Your allergies can make it tricky to keep your home clean. Some simple strategies can help you overcome that.
First, you need to know what triggers your kids’ allergies -- or your own. Common culprits include dust, pet dander, pollen, or mold. See an allergist to find out which ones are to blame in your family’s case.
Next, use these five steps to change how you clean and feel better.
1. Trap and Kill Dust Mites
Surprise: It’s not dust that you’re allergic to. Dust itself contains dirt and dead skin cells. Instead, the problem is waste from tiny creatures called dust mites.
They “tend to be in areas with a lot of skin scales, like beds, pillows, upholstered furniture, and carpets,” says allergist Mark Holbreich, MD.
Dust mites burrow deeply into pillows, mattresses, and carpet. They wriggle so far in that you can't vacuum them out.
You could replace carpet with wood, tile, or vinyl floors. There’s a much simpler solution, though, that won’t require remodeling.
“Put a mite-proof encasement on mattresses and pillows, which traps mites inside,” Holbreich says.
Also, wash all linens -- blankets, sheets, and pillowcases -- every 1-2 weeks. “Water will kill the dust mites,” Holbreich says. He adds that the water temperature doesn’t matter for that, so set your machine to hot, warm, or cold, and you’ll be fine.
2. Clean the Air
Are you or your children allergic to pollen? Then keep your windows closed during pollen season, even when the weather is great. Otherwise, you may wake up sneezing.
Pollen is sneaky. It slips into your home on your clothes and shoes.
“Change clothing before entering the bedroom,” says immunologist Clifford Bassett, MD. “Shampoo and shower nightly to rinse the pollen from your skin and hair.”
You could also look into getting a HEPA filter to remove pollen from the air. “If you have a central system, the HEPA filter goes into the heating/air unit,” Bassett says.
A HEPA filter may help you if you’re allergic to your pet. “Dander is very light. It floats in the air,” Holbreich says.
3. Bleach Away Mold
If someone in your home is allergic to mold, take care when there's a bad odor in a large area.
“A flooded basement [can cause problems],” Holbreich says, “not a little mold in the corner of the shower.”
There’s an easy fix.
“Bleach will actually destroy the allergens on mold, from our previous studies,” says Chuck Gerba, PhD, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
After you remove mold, you can keep it from coming back with the help of a dehumidifier (which pulls moisture from the air) and a hygrometer (which measures how much moisture is in the air inside your home). You can find a hygrometer in the home improvement aisle for as little as $10.
4. Vacuum Less
If your children are allergic to pet dander or pollen, you might think that you just need to vacuum more. Not necessarily.
“Vacuum cleaners notoriously don't filter,” Holbreich says. “They throw it into the air.”
You could consider trying a special HEPA filter for your vacuum cleaner. It traps more of the dirt that the machine sucks in. HEPA vacuum cleaners can be pricey, and they aren’t a perfect solution for everyone, so ask your doctor if it would make a difference for you. You may prefer to buy a less expensive HEPA filter that you can use with a regular vacuum cleaner.
5. Protect Yourself When You Clean
If you sneeze or get a runny nose when you clean, ask your family to step up and help with those chores. If your kids are too young for that, you may want to take an over-the-counter antihistamine before you start.
You could also wear an “N95” mask, which you can get from a hardware store, Holbreich says. It filters out at least 95% of particles in the air.
Do strong cleaners bother your eyes or nose? Try a gentler product. “Look for something that's fragrance-free,” Holbreich says. “[They are] less irritating.”