Allergy sufferers know that the arrival of spring also means the start of sneezing, wheezing and other seasonal symptoms; according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, more than 35 million people are affected by seasonal allergies. Aside from reaching for meds, you can also find some relief through your annual spring-cleaning routine. “A thorough once-over of your home helps control both indoor and seasonal allergens,” says Sakina Bajowala, MD, Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist with DuKane Allergy Asthma Associates in St. Charles, Illinois. “You won’t completely eliminate allergens, but there are many ways to reduce exposure for you and your family.” Here, a few tips to help you tidy your way to an allergen-reduced home.
1. Avoid bringing the outdoors in.
“Know your triggers and, to keep offending allergens outside, don't open windows on days when the pollen count is elevated,” recommends Andy Nish, MD, an allergist with the Allergy and Asthma Care Center in Gainesville, Georgia. (Go to aaaai.org/nab to find out the current pollen and mold levels in your area.) If you’ve spent time outdoors, launder your clothes and shampoo your hair to avoid carrying around allergens or transferring them to indoor surfaces such as sofas and bedding. According to Dr. Nish, allergens that are tracked indoors can stay potent enough to cause symptoms for a few days. Photo: Shutterstock
2. Use a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
Though taking your vacuum to the rug seems like an efficient way to zap allergens, irritants like dust mites and pet dander can easily be released back into the room while you clean. To prevent this, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, which traps allergens, at least once a week (this handheld version will do the trick if you're not ready to replace your full-size model). And “if you’re the allergy sufferer, wear a dust mask when vacuuming so you’re not inhaling allergens,” advises Dr. Nish.
3. Wash bedding every week.
Dust mites are the most common trigger of indoor allergy and asthma symptoms, and they thrive on soft surfaces, which means your greatest exposure to them is through your mattress. To help decrease susceptibility, wash bedding weekly in hot (130°F) water and dry on a hot cycle. If your comforters can’t be laundered, cover them with a washable duvet cover to keep them out of allergens' reach. Encase mattresses, box springs and pillows in allergen-proof covers. Luna's mattress protectors are waterproof, but still allow for air circulation, and are completely noiseless so you won't hear any rustling while you sleep. Photo: Shutterstock
4. Clean drapes and upholstery.
Because allergens cling to soft surfaces, it's essential to wash, dry-clean or vacuum drapes, as well as vacuum sofas and chairs to remove lingering allergens, and wash or dry-clean throw rugs. “Vertical blinds or roller shades are less likely to accumulate dust than drapes, so use them whenever possible,” says Dr. Bajowala. When renovating rooms in the future, skip wall-to-wall carpeting and opt for hard floors such as hardwood, tile or sheet vinyl, which are easier to clean and don’t harbor allergens. Photo: Shutterstock
5. Dust forgotten surfaces.
Because dust can cause symptoms in some people, it's important to remember to clean out-of-the-way areas. Use a damp microfiber cloth to trap dust as you wipe down flat surfaces that rarely get cleaned, such as baseboards, door jambs, air duct vents, ceiling fan blades and Venetian blinds (discover an easy way to clean dust-covered slats here). Vacuum underneath the stove and fridge to suck up crumbs that attract insects, which in turn produce allergens like cockroach droppings. And whenever possible, ditch clutter—it’s much easier to clean if you don’t have to dust around piles of paperwork and oodles of knickknacks. Photo: Shutterstock
6. Keep tabs on humidity levels.
To keep allergens that grow in damp areas, such as mold, under control, maintain proper household humidity, says Dr. Nish. A humidistat, a gauge that measures humidity and that can be found at most local home improvement stores (we like this one, from Lowe's), helps you monitor how much moisture is in the air. Indoor humidity levels should be kept below 50 percent. Use dehumidifiers in damp areas such as basements, and empty and clean the holding tank regularly. Run the air conditioning in humid weather to remove moisture from the air, and replace the air filter monthly (it helps trap some allergens). Repair leaking roofs or drippy pipes, as chronic leaks give mold a foothold.
7. Avoid harsh chemicals.
“Many patients with allergies are sensitive to chemicals and strong fragrances,” says Dr. Bajowala. “Whenever possible, use cleaning products that are unscented or contain only natural ingredients.” Or make your own all-purpose cleaning solution by combining one half cup distilled vinegar and two teaspoons of borax powder in half a gallon of water. Use this eco-friendly solution to wipe down surfaces and then let air-dry. Photo: Ian Batchelor / Getty Images
8. Clean up after pets.
Pet dander may be elevated in certain parts of your home after a long winter spent indoors. If you have pet allergies, vacuum your pet’s sleeping quarters well, wash your pet and pet’s bedding frequently, and speak to your vet about a well-balanced diet for your animal, because a healthy pet may shed less dander. Photo: Shutterstock
By Arricca Elin SanSone
March 8, 2013