Doing Housework With Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Housework can be challenging enough for those who don't have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, but for those who do, it can be exhausting to just think about what needs to be done around the home.

While keeping your house clean may not be "easy," there are a number of ways that you can conserve energy, ease the physical strain, or reduce the contact you have with allergens or chemicals that aggravate your symptoms.

Let's take a look at some tips that others with these conditions have found helpful when coping with housework.


Clear the Clutter

Clutter in a bedroom

Louis Turner / Getty Images

When you don't have the energy to run around the house, clutter is bound to pile up (especially next to the bed or couch where you spend a lot of time.) A small tray or basket can help you clear out those problem areas in one trip. If you don't have some form of basket in these areas, purchasing one today may ease your burden the next time you clean.

Multi-level houses can be a nice, hidden form of forced exercise for those who feel well, but with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, those dozens of trips up and down stairs can be exhausting.

If you are doing a major de-cluttering, it may be wise to make piles of things—a pile for each level. Then you can take everything in the pile-up or down the stairs in one trip. Better yet, you can ask your partner or kids to deliver the piles up or down a level. Again, having a tray or basket comes in handy.

While it's tempting, try to avoid placing these piles on the stairs, and rather, have them nearby. Too many people have set things on the stairs with good intentions, but discover those piles when they act like a banana peel and cause a fall. In general, stairs should always be left free of all debris.

As you straighten, take note of things that keep ending up in the same spots. You may want to make a new "home" for these items near the place they always wind up. For example, if you spend a fair amount of time on the couch, you may wish to fill your remote control caddy with things you use frequently, such as a nail clipper and file, a foot massage wand, guitar picks, and lip balm. Of course, these items will be different for each person, so you may have to brainstorm those items you'd like to have handy at all times.


Keep Supplies Where You Need Them

Cleaning products

Jamie Grill / Getty Images

A simple time-saver when it comes to cleaning is to have the supplies you need in the room where you use them. For example, instead of keeping all of your cleaning supplies in the laundry room (which it seems is always on a different level than where you are cleaning).

This could mean keeping bathroom cleaning supplies in each bathroom, and all kitchen cleaning supplies in the kitchen. It may take up more space, but it can be worth it. And for those coping with fatigue, it might end up making the difference between cleaning a room and letting it go another day.

It's not just the gathering of supplies which is tiring. After gathering supplies and cleaning, many people with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome have had enough, and the supplies remain spread around and on counters indefinitely—at least until your energy is restored.

You may wish to buy separate bottles of window or mirror cleaner to keep in each room. Then you can buy and store a large refill bottle for your laundry room and refill all of the other bottles periodically. Small hand broom/dustpan sets are pretty cheap and easy to find, and it's great to have several so you're not always running for a broom.

While a lightweight, inexpensive vacuum that fits in a small space may not clean as well, it can do a decent job of cleaning up small surface messes until you have the energy or can find someone else to haul out your large one and do a more thorough cleaning. A small, rechargeable hand vacuum would work for this as well.


Choose a Vacuum Carefully

Man kneeling and vacuuming living room

Sofie Delauw / Getty Images

Those who haven't lived with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome may not realize how the vibrations of a vacuum can be irritating. Many people with these conditions find that the vibrations from a vacuum can irritate the nerves in their hands and feet. If you are coping with this phenomenon, others have found that using gloves when vacuuming can dampen the vibrations significantly.

Before you buy a vacuum, ask to test it. Along with looking for one that's lightweight, see how easy it is to push. Some turn a lot easier than others. A self-propelled vacuum might sound like a good idea, but some of them can pull on your arm, which could be painful.

Consider a bagless vacuum if you have a dust allergy or sensitivity—bags can release a lot of dust into the air, especially when you change them.

When vacuuming, don't push and pull rapidly with your arm, as that can be hard on your arm and upper back. Instead, walk the vacuum slowly forward and backward.


Dust Without Bending or Stretching

woman Dusting a high shelf

Cultural / Liam Norris / Getty Images

Bending and stretching to dust can cause havoc with sore muscles and joints. To keep from straining yourself or having to climb or reach, look for a duster with a telescoping handle. A long one can help you dust everything from chair rungs to cobwebs on the ceiling without bending or reaching.

Some dusters can put a lot of dust in the air, so if you're allergic or sensitive you might be better off with the newer products that trap dust more effectively. These "microfiber" dusters can be very effective when coping with "dry dust" so that you don't simply move it from your furniture to the air you breathe.

If dust really bothers you, try wearing a surgical-type mask. They're generally available at drug stores or in the pharmacy section of grocery or big-box stores.


Reduce Possible Hazards

Eco cleaning products on a kitchen table

Janine Lamontagne / Getty Images

For the chemically sensitive, cleaning products can be a real problem, and multiple chemical sensitivity is far too common in people with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.

An easy, inexpensive solution for your bathroom is something you already have—laundry detergent. It does a great job on tubs, toilets, and sinks, and you already know you can tolerate it. Some other bonuses: you only need a tiny amount, and it rinses well. Of course, not all laundry detergents fit this bill. You may wish to try a product from your organic grocery store or an Arm and Hammer product. Better yet, check out the Environmental Working Group's ratings of laundry detergents. This organization rates a large number of home products on a scale of 1 to 10 based on the presence of everything from chemicals that are irritating to those which may be carcinogens.

Multiple smells in a small space can also be aggravating to the senses. You can get rid of one by using warm water to wash your mirror. It works surprisingly well!

Sponges can hold onto germs and spread them, which you especially don't want if you have a compromised immune system. Instead of using a dirty sponge, grab an old washcloth and then drop it in the laundry when you're done.

Rubber gloves can protect your skin from chemicals. If they make you too clumsy, you might want to try latex gloves, which aren't as bulky (or the latex-free alternatives if you're allergic).

If you find yourself getting headaches from cleaning products, it may be more than your fibromyalgia. Many of these products can release volatile organic compounds into the air, and this can be even more toxic when combining products.

You might also want to try "green" chemicals or use household items like vinegar instead of typical cleaning products. In fact, many people have found they can do an excellent job cleaning their homes with only a few chemicals: baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon oil, and water.


Pace Yourself and Prioritize!

Side view of tensed woman leaning at sink in kitchen

Maskot / Getty Images 

Pacing is important no matter what you're doing. Try working in short bursts with rest periods in between. Also, vary your tasks so you're not using the same muscles for too long a period. Learn how to pace yourself when coping with fibromyalgia or CFS.

Pacing yourself is helpful, but you may still find yourself with the most bothersome tasks left undone. Before beginning to clean, make out a list. Then take a moment to list these on a scale of 1 to 3, with 1 being most important. Start with the 1's on your list. Often times, the 3's aren't that important anyway. In time, they may become a "1" and will make it closer to the top of your list.

If you're finding that your symptoms are worse after cleaning and haven't kept a symptom diary for fibromyalgia/CFS, try starting one today. Many people come up with their own best tips for coping by noting patterns in these journals.

Housework is only one of the challenges when you are living with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. From gardening to cooking, to shopping, to traveling, to worrying about keeping your job, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome pose a set of unique challenges. Finding others coping with these conditions, whether in a support group in your community, or an online social community, may help you feel less alone as well as give you further tips on coping with day to day issues.

You may also be interested in checking out this list of lifestyle changes for people with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome that can make every day you live with your condition just a little bit easier.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.