The noise and chaos is over. The construction workers are finally gone and they’ve taken with them all the cords, tools, and random wood planks you’ve been tripping over for weeks or months. The renovation you’d been waiting for is finally complete and you have your home roof all to yourself again. It’s time to relax, take a breath, and enjoy your revamped space. However, when you do take that breath, you notice that you are breathing in a lot of dust. And your sinks are grimy and ringed with unknown—but possibly toxic—substances.
It’s time for your part in the renovation, and that means it’s going to take a little elbow grease before you and your family can settle back into a normal routine. The dust and debris left behind by a major renovation may be toxic to your family and pets. But where do you begin when it comes to cleaning up what’s left behind?
When hiring a contractor for a long-awaited home renovation, many times we are so focused on the outcome of our renovation project that we don’t think to ask about post-renovation cleanup. It’s important to ask specific questions before the renovation begins and to get the answers in writing. First of all, ask about your contractor’s cleanup policy. Are they responsible for the cleanup, or are you? If they do the cleanup, how thorough is it? Do they clean up daily as they go, or does it all pileup until the end? Do they do the cleanup themselves or subcontract it out to an agency, and if it’s a separate agency, when do they arrive? Further, is that cost factored into your contract?
Make sure the cleanup policy of your contractor is in writing, so you can ask for a reimbursement if you find yourself unexpectedly spending time and money cleaning up more than you were led to expect.
Clearance Dust Sampling
While most contractors will remove the leftover debris, it’s not typical for them to go around dusting your home after a renovation, meaning the combination of wood and plaster dust is going to be the biggest cleanup challenge after a renovation. If your home was built before 1978, you are facing the possibility that the construction crew sawed through or demolished some components in your home that contained lead-based paint. While a good contractor follows specific protocols for containing and disposing of lead dust, many times it’s been found that some potentially dangerous dust is left behind.
To put your mind at ease, before you begin your cleanup, you can have a certified technician come in to take samples of the renovation dust in your home. The lead-based paint professional will perform a visual check for paint chips and flakes, and also take six to ten dust samples to an accredited lab.
If it turns out that the dust in your home contains lead, you must follow specific cleanup guidelines to safely remove it from your home, or hire professionals.
Cleanup Checklist After a Major Renovation
- Vacuum. Since vacuuming can disburse dust, you should do this before anything else, and then again following the rest of your cleanup. Using a good shop vac is crucial for your initial cleaning. It’s possible that some nails, tacks, and screws may have been left behind, and a shop vacuum can tackle these small objects as well as sawdust, paint chips and other debris. Also use the shop vac to vacuum any upholstered furniture, couches, curtains, and mattresses. Construction dust can cause itchiness and irritation, so it’s important to thoroughly vacuum all soft surfaces. Steam cleaning may also be necessary if dust and dirt is deeply ingrained in carpeting.
- Clean the walls, including molding and baseboards. Used dryer sheets are helpful for removing dust from baseboards. If your walls have been freshly painted, stick to dry-dusting. If it’s older paint, clean with a damp cloth. Wipe off all flat surfaces such as countertops, tables, shelves, refrigerator, and cabinet tops. The interior shelves of cabinets will also need a cleaning. Don’t miss cleaning the tops of door and window frames.
- Clean all air vents and replace filters. It’s important not to skip this step, or no matter how much you dust and vacuum you will be dealing with more dust every time your heating or cooling unit kicks on.
- Clean light fixtures, ceiling fans, and fan blades. Dust any electronics and knick-knacks.
- Scrub sinks and tubs. Renovation and construction crews typically dump liquid materials down your sinks and into your bathtub if they are working in your bathroom. Some of the chemical agents they use may be harmful, so it’s important to carefully clean any dust, debris, and residue out of your sinks and bathtub.
- After dusting and cleaning all surfaces, follow up by using a regular vacuum cleaner with roller brush over carpet surfaces, and mopping hard surface floors. It’s a good idea to sweep and use a treated dust mop on hard floors before damp-mopping. This will remove any tiny materials that may scratch your floor surfaces during mopping.
- Clean windows and window frames. Your windows will have probably accumulated a fine coating of dust during renovation, so it’s important not to neglect them. If your renovation project included new windows, you may also have to use a glue removing agent to remove stickers and residue.
Safety during post-renovation cleanup is essential. While cleaning, vacuuming, and dusting, be sure to wear a face mask to avoid inhaling any dust particles. Many toxic substances are released during renovation work, including mold spores, mildew, silicates, and tiny dust particles which may injure lungs.
Never clean alone if you plan on climbing ladders or lifting heavy objects.
Do-It-Yourself Cleanup or Hire Professionals?
If you are unsure whether you wish to tackle post-renovation cleaning yourself, you may want to consider hiring professional services. There are many cleaning contractors who specialize in just this sort of post-construction cleanup. You might ask yourself if you have the time for this cleanup process or if it is worth dipping into your budget to hire professionals, or better yet, consider factoring this into your renovation budget before you begin.