of pesticides and chemical residue.
Ready to purchase a HEPA vacuum? Check out the Branch Basics Guide to Choosing a HEPA Vacuum (air pollution’s worst enemy).
If you’re in the spirit of detoxing, try this tutorial for removing toxins from your dryer: BB Hack #2 | Detox Your Dryer: How to Decontaminate Your Laundry Routine.
This article explains why your dryer might be contaminated in the first place: Addicted to Dryer Sheets?
Living in a tiny home? Maybe you’re like Professor Dumpster and need help deep cleaning your dumpster home. Check out How to Clean Your Dumpster – Branch Basics Teams Up With The Dumpster Project.
Ready to streamline your routine? Read Clare’s tricks in Safe + Simple: Tips from a Minimalist Mama.
Have you tried the Branch Basics Deep Cleaning Method? Let us know how it helps you and if you have any other tips! Bonus points for before and after pictures! Send us an email: [email protected]