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Beware of Bedroom and Basement Allergens

Bedding can be a dangerous source of dust mite allergens.  Regularly wash bedding and use dust-mite covers.
Bedding can be a dangerous source of dust mite allergens.  Regularly wash bedding and use dust-mite covers.
©iStockphoto.com/Justin Horrocks

Your kids are right — there is a monster lurking in the bedroom. However, the monster is not under your child's bed, instead it's in the bed. And the chance that monster is in your bed is nearly 50/50, according to a recent study led by NIH, HUD, Harvard University and Westat, Inc. researchers.

The monster in this case is allergens contaminating your bedroom air. Some 44 million homes, or more than 45 percent of the nation's housing stock, have bedding with dust mite allergen in high enough quantities to develop allergies, according to the study released last spring. Furthermore, nearly one-quarter of U.S. homes have bedding with dust mite concentrations high enough to trigger asthma symptoms.

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"Each room has its own potential hazards," warns Rebecca Morley, special assistant to the director of HUD's Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control. Kitchens, but the bedroom and the basement are two areas that make us among the most vulnerable.

Wash Those Sheets!

Most of us spend more time in the bedroom than anywhere else. In addition to the dust mite lurking in the bed, your bedroom carpet is probably housing a host of biological pollutants in addition to emitting gases from chemicals used to produce it. Moreover, humidifiers left improperly cleaned invite mold, mildew and cockroaches. Your bedroom mattress and curtains are likely to contain flame retardant chemicals; the dry-cleaned clothes in your closet release unhealthy organic gases, and your permanent press sheets are bathed in formaldehyde.

Lead-based paint is also a concern in older homes if it is peeling or has been disturbed in remodeling projects. Meanwhile, that pet sleeping in your room doesn't help.

Dr. Zeldin suggests covering mattresses in inexpensive mite-proof covers and regularly washing your bedding in 130-degree water to kill any dust mite. Also, keep pets, especially cats, outside if possible to reduce dander problems. Also, get rid of the carpet if you can't keep it well cleaned. Use and clean your humidifier or vaporizer according to manufacturer's directions. Furthermore, airing out clothes before bringing them inside will help limit the gases dry-cleaning chemicals give off. Regarding lead-based paint, a simple test can determine its presence.

The basement is not a part of the house often frequented but it can be the source of some of the most polluted air in the home. Closest to the ground, the basement is susceptible to radon, a natural radioactive gas linked to lung cancer. Test your home for radon. Often ventilating the area is a good fix for a radon problem.

Improperly functioning heating systems and gas-fired dryers not well vented are sources of carbon monoxide. "Carbon monoxide kills you and does so quickly," says The Healthy House Institute's John Bower. A carbon monoxide detector is a good inexpensive investment.

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Also, the basement is one of the most vulnerable areas for moisture, leading to mold growth and other allergens. Inspect for condensation on walls, standing water on the floor or sewage leaks, according to the Healthy Indoor Air for America's Homes initiative.

Keeping gutters cleaned, grading soil away from the house, applying waterproofing sealants in the basement can prevent outside water from getting in. If water gets in the basement, you can kill and remove mold and mildew by applying one cup of bleach to one gallon of water, according to the initiative.

Finally, if you use the basement as an office, playroom or a shop area, make sure it is heated, has air conditioning and is ventilated like the rest of the house, Bower advises.

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