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If you’re like most people, you probably only venture into your attic a few times a year when you’re looking for specific things – the Christmas tree, empty storage tubs, hand-me-down clothing – and then you promptly get what you need and get outta there. Even though this is a common pattern, it’s not necessarily a good one. Leaving your attic unvisited for months or even years at a time can lead to all sorts of problems in the future.

The unfortunate part of working in the attic is that you often run into a cyclical problem: you don’t want to work in the attic because it’s dirty/musty/cold/hot, so the attic, in turn, gets dirtier/mustier/colder/hotter. The thing is, though, that you really should clean out your attic at least once a year to make sure there aren’t any little problems that could turn into big problems later on.

What problems could be in my attic?

Besides having a cluttered attic that’s difficult to navigate, you could run into some of the following issues:

  • Insects: There are going to be at least a few insects living in your attic, but you don’t want it to get out of control – especially if insects such as wasps or hornets set up shop.
  • Rodents: Rats and mice like the warmth that comes with all of that soft insulation, and there are usually a lot of things for them to eat in your attic. Rodents can cause a lot of problems by eating your stored items, gnawing the insulation off of electrical wiring, and tearing apart your attic insulation. Additionally, their poop can be hazardous to the air quality in your home and may require professional remediation if it’s bad enough.
  • Mold: Mold can be another big problem in your attic if you don’t catch it early enough.
  • Poor Energy Efficiency: Old or insufficient insulation can cause your energy bills to skyrocket. Before you go out and buy a whole bunch of insulation out-of-pocket, check with your local energy company to see if they offer rebates for installing new insulation in your attic.

Attic Cleaning Supplies

Before you head up to your attic, make sure that you have the following supplies ready to go:

  • Knee Pads
  • Mask
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Long pants
  • Headlamp
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Duster/rags
  • Vacuum
  • Mop (if applicable)

Step-by-step Guide to Cleaning Your Attic

  1. Reacquaint yourself with everything in the attic by setting up “zones” for similar things (holidays, antiques, clothes, toys, etc.) You might discover that you have whole piles of stuff that you no longer need before you actually start to go through the piles to organize.
  2. Once you’ve moved everything into similar piles, go through and organize each pile. Make additional piles for things you want to donate, sell, and toss. Get rid of stuff you’ve wanted to toss for years, and throw out all of the extra packing supplies and paper that tend to accumulate. If you need additional inspiration to throw away attic clutter, you might want to look into the KonMari method of tidying up.
  3. Once you have your piles situated, pack similar items into heavy-duty plastic totes, and look into installing some simple metal shelving units to help your items stay organized and off the floor. Plastic shelving works fine, too, but depending where you live, the change in temperature between summer and winter can cause the plastic to become brittle and break. Similarly, wood shelving can warp and crack due to temperature changes and humidity.
  4. Now it’s time to get started on the really fun part: cleaning. Start by removing all fabrics in your attic, including curtains and rugs. Give them a thorough cleaning before putting them back upstairs. While the textiles are being washed, dust all of the surfaces with a good duster. Lug your vacuum up into the space, and use the attachments to clean out the corners and hard-to-reach places in the attic, then vacuum up the rest of the floor. It’s probably not the best idea to sweep your attic – at least at first – because you’ll most likely just be knocking all of the dust into the air with your broom. If your attic floor is finished, run a mop around to pick up the last of the grime and dust bunnies.
  5. While you’re cleaning, it’s important that you keep a close eye out for rodent excrement and remains. It’s likely that if you find even a little bit of evidence left behind by your furry friends, there is more hiding out somewhere else in your attic. It is possible to remediate against rodent infestations by yourself, but you might have better luck calling in an expert.
  6. Once you’ve eliminated dust bunnies and spider webs from the floor, walls, and ceiling, inspect your attic closely for mold and other signs of water damage. If you find problem areas, inspect your roof, and correct the problem as quickly as possible. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may need to contact a professional roofing or mold remediation company.
  7. Finally, put all of your textiles back in place and do one last sweep.

Safety Measures

You should always be extra careful when you’re working in your attic because one wrong move could hurt yourself or your home. Take note of where the floor joists and ceiling beams are, so you don’t bonk your head or put a foot through the ceiling below. Wear a face mask while working in the attic so that you don’t breathe in dust, insulation particles, or other unpleasant airborne elements.

You should also wear long sleeves, long pants, and gloves when working with insulation, and wash the clothes as soon as you finish. If you require a ladder, make sure that you follow the ladder’s safety protocol, and always ask someone to help you move awkward or bulky things (like your vacuum, storage totes, or the metal shelving) up and down the ladder.

Cleaning your attic may not be fun, but the benefits outweigh the pain. You’ll have greater peace of mind, lower your energy bill, prevent expensive issues in the future, and be able to find things more quickly.