The feeling of a freshly cleaned home is blissful — especially if you’re spending more time in it than usual during COVID-19. That said, if you have arthritis, you understand that cleaning can involve more pain than bliss.
Tidying up tends to involve movements that put stress on the joints, especially those in your hands. “You really want to avoid constant twisting movements, sustained grips, and pinches that put stress on the hands,” says occupational therapist Michelle Buccinna, OTD, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at the Touro College School of Health Sciences in Bay Shore, New York.
When possible, pace yourself while cleaning. Aim to clean areas of your home on separate days, rather than rushing through everything at once, says Buccinna. Generally, if joint pain persists for an hour after you do a certain activity, you should consider changing the way you do it, per the Mayo Clinic.
These creative solutions can make cleaning easier, without costing much (or any) money. While they’re no replacement for following your doctor’s instructions for physical or occupational therapy, they can become part of a regular cleaning routine that preserves your joint health and reduces pain.
“Making modifications to everyday routines will impact your occupational performance,” says Buccinna. “It’s about restructuring activities and finding simpler ways to do them, which takes problem-solving skills, pacing, and planning.” Get more tips here for doing household chores in ways that ease arthritis pain.
1. A Small Bottle or Bag
If you tend to stock up on bulk-sized containers of cleaning solutions, pour some into a smaller bottle to carry with you around the house. This will lighten your load and ease stress on your joints — as long as the container isn’t too small.
“Carrying a really tiny bottle may also put pressure on the joints,” says Buccinna.
It’s best to avoid gripping anything tightly, so aim for a standard bottle (about 26 ounces). The Mayo Clinic recommends carrying objects with your palm open to help distribute weight equally over your forearm.
The same goes for when you’re picking up trash around the house. Carry a small plastic bag with a handle that you can dump into a larger trash bag in intervals, rather than stuffing a large bag that you lug around with you.
“If you use a large garbage bag, you’re going to fill it up,” says Buccinna. “Even carrying a small garbage can isn’t really good for your grip. If you use a small bag with a handle, you can carry it on your forearm instead.”
2. Gift-Wrap Tube
Remove that last piece of wrapping paper from its cardboard tube (you can roll it and save it for later), then staple a dust rag to the tube to easily dust high and low spots without bending and stooping.
“You could even take a dust rag and put it on the end of a broom,” says Buccinna. Fasten it with a rubber band, and easily reach tricky spots like crown molding and baseboards.
3. Foam Tubing or Pipe Lagging
Slip foam tubing or pipe lagging around handles you use often to make them larger and easier to grab — such as duster, squeegee, or small brush handles. This prevents you from needing to make a tight fist to grasp the handles. It can also work for wooden spoons or knives, according to Versus Arthritis, an arthritis charity in the United Kingdom.
“It makes handles easier to grasp, especially if you have hand weakness,” says Buccinna. “I’ve also had patients wrap washcloths around the handle of a hairbrush or even a toothbrush if it’s too small for them to grip.”
You can order foam tubing or pipe lagging online from home improvement stores if you don’t already have it. If you experience arthritic changes, use this strategy to continue adjusting the width of handles and tools you use regularly.
4. Kitchen Tongs
If leaning down to pull laundry out of the washing machine or dryer is painful, use tongs to take it out, suggests Arthritis NSW, an arthritis foundation based in Australia.
“Pulling out wet, heavy clothes could strain the fingers,” says Buccinna. “By using tongs or a reacher, you’re grabbing with a fist and pulling with your shoulder and your elbow.” It’s best to use your larger joints whenever possible, because smaller joints like those in your hands and wrists are more prone to damage over time.
It’s also a good idea to mix heavy items with lighter items in the washer to distribute the weight of your laundry. For instance, wash bulky towels and blankets with lighter socks or T-shirts.
5. Pizza Paddle
If making your bed feels like more of a pain than it’s worth, try using a wooden pizza paddle to tuck in the sheets and blankets. “That will help save stress on the fingers,” says Buccinna. “Especially with rheumatoid arthritis, you want to reduce the amount of repetitive force on the joints in the hands.”
Tossing a large, lightweight comforter or bedspread over your bed may also make it easier to make in the morning.
6. A Small Stool
While knee pads can help you avoid pain when kneeling for housework or yard work, a small stool may be an even better bet. It can help you avoid straining your knees and back and make it easier to get up for breaks, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
“There are also stools that have a large handle attached, so if someone has difficulty getting up, that can provide extra support,” says Buccinna. “I’d recommend sitting whenever possible, even if it is using a stool with a back or a chair while you’re washing dishes.”
Another tip for washing dishes: Soak them before you get started. This equates to less scrubbing and less time standing if you can’t sit while washing them.
This is already one of your cleaning staples, but perhaps you haven’t tried this technique yet.
“If you’re having difficulty squeezing a spray bottle, or you’re having a flare-up and experiencing a lot of pain, one alternative is to pour cleaner onto a sponge, dish towel, or the surface you’re cleaning,” says Buccinna.
This way, you can avoid the repetitive movements of gripping and squeezing a spray bottle lever.
8. Rubber band
If you’re moving in and out of rooms frequently as you clean, wrap a rubber band around doorknobs to make them easier to grip, suggests Versus Arthritis.
In general, Buccinna recommends lever handles rather than knobs (they require less twisting of the small joints in your hands). That said, if you have knobs and aren’t in the market to make a change right now, wrapping a rubber band might help make them easier to use.
9. Old Socks
Slip one on your hand and use it to dust. This will help you make large, sweeping movements with your arm, rather than gripping at a duster for an extended period of time. An old glove will also do the trick.
“You can also wrap a dust rag around an oven mitt with a rubber band, and use that to dust,” adds Buccinna.
10. Utility Cart
If you have a small cart stashed in storage, use it to transport your cleaning supplies with you as you tidy up.
“Some people carry a bucket with all their cleaning supplies, but you might want to put them on a utility cart with wheels that you can push around from room to room, so you’re not constantly lifting,” says Buccinna. “If you do need to pick up items, lift with two hands as much as possible.”
Remember to also follow proper body mechanics when you lift objects. The Mayo Clinic recommends carrying heavy items close to your chest while supporting their weight on your forearms, keeping your elbows close to your body. For lifting items, bend at your knees and hips first (or sitting on a chair and bending over, if possible).
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Got Arthritis? You Can Clean and Garden With Less Pain. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/got-arthritis-you-can-clean-and-garden-with-less-pain.
Interview with Michelle Buccinna, OTD, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at the Touro College School of Health Sciences in Bay Shore, New York
Rheumatoid arthritis pain: Tips for protecting your joints. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20047954.
Tips for Managing Your Housework. Arthritis New South Wales. https://www.arthritisnsw.org.au/tips-for-managing-your-housework.
Your Home: Tips for Every Room. Versus Arthritis. https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/living-with-arthritis/your-home.