Although they affect millions of people year-round, allergy symptoms caused by indoor allergens can be frustrating and tricky to track down. Is it dust mites in the sofa cushion? Hidden mold in your bathroom? Or a pillow that’s past its prime?
These top allergy-proofing tips will help pinpoint some of the most common allergen zones and show you how to tackle them with simple, effective strategies that are sure to help you breathe a little easier.
1. Ditch the carpet
Dust mites, those tiny arthropods that feed off our dead skin cells, thrive in warm, humid environments such as carpeting and upholstered furniture. Carpets are famously 4,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat, so it’s no surprise that the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommend replacing wall-to-wall carpet with hardwood, laminate or vinyl flooring, which are much easier to keep clean.
Can’t get rid of your carpet? Hoover it a couple of times once a week with a vacuum that has a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) or small-particle filter. While large rugs can also be hoovered, some can be machine washed and tumble dried, which is an even better way of eliminating mites.
2. Banish bugs from your bedroom
You likely spend over eight hours per day in the bedroom, making it one of the most important rooms in the house to focus on when trying to eliminate allergens. If you often wake congested and sneezing, a few small changes could make a big difference.
If you have pets, keep them out of the bedroom—turning this space into a pet-free zone would give you eight or more hours a day of reduced exposure to pet dander.
Blinds are ideal in the bedroom, but if you must have curtains avoid thick or heavy drapes. Instead, opt for 100 per cent cotton, which is easy to clean. And avoid letting them pool on the floor.
Again, consider removing any wall-to-wall carpeting and opting for throw rugs that can be regularly washed and tumble dried.
Open your windows and pull back blankets and sheets each morning to ventilate the area and let humidity evaporate.
Have you ever considered an air purifier to help you or your family deal with allergies?
3. Invest in an air purifier
If you’re considering getting an air purifier, bedrooms and home offices are two good candidates, as they are likely the spaces you’re spending the most time in.
Air purifiers can filter out fine airborne particles like pollen, dust and pet dander—and some models can even filter out viruses and bacteria. Always make sure the purifier is powerful enough for the size of the room by checking its Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) and frequency of air exchange.
It’s also a good idea to look out for air purifiers that are part of the American Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) Verifide program, which measures clean air delivery rates at a nicely fresh five exchanges per hour.
4. Say goodbye to bathroom mold
Spores from mold and mildew can cause all sorts of respiratory issues and are your worst enemy in the bathroom. Mold grows best in fiddly nooks and crannies—think shower enclosures, window frames, tile grout and ceiling corners. Here are some quick and clever ways of staying on top of it:
Ventilate your bathroom while you shower (or instal a ventilator fan), and wipe down surfaces with a towel after cleaning—a dry bathroom will keep mildew and mold at bay.
A great way of tackling mold and mildew is with a vinegar-based cleaning solution. Not only can vinegar remove most mold species, but its high acidity also helps prevent future mold from growing.
Regularly check under the sink for any leaks or drips, as these are common mold and mildew hotspots.
5. Get better bedding
The right bed sheets not only feel great but can help you breathe and sleep better too. When buying bedding, consider hypoallergenic options, which feature a tighter weave and make it harder for mites and other allergens to settle.
Bedding made from natural materials like cotton, silk, wool, and linen are also naturally resistant to dust mites, mold and mildew (as well as being great to sleep in).
When it comes to pillows, picking the right one is not nearly as important as how well you care for it. It’s a common myth that down and feather pillows cause allergies—the reality is that dust mites can live just as happily in synthetic pillows, especially if they are made from cheaper materials.
Wash your pillows (and any throw pillows) at least twice a year in the hottest water they can handle (detergent doesn’t kill dust mites, but temperatures over 130ºF will) or pop them in the freezer for a few hours once a month. You should aim to replace them every couple of years.
6. Avoid unwelcome visitors
Cockroaches, insects and mice might gross you out for lots of reasons, but you may not know that they can also spark an allergic reaction. When pest feces, urine or even skin cells and dander dry out, they can float through the air and be inhaled.
To avoid these critters from taking up residency in your home, keep the lids of any trash cans securely closed in garage spaces, keep any foodstuff well-sealed in pantries and repair and seal any cracks or openings in basements.
There are also some great natural home remedies for keeping critters away—peppermint oil, cedarwood oil and cypress oil can all act as cockroach deterrents, little sachets filled with dried lavender can help keep moths from settling in your wardrobe, and sprays containing lavender and eucalyptus can help repel dust mites.
7. Clear the clutter
Marie Kondo is right—clutter is bad for you, and for more reasons than one. Here’s the surprising stuff that could be making you sneeze:
A lover of nostalgia? Trips down memory lane are great, but the cardboard boxes you’re using to store old clothes, books and photos can absorb moisture, hoard dust and attract insects. For long-term storage, switch to plastic containers that seal securely.
While a beloved soft and squishy toy in a kid’s room is cute, you can have too much of a good thing. Dust mites love to take up residency in stuffed animals, so avoid having too many out at once. If the care label allows, run them through a hot dryer for 15-20 minutes, then put them away in sealed plastic containers, leaving only two or three out at a time.
Don’t store old furniture like couches and mattresses in your attic, garage or basement. And be wary of buying second-hand upholstered furniture pieces (unless you’re prepared to have them professionally cleaned), as they’re no doubt chock full of dust, dander and other unwelcome particulates.
8. Be VOC-savvy
Traditional paints can continue to release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) —indoor air pollutants that can let off harmful gasses—for years.
While there are VOCs in everything from wood to fabric and furnishings, some studies have shown that children who sleep in bedrooms containing fumes from water-based paints and solvents are two to four times more likely to suffer allergies.
Consider using paints labelled non-toxic, or natural plant- or mineral-based paints, especially in bedrooms (added bonus: you won't have headaches from the ‘new paint’ smell).
And if you’ve invested in that air purifier we mentioned, it can certainly come in handy when you’re painting – especially one that uses carbon in its filter.
9. Set up your WFH desk for success
If you’ve been working in a home office, chances are you’ve been surprised at how dusty they can get. These simple strategies can help:
Computer fans draw in air, which is why dust quickly builds up around them. Help reduce this by turning off your computer when you finish work, so the fans aren’t spinning all night, and wipe down any equipment at least once a week with a microfiber cloth.
Bundle all your cables together and keep them off the floor (many office supply stores sell caddies that keep cables neatly under your desk). This will make hoovering much easier.
If possible, keep your computer raised off the ground to avoid hard-to-reach piles of dust from forming.
These days, you could be spending almost as much time in your home office as in your bedroom, so consider investing in an air purifier here too.