Conventional vacuum cleaners are intended to pick up and retain big pieces of dirt, like the dust bunnies we see floating about on our floors. But it's the tiny dust particles that pass right through the porous vacuum bags and up into the air. So, while our floors may look cleaner after running a vacuum over them, plenty of dust, which can exacerbate allergies, remains.
Pet allergens and indoor dust, which contains the highest concentrations of hazardous materials like heavy metals, lead, pesticides, and other chemicals, are found in higher concentrations in the smallest particles of the dust, explains David MacIntosh, MD. He is principal scientist at Environmental Health & Engineering (EH&E), an environmental consulting and engineering services firm based in Needham, Mass.
"The everyday habit of cleaning with a conventional vacuum cleaner results in a burst of particles in the air and then they settle back down over the course of hours," says MacIntosh.
Solution: Look for a vacuum cleaner with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Unlike those in conventional vacuums, HEPA filters are able to retain the small particles and prevent them from passing through and contaminating the air you breathe in your home.
3. Sleeping With Pillows and a Mattress
The average person sheds about 1.5 million skin cells per hour and perspires one quart every day even while doing nothing, says Tierno. The skin cells accumulate in our pillows and mattresses and dust mites grow and settle.
If that's not gross enough for you, Tierno explains that a mattress doubles in weight every 10 years because of the accumulation of human hair, bodily secretions, animal hair and dander, fungal mold and spores, bacteria, chemicals, dust, lint, fibers, dust mites, insect parts, and a variety of particulates, including dust mite feces. After five years, 10% of the weight of a pillow is dust mites. This is what you're inhaling while you sleep.
"What you're sleeping on can exacerbate your allergies," says Tierno.
Solution: Cover your mattress, box springs, and pillows with impervious outer covers.
"Allergy-proof coverings seal the mattress and pillow, preventing anything from getting in or out, which protects you," Tierno says. He also suggests that you wash your sheets weekly in hot water. Make sure the temperature range of the water is between 130 to 150 F.
4. Grilling Meat
So much for the summertime staple: Barbecuing meat creates the cancer-causing compounds polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). When fat drips from the meat onto the hot grill, catches fire, and produces smoke, PAHs form. That's what's contained in that delicious-looking charred mark we all look for on our burger. HCAs form when meat is cooked at a high temperature, which can occur during an indoor cooking process as well.