Is there a such thing as a magic carpet? In the world of an allergy sufferer, the answer is no. The ideal allergy-proof home has no wall-to-wall carpeting because it is perfect for harboring dust mites, mold spores, and pet dander, not to mention residues from insecticides, household cleaning products, kitchen grease, and cigarette smoke.
Additionally, new carpets, carpet padding, and the accompanying dyes and stain repellents often emit irritating toxic fumes and/or chemicals. Despite the downsides, many people find the warmth and comfort of a carpet hard to resist. And, because carpeting muffles noise, apartment dwellers often prefer it.
This section will cover the impact that floor coverings can have on keeping an allergy-free home.
Carpet-Free is Best
You'll be doing your allergies a major favor by removing wall-to-wall carpeting and replacing it with hardwood or tiled floors. For warmth and comfort, consider machine-washable cotton, dhurrie, or rag rugs. Make sure that these rugs can endure the hot washing temperatures needed to kill mites, and vacuum/wash them often.
If you choose hardwood, vinyl, or tile floors, don't neglect regular cleaning. These coverings also collect dust, and they harbor mold if not sealed properly.
If You Must Have Carpets, Vacuum Them!
If you don't have the option of removing carpets, what can you do? Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum!
Every day. That being said, understand that vacuuming is a mixed blessing. Dust mites love their home and no big, bad, ugly vacuum cleaner is going to stop them from clinging to carpets. Sad to say, vacuuming doesn't remove mites. It does, however, help remove their dead bodies (which can't cling) and fecal pellets as well as some dust-mite foods (skin flakes, hair, pet dander, etc.). So stick with the vacuuming program if you have allergies and carpeting.
Selecting the proper vacuum is of utmost importance. Look for models with tight connections (to prevent allergens from blowing out) and built-in HEPA filters, which are designed to absorb and contain up to 99.97 percent of airborne contaminants as small as 0.3 micron. HEPA vacuum cleaners are more expensive, but inexpensive vacuums often have porous bags and loose connections, allowing allergens to escape. If expenses (or home situations) permit, the best bet is to install a central vacuum system with the collection bag and motor in the garage.
Having carpets professionally cleaned, either by steam cleaning or dry cleaning, every six months is also recommended. Make sure the carpet is dried thoroughly after cleaning to avoid a moldy situation. Don't have carpets "shampooed" since that process often leaves behind residue, which is an irritant.
Using chemical warfare to kill dust mites on carpets has promise, but there haven't been enough controlled clinical trials for some allergists to highly recommend it. The two products used to eliminate mites are benzyl benzoate (trade name Acarosan) and tannic acid (trade name Allergy Control Solution).
Benzyl benzoate (Acarosan) is a derivative of Peruvian balsam and is the primary ingredient in medications used to treat scabies. In a moist powder form, the Acarosan is brushed on the carpet and left to dry for 12 hours. It kills dust mites and their offspring, and it binds to mite feces, making it easier to vacuum them up. The treatment is effective for six months.
Tannin, the same chemical found in your cup of tea, is known to break down dust-mite allergens by neutralizing protein in their droppings. Applied to carpets as a spray or powder, it is effective for up to two months. This chemical cannot be used on white, light-colored, or Oriental carpets and can damage fabrics sensitive to water, such as silk, certain wools, and some cottons.
Take 'em Off
A nonchemical, easy-to-follow option for keeping carpets clean is to establish a "no shoes" policy in the household. Many cultures around the world do this to prevent outside grime from entering their tidy homes via the bottom of someone's shoe. Such a policy may help reduce the number of allergens entering the home (grass pollens, in particular), not to mention pesticide residues from the lawn, mold spores, and general gunk and goo.
Here's help in establishing a no-shoes policy:
- Alert the world to your plight. Make a small, polite sign that reads, "Upon entering, please remove shoes. Thank you." Attach this note to your front door at eye level.
- Once inside, designate a repository for your guest's shoes.
- Provide clean slippers, flip-flops, or socks for your guests! This is the most important next step. Arrange them in a basket for visual appeal.
- Uphold the rule. Occasionally, guests or maintenance people will enter with shoes on. Welcome them and gently explain that you have a no-shoes policy due to allergies. Then ask which they would prefer, slippers or socks? Most people are happy to oblige. But be reasonable, too. Sometimes guests who only stay for a few minutes won't take off their shoes. Don't be nit-picky.
- One last word on carpets -- if you have to have wall-to-wall carpeting, at least opt for short- or smooth-weave carpeting. Shag or thick plush and lush carpeting are all the more inviting to dust mites and make great traps for mold spores and pet dander.
Next up in our allergy-proofing journey is your basement, which can be a tricky mix of dust and mold spores. Learn how to eliminate your risk for both in the next section.
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