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10 Hidden Allergy Hot Spots in Your Home

Potted Plants

Have indoor allergies? Beware. Triggers such as mold, dust, and pet dander lurk around every corner -- often in unexpected places.

Take a good look at your houseplants. Mold spores, like the ones shown here, can grow in the pots and spread to the floor. To minimize this, remove dead leaves, use saucers, and avoid over-watering.

Pet Hangouts

Pet allergies are common, but Fido's fur is not the allergen. The real problem is proteins found in pet saliva, urine, and dander -- dead skin cells that become airborne and settle on carpets, furniture, and bedding. Pet hair can still be to blame because it can collect dander and other allergens like dust and pollen.

Keeping the pet out of your bedroom is only partially helpful, because airflow can carry pet allergens throughout the home. Tip: Clean and vacuum often, and wash your hands after playing with your pet.

Carpets and Rugs

Carpeting or area rugs can liven up a room in ways you didn't intend.

As they accumulate dust, they become a feeding ground for microscopic dust mites. Dust mites and their feces are notorious indoor allergy triggers.

To reduce this problem, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Or consider removing the carpeting altogether. Keep indoor humidity below 55% and use vents in bathrooms.

Books

Your food for thought may also be food for pests. Book dust harbors dust mites, mold spores, and tiny critters called booklice, shown in this slide.

If you find that handling your books triggers your allergies, try vacuuming their surfaces regularly or storing the books in a closed container. Decreasing the indoor humidity and removing mold as a food source will also help curb the number of booklice.

Stuffed Furniture

Upholstered furniture provides a cozy refuge for dust mites. Vacuum furniture fabric regularly. Leather, vinyl, or other smooth surfaces can lessen allergies.

Furniture stored in damp areas, such as basements, may grow mold spores, shown here. Use a dehumidifier in damp rooms to reduce moisture.

Bedding

Spending eight hours in bed each night leaves behind plenty of dead skin cells to attract dust mites.

The most effective way to keep these pests out of your bed is to put allergen-proof casings on the mattress, box spring, and especially the pillows.

Wash your sheets in hot water every week. Avoid throw pillows or fancy quilts that can't be washed.

Plush Toys

If your child has a dust mite allergy, his cuddly friends are probably making things worse.

You don't have to ban stuffed animals. Instead, look for those that are machine washable and wash them in hot water once a week. Dry them thoroughly.

Bathrooms

We've all seen mildew growing on shower tiles. That's the work of mold spores, which like to settle where it's warm and wet. Black mold, shown here, often grows in hidden areas as well, contaminating behind walls or below the floor.

The best defense is to keep your bathrooms clean and dry. Fix leaky faucets and other sources of water. Use vent fans when you shower. And clean surfaces regularly with a bleach solution.

Kitchen

This is a favorite room for mold. If your refrigerator has a drip pan, pull it out and scrub it regularly. Standing water attracts mold. Old, moldy food can also trigger allergies.

 

Also, cover trash cans and store food in sealed containers to keep cockroaches away. These nighttime bugs are hard to see, and they trigger allergies in many people.

Air Conditioner

Air conditioning helps keep your home cool and dry, helping to fight allergens. But sometimes it can be part of the problem. As dust collects on the cooling coils, mold, like this cladosporium fungus, may begin to grow.

 

Keep dust out by installing a heavy-duty filter and changing it regularly. Window A/C units should be professionally cleaned and disinfected every year.

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 15, 2011

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Additional Resources

Filtering Indoor Air

If you have indoor allergies, consider a HEPA air filter to reduce dust in the bedroom

Also get a vacuum with a HEPA filter to reduce particles that scatter when you clean.

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