Allow us to walk you through a certain kind of house.
In this home, upholstered furniture is protected by plastic slipcovers. Treasured collections and family photos are untouched by dust. There are no toys scattered on the floor or pets sleeping on the sofa. And no matter what day you drop by, there is always a broom propped up in a corner of the kitchen as if someone had just finished sweeping the floors before you walked in.
While such a place -- if it even exists -- is probably low on allergens, it's not the type of abode a modern family is likely to live in. So the question is, if you are an average person who doesn't live in a sterile, museum-like home, how do you keep allergens at bay? Actually, you're probably already doing a fair job of fighting them off with your regular cleaning routine. But the key to really going after allergens full-force is to know which ones you're up against and where to find them.
The American Academy of Family Physicians says the top allergens are dust, pet dander, pollen and mold. Dust, pet dander and pollen can be found throughout the house -- particularly in rooms that have carpeting, upholstery or bedding. Mold, on the other hand, tends to live in bathrooms, basements and kitchens.
Keeping pollen out of your home is largely a matter of prevention. You should keep windows closed, have family members remove shoes upon entering the house and wash your hair at night to avoid transferring the pollen to your bed. When it comes to dealing with the other three culprits -- dust, pet dander and mold -- a bit of elbow grease is involved.
Continue reading to find cleaning strategies for eliminating allergens from your home.
Down with Dust and Dander
Dust and pet dander are quite the sneeze-inducing couple. They gather at some of the same hangouts and, in fact, they're quite attracted to one another. This makes your cleaning job a little easier because most of the work you'll do getting rid of one will help take care of the other. Here are some tips on kicking this duo to the curb:
Dust with microfiber cloths and dusters. Microfiber does a great job of picking up dust along with almost 99 percent of bacteria in a home. Not only does it catch dust, but it can also help you cut down on the use of chemical cleaners.
Make time for a thorough vacuuming. Cover all the bases: blinds, upholstery, carpeting, and any other nooks and crannies where dust and dander can reside. Be sure your cleaner has a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, otherwise, the dust and allergens it collects will expel back into the air. If your machine is bag-less, empty the container outdoors. If it takes bags, see if you can find the allergen-filtration variety. Don't forget to sweep hard flooring frequently.
Wash bedding regularly. Ideally, you'll want to wash your sheets and covers every one to two weeks. When you do, make sure the water is hot enough (130 degrees Fahrenheit/ 54 degrees Celsius) to kill allergens.
Shampoo carpeting. You can have this done professionally or do it yourself with your own machine. Just be sure to use a cleaner with a quick-drying feature so that mold doesn't build up in your carpet.
Clean window coverings. Whether they're machine-washable or dry clean only, clean curtains once a month. Many blinds can be wiped with a damp cloth or microfiber duster.
Pay special attention to your mattress. According to a CBS News report, as many as 2 million dust mites can live in a mattress. It's a top spot for dander as well. So, it's a good idea to vacuum your mattresses and box springs once a month. You'll also want to encase them in allergen-protectant coverings.
Wipe down walls and air vents. When doing so, use a damp cloth or sponge. You'll also need to change the filters for your HVAC unit at least once a month.
Ongoing or As-needed
Cut out clutter: toys, stacks of papers, piles of clothes. All of these are magnets for dust and dander. Keeping your home clutter-free is a good way to reduce allergens.
Use specially formulated fabric fresheners. Many fabric freshener manufacturers now make products in allergen-eliminating formulas, so opt for those over the traditional fresheners.
Remove allergen collectors: If you can afford to make larger-scale changes in your home, consider trading out carpeting for hardwood or laminate flooring, upholstered furniture for leather and down comforters for bedding with synthetic filling. These changes are especially important for bedrooms.
Now, let's tackle the next major allergen: mold.
Move Out Mold
We might immediately recognize the power of dust, pet dander and pollen to give us runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing -- but mold? Yes. Not only does mold have a serious "ick" factor, but it can also set off an allergic reaction in those sensitive to it. So some of the most critical areas for allergen cleaning are your bathrooms, kitchen and basement.
However, one of the most important methods of mold prevention isn't cleaning -- it's climate control. If you can keep the humidity in a room below 50 percent, you can help keep mold from growing. Setting your HVAC unit at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) helps keep humidity in check. Another method is to use exhaust fans and dehumidifiers in mold-prone areas.
In addition, make sure the following steps are covered when you're doing your regular housecleaning:
Use bleach-based cleaning solutions. Bathroom and kitchen tiles, counters, fixtures and trashcans should be cleaned down at least once a week.
Spray a 100-percent vinegar solution on shower walls to help keep mold at bay between cleanings. Just don't apply it to marble or crystalline.
Clean bathroom floor mats and fabric shower curtains. These should be either dry-cleaned or machine-washed in hot water (check labels for specific instructions).
Ongoing or As-needed
Replace cardboard storage boxes with plastic ones. This is especially important for under-the-sink storage and in basements where humidity can be high.
Regularly check houseplant saucers and windowsills for signs of mold growth. Give away houseplants if they pose a problem.
Tackle an existing problem immediately. If you already have a mold infestation, experts suggest using a cleaner that creates antimicrobial residue. These disinfectants will keep decontaminating the area for up to six months. Whenever you're cleaning mold be sure to protect your hands with rubber gloves and your face with goggles and a N95 respirator mask. If you have a large area of mold (more than 10 square feet, or roughly one square meter), call a professional to get rid of it.
Want to learn more about allergens and housecleaning? Keep reading for lots more information.
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