Your home is your castle -- except when you’re allergic to it. A recent nationwide survey found that over half of all Americans test positive for at least some allergens, and many of these are indoor allergies such as dust, mold, and pet dander.
How can you allergy-proof your home to make it a refuge, not a source of sneezes? Take a tour of your house from room to room, find out where the allergens are lurking, and get relief from indoor allergies.
Allergies in the Bedroom
“This is the most allergen-prone room in your house, because the most common indoor allergen is dust mites,” says James Sublett, MD, an allergist in Louisville, Ky.
The single most important thing you can do for dust mite allergies is to put hypoallergenic casings on your beds, mattresses, box springs, and especially the pillows. “They’re right in your face all the time, so they particularly need allergy casings,” says Sublett.
You can also reduce the presence of dust mites in your beds by using only washable bedding. Many people may pile their beds with fancy quilts, throw pillows, and wool blankets that aren’t washed regularly.
“If you move them around at night when you’re getting ready for bed, you stir up the particulate found in these linens,” says Sublett.
This applies to stuffed animals in children’s bedrooms as well. Instead of piling stacks and stacks of cuddly toys on the bed, limit the furry friends to one or two favorites that are washable. (Take a look at the label -- many stuffed animals are marked “surface clean only.”) Your child’s linens and stuffed animals should be washed in hot water at least once a week.
Remove carpets from the bedroom (and elsewhere in the house as well if you can). A smooth-surfaced floor reduces the dust mite particles that accumulate in carpets.
Keep pets out of the bedroom and most certainly off your bed. “Even if you’re not actually allergic to the pet dander, they can bring allergens into the bedroom and onto the bed on their fur,” notes Sublett.
The bedroom is also a good place for a HEPA air filter to clean bedroom air. (This is not an “air purifier,” which is a different product and does nothing for allergies).
Allergies in the Living Room, Family Room and Playroom
These rooms may not have quite the allergy-aggravating potential that the bedroom does, but similar rules apply:
- Keep carpeted surfaces to a minimum.
- Choose smooth-surfaced furniture, like leather, vinyl, and ultrasuede over heavily upholstered pieces.
- Limit soft and plush toys, and wash them regularly.
- In rooms with carpeting, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
Vacuums with HEPA filters “reduce the amount of particles thrown up in the air when you’re vacuuming,” says Sublett.
Also, it’s a good idea to wear an allergy face mask when you’re vacuuming.” He recommends a mask rated at least N95 by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which filters extremely small particles.
Allergies in the Kitchen and Bathrooms
Cockroaches are another common trigger of allergies and asthma, so it’s important to keep the kitchen clean. Keep all food stored in sealed containers, and keep garbage cans covered and emptied regularly.
Mold from moisture also tends to accumulate in both the kitchen and bathroom. Use vent fans to clear the air after cooking or showering, and make sure that all solid surfaces are regularly cleaned using a 5% bleach cleaning solution. Showers and bathtubs should be cleaned weekly and checked for mold and mildew.
Refrigerator drip pans are another often-neglected source of mold. If your fridge has one, pull it out when you do your regular kitchen cleaning and scrub it down.
Whole-House Solutions for Allergies
The best way to keep allergens out of your house is to keep it clean and dry. Molds and mildew thrive in damp, poorly ventilated environments, so repair leaking roofs and pipes promptly. Avoid putting carpet on concrete floors, and keep clothing and papers away from damp areas. You can use dehumidifiers in areas that tend to accumulate moisture (like the basement), but be sure to empty them regularly and keep them clean or they will become another source of mold and mildew.
You can also guard your home from allergens tracked in from outside using a tracking mat -- not a cute welcome mat, but a good-sized rubberized mat like you’d see in commercial buildings.
“Studies have shown that many of the particles that are brought into the house are on your shoes,” says Sublett.
It may be impossible to completely allergy-proof your home, but if you follow these tips you may find yourself breathing easier.