Keep it clean
When you have little or no vision then everyday tasks can become a little trickier and more time consuming to perform. At a time when we are all looking to live a little more hygienically, we look at ways of keeping your space clean and tidy. The suggestions and content below have been drawn from discussions with blind and partially sighted people on the course, with some extra cleaning tips drawn from the Clean My Space channel on You Tube.
Taking a ‘Zen’ approach to housework
Everyday tasks can take a little longer and lead to frustration when you have little or no vision, so it is very much about deciding what jobs are essential and what can be left for another day. Washing dishes regularly after meals prevents a larger task arising in the future. Cleaning food preparation areas and most touched places such as light switches may prevent you and your family becoming ill, but as for those skirting boards? Perhaps they can wait for a rainy day! You may have swept and cleaned the floor and be walking across it only to find you bare toes caressing half a chopped onion. Perhaps a visitor to your house will enter uttering “you missed a bit”. All you can do is smile and think “never mind better luck next time”. There is no point beating yourself up. Go with the flow. Be proud of what you have done, not what you have missed.
Asking for help is no failure. It is possible to find people who enjoy cleaning much more than you. You might even choose to employ a cleaner. If it is not a regular cleaner you are after you might want an occasional deep clean (including skirting boards) or a more specialist area such as an oven. Explore whether you are eligible for PIP (personal independence payment) or Attendance Allowance (AA) as this might help pay towards cleaning support in your home. The best way to check is to give RNIB a call and speak to an adviser (0303 123 9999) or visit www.rnib.org.uk
Ask the RNIB about your right to an assessment of your care needs. If you meet your local authority’s criteria support may be available to you to help with cleaning. Your sensory service (rehab worker) will be able to advise you on or support you to learn new skills to remain an independent at home.
Designing for cleaning
When remodelling your home, give some thought redesigning in ways that are easier to clean, and do the same when purchasing new items. For example, when replacing a carpet, or even a set of mugs, consider colours that will contract marks or stains. Avoid patterns that look or feel like dirt in case you are tempted to try and clean it off! Additional lighting may assist people with low vision to see the cleanliness of an object or space. RNIB publish several design guides which consider best use of lighting, colour and design in the home.
You may already be using technology to assist in many areas of your life, but when cleaning, don’t forget about apps like Be My Eyes. Be My Eyes will connect you to a volunteer who will tell you which bits you may have missed whilst cleaning, and it’s available on both Android and Apple phones. Likewise, Seeing AI or Voice Dream Scanner will read directions on packets or bottles. All three apps can help assist you to identify cleaning products, read product information and health and safety warnings. You’ll find information about reading apps on the Vital Tech website along with information on a range of other gadgets to help around the home.
Touch and smell
You can certainly tell by touch if a surface is clean or dirty. Touch lightly to achieve the best sensation. Liam, who is blind, tells us that he works exclusively by touch when cleaning, and that the dryer a surface the more information he can determine. So, he’ll use the minimum amount of cleaning product to increase his ability to sense dirt. Having said that he always explores the directions and the cleaning product to ensure its effective use.
Sometimes it’s not advisable to be exploring with unprotected fingers which means it’s very much a case of finding gloves that protect whilst allowing sensation. If you are not reliant wholly on tactile sensation, then it might be the old-fashioned marigold type glove. If you need a little more sensation, then latex or latex free gloves are available. It is important to purchase the correct size, or you run the risk of splitting the gloves and be aware that long fingernails will also pierce the ends of the glove fingers. Products will indicate whether they should be used whilst wearing gloves. Wash your hands after exploring areas you’ve sprayed with cleaning product.
Do not underestimate how useful your sense of smell is in determining how clean an area is or object is. It is very much up to you to decide what you are happy to sniff but avoid sniffing any cleaning products or chemicals.
Making your own cleaning products
If you search the internet there’s a recipe for a cleaning product to suit most tasks. Follow this link to Good Housekeeping magazine’s top 8 cleaning products you can make at home. Many of these are cheaper and more environmentally friendly than those you can purchase in a shop.
Make sure you know the ‘dwell time’ of any product you are to use. Dwell time is simply the time you need to leave a product on a surface before commencing cleaning. This also applies to any product you may have made yourself. If you’re looking to disinfect an area you won’t achieve this if you spray and wipe immediately. Different surfaces need different cleaners. There’s lots of information online about choosing the right product for the job on the internet whether you are looking to clean glass, marble, leather, carpets, or wood.
Organisation is the key
When undertaking any task with low or no vision, organisation and planning is key. You want to try and avoid the frustration of putting a cloth or cleaning product down and promptly forgetting where you’ve left them then spending your allotted cleaning time in a frantic search. A cleaning caddy is a compartmentalised plastic tray with a handle which keeps cleaning products, cloths and sponges together, and you can pick up the caddy and take it where you need it. When you are finished cleaning, simply return the caddy to the cupboard in which it lives thus ensuring you know where all your cleaning kit is. Brightly coloured caddies may be more visible, and you can choose contrasting colour cloths and cleaning implements. Brighter contrasting colours might allow you to spot items you’ve put down just for a second. You can label or mark cleaning products in a variety of ways: elastic bands, stick on bumps, braille labels or talking labels read to you by a pen friend (a labelling gadget supplied by RNIB).
Organisation and planning of your time and area to be cleaned can be rewarding when coupled with setting manageable goals. Develop a list of areas to be cleaned. Lists can be in a format of your choice, clear writing in thick back pen, white chalk on a blackboard or recorded on a phone or smart speaker.
An effective system is clean top to bottom and left to right. This can be applied to a large area such as a house or the smallest surface you are to clean. Cleaning top to bottom and left to right will save time as it keeps you focused upon specific areas. It’ll prevent you having to re-clean. If you clean kitchen work surfaces followed by over counter cupboards there is a good chance dirt will fall from the cupboards back onto the work surface. Declutter: the less you have the less you will have to clean, and cleaning will become simpler and more effective.
Whatever surface you are cleaning you need to first remove any loose dirt such as crumbs. You might choose to catch these in your hand or folded cloth. Microfibre cloths pick up more particles and drip less when wet. To avoid cross contamination, choose different colour cloths for different rooms. Cloths can be marked in different ways, such as snipping of corners or labels. Avoid using microfibre cloths to clean up oil or fat as it’s virtually impossible to clean the oil or fat from the cloth. Using an S pattern cleaning motion will allow you to wipe a surface in a systematic fashion without you going over a previously cleaned area.
Kitchen roll is the preferred method for dealing with spillages. Place a large bundle in the centre of the spillage and then using fingers to find the outer edge of the spill using extra paper to pick up fluid. Place wet paper into a plastic bag to avoid drips repeat the process until area is dry dabbing with kitchen roll. Continue to feel for edges of spill to prevent runaway fluid.
If you knock over a glass and break it, don’t panic; pause. Consider what you knocked over and where it might have gone. Sweep the pieces toward a target like the base of a cupboard or a wall. If you are planning to search with your fingers wear protective gloves. Place glass fragments into a thick paper bag or similar for disposal. A thick slice of bread can be used to wipe the area as any fine shards of glass will embed in the bread. Once finished wiping the area with bread dispose of the slice immediately to avoid accidental ingestion. Take a look at this video which explains in detail how to clean up broken glass when you have little or no vision.
Read the manufacturer’s instructions for best results. You can access these online using the access technology of your choice, or apps such as Seeing AI, which will scan and read the document aloud. Rinse utensils before placing in the washer. Don’t over fill, and place knives and forks point down in the cutlery tray to avoid accidents as you put your hand into the washer. For small items like bottle caps or bits of food processors use a draw string net bag to prevent the items falling through the rack. These net bags are designed for delicate clothes washing. If you are sharing dishwashing duties with another member of your household work out a system that avoids putting unclean items in the washer with those recently cleaned. Sticky raised bumps can be used to create accessible controls allowing you to change settings.
Washing dishes at the sink
Organise your workspace ensuring that all previously cleaned dishes and utensils are away. Scrape food waste off the plates into a food waste bin (if you have one) or a normal bin if you don’t. Wash glasses and delicate items first, drying and placing away before commencing bulk of washing up. You may prefer to place glasses in a safe designated area to dry. Coloured glass may be easier to see preventing accidental knocking over. Crockery with no patterns may prevent you from spending time trying to clean the pattern from the plate. Lightly running your fingers over the item you have cleaned will allow you to determine whether crockery is clean.
If you are using a vacuum cleaner, you’ll need to cover the floor in a systematic fashion, top to bottom, left to right will work. Some people imagine a grid on layout on the floor and work imaginary square to square. Prior to vacuuming carpets consider searching the area with your feet (if safe to do) this may prevent sucking up coins or Lego bricks which may block your cleaner. Robot Vacuum cleaners bring benefits as they move independently and systematically across your floors. Be mindful as their independence may be a tripping hazard as you might not necessarily know where they are. It’s probably best to set them running when you are planning to be out of the home.
Prior to mopping the floor sweep up or vacuum any loose debris. Microfibre mops have the benefit of reducing drippage or consider a steam mop which kills bacteria with heat alone. Mop in a systematic approach as highlighted above. For some people with low vision the preferred technique for cleaning is to get on hands and knees to make the best use of their residual vision.
Andy’s top tips
Clean little and often in the key areas where dirt gathers like the foot of cookers such as in front of the cooker. This will prevent dirt being walked further around your home.
Bhavani’s top tip
Make cleaning into an event by listening to a podcast or music to enjoy the moment! Clean or dust everything as you just don’t know where dust is lurking. Bhavini uses newspaper and vinegar to clean her windows as it avoids smearing.
Further information and resources
- Five top tips for cleaning when you are blind
- Clean my space on YouTube
- Advice on benefits, rights, and specialist products RNIB rnib.org.uk Helpline 0303 1239999
- Specialist technology and gadgets
Tell us your tips for cleaning and we’ll do our best to share them with London’s blind and partially sighted community.