If you’ve ever experienced coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, a runny nose, a scratchy throat, rashes, hives, low blood pressure, breathing trouble, or an asthma attack, allergies could be to blame. So is there a way to minimize home allergies? Absolutely, but let’s first take a look at the magnitude of the problem.
- According to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA), more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies today.
- Allergies are among the country’s most common, yet often overlooked diseases. Since there is no cure for allergies, prevention is key.
Your Home May Be Harboring Allergy Triggers
Many people suffer from allergies only at certain times of the year. For others, “allergy season” is a year-round, dismal reality. Since allergens can be found indoors as well as outdoors, reducing allergens in your home is a great first step toward prevention and optimal health. Your home should be a safe haven where you rest, rejuvenate, and recuperate from daily stress and toxic exposures. But what you can’t see can sometimes hurt you. Your home may, in fact, be harboring a broad range of allergy triggers.
Everything from insects to furry companions to synthetic fragrances in cleaners, air fresheners, and candles could be causing your unwanted allergy symptoms. Why not prevent allergens from entering the home in the first place rather than treating or masking allergy symptoms? Awareness and simple actions can result in profound changes in your health.
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Here are 10 tips to minimize home allergies:
1. Reduce Clutter
Go on a paper cleanse and say sayonara to unwanted piles of papers, magazines, and books lurking in your bedroom, under your bed, or in your home office. Keep only what you need, and recycle the rest. The same applies to cluttered shelves, cabinets, and closets, which can be breeding grounds for insects, mold, and rodents and their droppings. Your home will not only look better, you’ll feel better, too.
2. Change the Filters
Since biological contaminants like dust and dirt permeating your home’s air can’t always be seen, they are often overlooked. Be sure to change the furnace filter for your HVAC (heating and cooling) system according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, typically every 60 to 90 days.
A high-performance filter will capture more than 95% of large airborne allergens such as mold spores, pollen, and dust mite debris. Not only do these filters help maintain better airflow to reach your desired temperature, they will also reduce energy use, resulting in savings on your bill.
3. Wash Linens Naturally
Are you washing your bed linens in hot water every two weeks (or more frequently)? If not, your bed is likely home to millions of dust mites. Be sure to wash your sheets and pillowcases in water that’s at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit to kill those nasty dust mites. You should also be seasonally washing your curtains, comforter, area rugs, and duvets.
Be sure to use a nontoxic detergent free of synthetic fragrance, petroleum-based solvents, and optical brighteners. I also recommend vacuuming the top of your mattress with a HEPA airtight vacuum hose or handheld device. Also, let the sunlight hit your mattress and open the windows when changing your bedding. The sunlight will kill bacteria and absorb the moisture that creates a perfect breeding ground for dust mites.
4. Bring in the Fresh Air
Open the windows during the non-allergy season to let your home breathe and allow for better circulation and removal of built-up toxins and dust. During allergy season, this isn’t always an option. But you can place low-pollen plants such as peace lilies or English ivy throughout the home and out of pets’ reach. In addition to removing CO2 and creating oxygen, studies have shown that plants offer benefits including stress reduction and improved focus. Plants can gather dust, so it’s important to clean them regularly.
Also, be sure to keep moisture at bay by using exhaust fans after showering and when cooking to vent out particulates. Keep wet towels off the floor and fully dry them to avoid mold and mildew buildup. I recommend a mildew-resistant shower curtain, such as those made from hemp. If you live in a high-moisture area, consider using a dehumidifier to keep humidity levels below 50%.
5. Snuggle With a Mate, Not a Mite
Since your skin is your largest organ, you want to make sure that what you’re sleeping on will prevent unwanted dust mites. In addition to throwing your pillow in the dryer on high heat to kill dust mites (or washing, depending on the material of your pillow), you should definitely use an organic cotton pillow and mattress barrier cover if you have an allergy to dust mites. Avoid plastic barrier covers, as these can off-gas dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air.
6. Clean Greener
In addition to wet mopping and damp dusting to capture accumulated dust, avoid cleaning products that can agitate allergy symptoms. Instead, make your own cleaners from ingredients in your kitchen cabinets. A mixture of baking soda and natural dish soap makes a great tub, tile, and toilet cleaner, while two parts water to one part white distilled vinegar can be used for streak-free windows and glass surfaces.
7. Use an Air Purifier
If you don’t have a whole-house air-filtration system, then purchasing a stand-alone room air purifier is a must. A good unit will not only remove airborne allergens but will also capture dangerous VOCs, gases, and odors from the air you breathe. Place this in your bedroom for optimal effectiveness.
New technology allows for air monitoring and air purification all in one system. One example is the Dyson Pure Cool Link, which detects and removes harmful pollutants and allergens in the air down to 0.3 microns. It’s an effective and convenient solution to reduce air pollutants and allergens as they emerge.
8. Choose Allergen-Unfriendly Fabrics
Allergens could be permeating your bedding and wreaking havoc on your health. Some materials and fabrics are prone to harbor allergens, moisture, bacteria, and dust mites. Down, for example, is one such material that should be avoided. It’s highly allergenic and the treatment of animals to create down is downright inhumane. Opt instead for wool, which naturally wicks away moisture and acts as a natural flame retardant as well as natural (not synthetic) latex, which is inherently resistant to dust mites.
9. Bare It on the Floor
While it is warm and cozy underfoot, carpet can harbor all kinds of nasty things. Millions of microorganisms and more than 120 nasty chemicals can be found in carpet backing, adhesives, and the fibers themselves, as well as any stain- and water-resistant treatments that have been applied to the carpet. Wall-to-wall carpeting is a no-no, especially in the bedroom and wet areas such as laundry and bathrooms.
Choose hard-surfaced flooring instead such as cork, FSC-certified hardwood flooring, concrete, or ceramic tile. If you’re on a budget, look for linoleum or Marmoleum, which is made from linseed oil (not vinyl flooring made from PVC, a problematic plastic that’s best avoided). Carpet, in particular, harbors allergens. Clean carpet thoroughly with a HEPA vacuum and nontoxic cleaner.
10. Make It a Furry-Free Zone
We all love our animal companions, and many like them soo much that they share the same bed. This can create allergic reactions from pet dander. Establish rules from the beginning so your pet sleeps in his or her own (organic) bed. Also, you should shampoo and groom your pet with a nontoxic formula to protect their health (and yours).
Also, when shopping for products, visit asthma & allergy friendly to find products that have been certified by the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America.
Originally published on July 13, 2016, this article was updated in August 2022.