How to Allergy-Proof Your Home


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Our home is our comfort zone, a place to kick off our shoes, plop down on the sofa, and forget about the outside world. But how comfortable is your abode for allergens? Do dust mites dig that old sofa as much as you do? Do cockroaches share your fondness for cakes and cookies? Do mold spores love lingering in that warm, steamy shower, too? Those unseen and unwanted housemates can turn a happy home into a house of horrors for allergy sufferers.

Allergens can easily be tossed off the sofa, out of the kitchen, and away from your bathroom by allergy-proofing your home. A vital part of any allergy-treatment program, allergy-proofing the home takes some effort and time. But once you develop routines, implement housecleaning strategies, reduce allergens, and stick to a goal, you can breathe a sigh of relief...without sneezing, sniffling, or wheezing.

This article will focus on the ways to clean your home when you suffer from allergies. No area is overlooked. From the grimy garage to the dust-prone bedroom, we will tell you how to minimize your risk of agitating your allergies at home. We will begin with a few tips for allergy-proofing beginners.

Moderation is the key. (However, allergy sufferers need to tread on the cleaner side of moderate.) Try to cover the basics in allergy-proofing your home (for example, encasing all beds in mite-proof material), follow a regular cleaning schedule, and when possible, make additional improvements.

Allergy-proofing your home won't eliminate all allergens or all your symptoms. But, the more effort you give it, the better you'll feel.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

 

Home Allergy Removal Basics

Ideally, an allergic person shouldn't be doing extensive housecleaning. The cleaning process, after all, stirs up the very allergens that provoke your symptoms. Unfortunately, life is such that unless you're fortunate enough to have an angelic housemate, a teenager who needs chore money, or the financial resources to hire a professional cleaning service, you'll have to do it yourself.

To rid your home of allergens, you need to be well-equipped. After all, you'll be nose-to-nose with sneaky spores, multitudinous mites, and drifting dander.

Here's how to best protect yourself:

  • Wear a high-quality dust mask, which you can find at any hardware store. You may get sweaty under that mask, but which do you prefer: sweaty or sneezy? When working with harsh cleaning agents, you may consider donning a more expensive vapor mask.
  • Wear junky clothes while cleaning and then wash them in hot water immediately after you're finished. Only hot water kills dust mites.
  • Wear plastic gloves throughout the cleaning process.
  • Use a damp rag to capture dust before it flies off.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance) filter. Allergists recommend HEPA-filter vacuums because they reduce airborne allergens by trapping dust mites and other small particles and don't re-release them into the air. This separates them from regular vacuum cleaners, which also take in dust, dirt, and allergens but unfortunately redistribute them back into the air.
  • Take a shower after cleaning.
  • Ask, employ, or bribe a family member or friend to do the real dirty work, such as cleaning the air filters and vacuuming underneath the bed.

Now that we've learned the basics, it's time to clean the space where you spend almost a third of your life -- the bedroom. The next section will focus on the ways you can allergy-proof the spot where you sleep.

How to Allergy-Proof Your Bedroom

The average person spends about eight hours a night in their bedroom. Whether you sleep alone or with a significant other, you always have unwanted company in the form of dust mites, mold spores, and possibly animal dander. Microscopic mites, in particular, love lounging in your bed, your pillows, and your comforter, feasting away on dead skin flakes. You can't help shedding your skin, but you can put the "No Vacancy" sign out for the mites.

How to Allergy-Proof Your Bedroom: General Tips

Here's how to make your bedroom inhospitable to allergens:

  • Using a damp rag, once a month wipe down the bed frame and other wood or metal parts that are covered with dust.
  • Enclose the mattress and box spring in zippered allergen-impermeable, mite-proof covers, which can be purchased at some department stores or through mail-order companies that sell allergy-related products. Make sure the encasing permits perspiration-vapor-transmission: technical talk for "breathability." A washable mattress pad can go atop the allergen-impermeable coverings for added comfort.
  • Each week, wash all linens in hot water. Wash the mattress pad and blankets every two to four weeks in hot water. Wash the mite-proof encasings as recommended by the manufacturer or every three months.
  • Encase pillows in allergen-impermeable covers. If you have synthetic pillows, wash them monthly in very hot water and chuck out any pillows of dubious age or origin.
  • Avoid wool blankets and mold-attracting foam-rubber cushions, pillows, and mattresses.
  • Encase comforters in allergen-impermeable material.
  • Avoid cushioned headboards, billowing canopies, cute ruffles, flowing bed skirts (unless washed regularly with the linen), upholstered furniture, and accent pillows.
  • If possible, remove all carpeting. If that's impossible, low pile is preferable to shag carpeting. Have a non-allergic person vacuum twice weekly. Remove all boxes, old shoes, knickknacks, and junk hidden underneath the bed, all of which collect dust and make regular cleaning more of a chore.
  • Blinds and heavy curtains help keep daylight out but dust mites in. Try installing window shades instead. If the curtain is not coming down, at least launder it in hot water once a month. The same is true for blinds: If you don't replace them with shades, take them down and wash them.
  • If the bathroom is attached to the bedroom, keep humidity down by closing the bathroom door when you take a shower. Just be sure to keep the bathroom's exhaust fan running or the window open to allow moisture an easy escape outside.
  • Dust mites don't care if their dander dinner comes from a two-legged or four-legged restaurant. Reduce dander by keeping pets out of the bedroom. Always shut the bedroom door to prevent pets from making a sneaky entrance. Remember, your pet is a walking dust mop and can quickly undermine your best efforts at environmental control.
  • Set a schedule for regular cleaning and washing of linens. Then stick to it! Real improvements may not be noticeable for several months because it takes several washings to get rid of the mite infestation. And if you slack off, a whole new crop will move in. Washing linens regularly not only kills dust mites, it also reduces their food source (i.e., dead skin flakes). Washing only kills the adult mites, however, not their larvae. That's why it's important to wash linens weekly -- every week there's a new crop of critters.
  • Don't eat in bed. Cockroaches are attracted to food and will join you in the bedroom if that's where the feast is. If you have roaches, don't bring food into the bedroom.
  • Don't place your bed over a heating vent because that just invites a dust gathering. Being inaccessible, the vent won't be cleaned regularly. Dust will develop, and once the heat is turned on after a seasonal recess, a volcanic eruption of dust particles will fly into your mattress.
  • Remove candles from the bedroom, especially the scented variety, which can release irritating or harmful substances.
  • Keep bookcases away from the bed, or move them out of the bedroom.

Not all bedrooms are created equal, of course. In the next section, we will focus on how to allergy-proof two types of allergen-prone dwellings -- a child's room and a dorm room. Keeping your closet allergen-free is also covered.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Allergy-Proof a Child's Room, a Dorm Room and a Closet

All the advice on allergy-proofing your bedroom applies equally to other sleeping quarters. However, there are several other considerations that need to be addressed when allergy-proofing a child's bedroom or a dorm room. We will begin with your little one's room.

An Allergen-Free Bed

Children should start their sleeping lives with a new mattress encased in allergen-impermeable coverings. These casings, as noted earlier, are efficient at blocking out dust mites and mold spores, but they are also breathable and water permeable. That means that if a child wets the bed, all bedding and encasings need to be washed and the mattress allowed to dry. To prevent the mattress from getting wet, you can put rubber pads on top of the mattress and its encasing.

Many baby mattresses are made with a vinyl cover. If your baby's new mattress isn't sealed in vinyl, encase it first in a plastic, waterproof covering before the baby ever sleeps on it. Mold will grow underneath the plastic if there already is a habitat (such as moisture). Then, top the plastic or vinyl with a dust-mite-proof encasing. Replace mattresses if they start to smell or show signs of mold.

An Unlikely Culprit: Stuffed Animals

Stuffed animals can be found in every child's room. They are cute and irresistible to kids and, unfortunately, to dust mites, too. If your child insists on cuddling with a stuffed animal, buy one that's durable and washable, and then wash it each week with the linens. Try not to let your child sleep with it. Since this is easier said than done, at least remove the toy from the bed once they've fallen asleep. Keep all toys in dust-free containers away from the bed and not on the floor.

Even if your child shows no signs of allergies, keep up the allergy-proofing if one or both parents have them. While such precautions won't prevent future allergies in your child, the data suggest that they may prevent your child from developing asthma. Allergy-proofing also helps reduce dust mites throughout the entire house and helps create lifelong healthful cleaning habits.

Allergy-proofing the home is easy compared to doing the dorm room. First, you're thrown into a small room with a complete stranger, who may or may not be sympathetic to your suffering. (Hopefully, your roommate won't be an inconsiderate slob, but somehow, once away from parental control, many people forget about household chores.) Second, there's the room itself, a place that has endured the wear and tear of countless students -- clean and not-so-clean. Unfortunately, sometimes there isn't much an allergic student can do about roommate or residence, but it is always worth trying for the sake of your sinuses.

Allergy-Proofing A Dorm Room

The following pointers should help you create a less allergenic dorm environment:

  • For students who suffer from serious allergies or asthma, a room of one's own is worth the fight. While such a living arrangement goes against the "dorm experience," it does offer asthmatics and allergy sufferers better control of cleaning. Have the allergist write a letter if it will help your case.
  • If you have a choice, request an air-conditioned dorm room.
  • If you're stuck with an old, battered mattress, put in a plea for a new one. Encase the mattress, pillows, and comforter in mite-proof encasings. Some dorm mattresses are extra long -- check this out before ordering a mattress cover.
  • Give the room a thorough wipe down before settling in.
  • Choose a nonsmoking dorm, not just a nonsmoking floor.
  • Watch out for old carpet or area rugs that may have both mites and mold.
  • Explain to your roommate (in a friendly fashion) why the room needs to be kept clean. Volunteer to clean it, if need be. If the roommate is disagreeable or just a natural-born slob, talk to the dorm manager about moving one of you out.
  • Don't eat in the room. Cockroaches like pizza, popcorn, and ramen noodles just as much as students do.
  • Consider bringing a portable HEPA air filter.

Allergy-Proofing A Closet

Make the closet uninhabitable for these allergens with a few simple steps:

  • Use closets for storing only laundered clothes. Remove all dust-collecting items, such as boxes and bedding. If you do store shoes in the closet, hang them on wire shoe racks to encourage air circulation and discourage mold growth. Off-season or special-occasion shoes should be stowed in boxes or bags to prevent dust buildup.
  • Be wary of hanging recently dry-cleaned items in an enclosed closet (air them out, preferably outdoors if possible). That goes for putting mothballs and fragrance sticks in there, too. All emit potentially irritating fumes.
  • Mold spores love dark, moist hideaways, so a closet laundry hamper is considered a four-star accommodation. Keeping a hamper in the closet is convenient, but make sure it's a well-ventilated one, which will limit mold growth. Avoid throwing wet towels in there, too, and wash the basket frequently.
  • Store out-of-season clothing in zippered garment bags or in easy-to-dust plastic boxes.
  • Don't store leather skirts or jackets in plastic bags, or you'll run the risk of creating a fashionable petri dish. Take one leather garment, place in a plastic bag, add humidity from the air, and stuff it into a dark closet for a few weeks. The result: a costly, moldy mistake.

Sure, the bedroom is an important part of the house, but the bathroom can also be a breeding ground for allergens. So how do you keep it allergy-free? We will discuss various allergy-proofing techniques in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Allergy-Proof Your Bathroom

With glistening linoleum or tile floors, shiny porcelain sinks and tubs, and glass shower doors, bathroom surfaces don't make for prime dust-mite habitat. Instead, other tenants take over, namely mold and cockroaches, both of whom love the steamy warmth. (If you have carpeting or throw rugs in the bathroom, then add dust mites back into the picture.) This section explores the tactics you can employ to make an allergy-proof bathroom.

Tips for an Allergen-Free Bathroom

Minimizing moisture is of prime importance. Exhaust fans or open windows help reduce condensation, as can manually removing moisture by wiping dry the shower and sink area after use.

Here are more bathroom basics:

  • Use waterproof wallpaper, or better yet, paint all bathroom walls. Mold may grow underneath wallpaper.
  • Install easy-to-clean tile as the perfect backsplash for sinks and tubs.
  • Wash shower curtains once a month or purchase curtains that contain an antifungal agent. Shower curtains are notorious as havens for mold.
  • Look down into your toothbrush holder! There's gross stuff down there in the form of molds, encrusted toothpaste, and scum. Wash, rinse, and dry these neglected containers every time you scrub the sink.
  • Use soap, water, and a brush to clean surfaces that mold may enjoy. However, soap won't kill existing mold; you'll have to use a mold-killing cleaning product. Keep the room well-ventilated while cleaning, and rinse surfaces well.
  • Whenever showering, make it a habit to turn on the exhaust fan or open a window to remove moisture.
  • Remove wall-to-wall carpeting from the bathroom. If there's one room that shouldn't have carpet, it's the bathroom.
  • Wash bath towels regularly in hot water.
  • If you're a bathroom "reader," rotate the reading stock and remove old magazines and newspapers. With a little moisture and nice, dark pages to hide between, mold spores thrive.

Bothersome Bathroom Products

Products stored in the bathroom (or nearby) can pose problems for people susceptible to skin allergies or with respiratory sensitivities. Here are some ways to avoid or limit contact with potential allergens/irritants:

  • Bleach. Cleaning agents, including bleach and bleach-containing products, should be avoided by those with skin and respiratory sensitivities. Wear gloves and a vapor mask if you must use them, keep the room well-ventilated, and consider a more "natural" approach to cleaning, using baking soda, vinegar, natural soap, and water.
  • Nickel. This metal is one of the most common causes of contact dermatitis. As we sweat, our perspiration dissolves the nickel, the skin absorbs it, and out pops a rash. About 10 percent of the population suffers from nickel sensitivity. Nickel-containing products are easily overlooked, but they are touched or used daily. They include some mascaras, eye shadows, and eyeliners; snaps and other fasteners; belt buckles; bra clips; metal eyeglass frames; thimbles; zippers; and coins. The jewelry box, with its wealth of earrings, bracelets, rings, and necklaces, is a gold mine for potential irritants. While all of these might not be in your bathroom, they're certainly nearby.
  • Lotions and Potions. In our need to look and smell good, we bathe with and cover ourselves with perfumed soaps and shampoos, aftershaves, perfumes, antiperspirants, face creams, hair dyes, cosmetics, and oils. There's no need to stop using all of them, but to avoid developing skin sensitivities purchase shampoos, lotions, and creams that are fragrance- and dye-free and buy sunscreen that is PABA-free.
  • Formaldehyde. Exposure to formaldehyde occurs in the bathroom via some products you'd never expect. Many cosmetics and toiletries use preservatives that break down to formaldehyde, including bubble baths, some deodorants, hair dyes, nail hardeners, permanent wave lotions, hair thickeners, talc and powders, shampoo and conditioners, certain skin cleaners, and waterless hand cleaners. Read labels and look for formaldehyde or preservatives releasing formaldehyde such as quaternium 15, imidazolidine urea, and diazolidinyl urea.

Like the bathroom, your kitchen can feature a lot of porcelain and tile. But keeping it allergy-free requires a different approach. Tactics for keeping allergens out of your kitchen are covered in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Allergy-Proof Your Kitchen

To cockroaches, the kitchen is prime hunting and gathering ground, and for mold spores there's plenty of moisture in and around the refrigerator. All that roaches and mold spores need to make their lives perfect is a human who scatters crumbs, spills liquids, and forgets about the spaghetti that slipped down between the stove and counter. If you don't want to play host to such guests, you'll have to keep things clean. Very clean. Concentrate on keeping the kitchen clean every day. Then do a heavy-duty cleaning job every month. Before you know it, you'll have an allergy-proof kitchen.

Preventing Pesky Cockroaches

Here are some tips for controlling the cockroach population:

  • Immediately wash all dishes. To a cockroach, a dirty pan left to soak is the ideal wine and dine venue.
  • Dispose of all waste into a sealed garbage container. If you dump food scraps down the garbage disposal, turn it on and rinse it out right away.
  • Get your animal companions used to set feeding times. While Fluffy or Fido might enjoy the convenience of 24-hour dining, so do cockroaches. Pet food that's left out is an open invitation to roaches, and unlike the cat, they aren't picky.
  • Sweep out or vacuum kitchen corners and underneath major appliances to remove all crumbs. Don't forget to clean the drip pan under the stove and the crumb plate in the toaster. Use a warm, soapy rag to wipe up messes.
  • Keep countertops free of clutter. The more "stuff" there is, the more places for neglected food scraps to hide and the longer it takes to clean.
  • Use glass, plastic, or metal containers to store all food in cabinets and on countertops.
  • Like magicians, cockroaches can magically squeeze in and out of tight spaces. Seal off spots between cabinets and around piping and door openings.
  • A pile of brown paper bags or newspapers not only makes for a perfect hiding place, but also a secluded, warm love nest for roaches. Place old papers in a sealed plastic box in the garage.
  • Use natural roach traps. When disposing of dead cockroaches, be careful not to allow body parts or fecal material to catch the breeze.
  • Cockroaches are tough to get rid of, so don't despair if you see one. Just keep up the cleaning.

Stopping Mucky Mold

Here are some tips for inhibiting mold growth in your kitchen:

  • Immediately wipe up spills, especially those with the potential to migrate underground, i.e., underneath tile, under appliances, and into the carpet.
  • Keep the kitchen well-ventilated, just as you do the bathroom. Don't put wallpaper on top of old wallpaper, and keep walls free of clutter, which collects grease and, in turn, traps dust and attracts insects. Get scrubbable wallpaper.
  • Avoid keeping houseplants in the kitchen, especially around windowsills. These are already perfect places for mold growth.
  • Buy easy-to-clean kitchen furniture, preferably made of wood, plastic, vinyl, or glass. Fabric-covered furniture easily absorbs spills, collects crumbs, and attracts mold.
  • Clean the often-neglected drip pan underneath the refrigerator to prevent it from becoming a watering hole for roaches, not to mention a mold colony. Molds can also be found around the door's perimeter, especially in crevices of (the appropriately named) molding.
  • Eat your food. That's right. Don't forget about it and leave it to rot in places where the refrigerator light doesn't shine.
  • Immediately clean up any spills in the refrigerator unless you want instant mold.
  • Replace carpeting with vinyl, tile, or hardwood.
  • Cover all boiling liquids to prevent the escape of excess moisture.
  • Wash out the garbage can and deodorize the garbage disposal occasionally.

Now that we've covered the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen, it's time to continue our tour of allergy-proofing your home. Have you ever thought of the allergens that might hid in your rug? The next section concentrates on allergy-proofing your floor coverings.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Allergy-Proof Your Floor Coverings

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.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

The brand name products mentioned in this publication are trademarks or service marks of their respective companies. The mention of any product in this publication does not constitute an endorsement by the respective proprietors of Publications International, Ltd. or HowStuffWorks.com, nor does it constitute an endorsement by any of these companies that their products should be used in the manner described in this publication.

How to Allergy-Proof Your Basement

All sorts of allergens can lurk in the depths of a basement. Often neglected, this area can be ripe with mold spores, cockroaches, pet dander, and dust mites.

If you don't pay attention to the basement, you'll defeat the purpose of cleaning upstairs. Allergens easily migrate upwards via the stairway's air currents and heating ducts, not to mention your feet.

General Basement Tips

The following are some basement pointers:

  • People with mold allergies should never have their bedroom in the basement.
  • You aren't a troglodyte (cave-dweller), so don't keep the basement like a cave. Dampness in the depths causes an increase of humidity throughout the house, and it creates prime conditions for mold spores, dust mites, and cockroaches. It is extremely important to control basement humidity by using a dehumidifier, air conditioner, or electric heater. It's best to keep the humidity between 30 to 50 percent. And be sure to regularly clean the humidifier that's on the furnace and to change furnace filters.
  • Vinyl or tile is the best flooring for the basement. Seepage or flooding causes mold to grow in carpets, and the temperature difference between the basement's concrete floor and carpeting can cause moisture buildup, resulting in you-know-what.
  • Cover up exposed dirt in the crawl space, preferably via a permanent method. Otherwise, cover it with a mold-resistant plastic barrier, but only on a temporary basis, and use a mold retardant.
  • Is the basement a warehouse for dust-collecting stuff? Seriously consider how much of that stuff you need. Donate some to charity and write it off as a health benefit for your poor suffering nose. If you do store stuff, keep it off the floor in easy-to-dust plastic or metal containers.
  • Resist the urge to put grandma's old couch in the basement or to decorate the wall with the macrame you removed from the bedroom. Introducing castoffs that are full of dust mites and mold defeats all your cleaning efforts. If you must keep old furniture for posterity's sake, consider having it restuffed and reupholstered.
  • Put mold retardant in the sump pump.

Laundry Room Tips

The laundry room doesn't require much upkeep, but here's some hints to keep your laundry area allergen-free:

  • Keep dust bunnies and lint balls from playing freely in the laundry room by occasionally using a damp cloth to wipe around the appliances.
  • Keep the room well-ventilated, especially if you use bleach.
  • If you have sensitive skin, use fragrance- and dye-free detergents or run your clothes through an extra rinse cycle.
  • Once in a while, wipe in and around the washing machine lid, a favorite hideout for mold and scum.
  • Avoid hanging wet clothes in an enclosed laundry room.
  • Leave the washing machine lid open after use, unless you have a snoopy pet that might fall in.
  • Dust underneath the washing machine and dryer.
  • Don't allow the drier to vent into the house.

Air conditioners and furnaces are not often cited when it comes to allergen producers in your home. But both can have a tremendous effect. Learn more about allergy-proofing both in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Allergy-Proof Your Home Climate Control System

Your home's comfort systems (air conditioning and heating) can help or hinder your allergen-control efforts. This section will show you how to evaluate these systems and make them as efficient and hypoallergenic as possible.

Check Humidity

Ridding the house of excess moisture helps prevent the spread of mold and decreases the survival rate of dust mites and cockroaches. If you live in an area of high humidity, you might want to invest in a humidity gauge (available at most hardware stores). Humidity in your house should range around 40 percent. Humidity above 50 percent is considered a resort for the dust mites and molds, while a reading below 20 percent might be called the Sahara Desert. Be sure to check humidity readings throughout the house and not just in one room.

If humidity readings hover near the steam-bath level, you can lower moisture in the air with an air conditioner and dehumidifier.

Air-conditioning (AC)

If you've ever had the windows fog up while you're driving, you know that the best way to remove the moisture is to turn on the air conditioning (AC). The same method applies to the house, but only in warm weather. (Who is going to blast cold air when it's snowing outside?) Despite this weather-sensitive requirement, air conditioning does more than dehumidify the air; it filters out pollen and helps discourage cockroaches, which dislike the airflow. Dust mites and mold, too, hate the cool, dry air.

To maintain the benefits of AC, your unit needs cleaning and regular maintenance. Whether you've got central AC or window or wall-mounted units, the filters must be cleaned frequently both for efficiency and to prevent mold growth. Some models can be equipped with electrostatic filters, which rely on static charges created when air passes through the filters, to help capture certain allergens.

Electrostatic filters must be cleaned regularly to maintain their efficiency. If electrostatic filters are unavailable, use regular, or pleated, air-conditioning filters, which work just as well as electrostatic filters in removing 95 percent of all allergens.

To eliminate mold growth in air conditioning ducts, try running the unit for 30 minutes after turning off the cooling to help dry out ducts. Lastly, if you have a recycle switch on your AC, be sure to use it because it recirculates air inside the house. Pollen-allergy sufferers work against their own interest if they continually allow outside air to be pulled inside.

Dehumidifiers

These devices work by cooling the air so that excess humidity condenses into a bucket, which can be emptied. Oftentimes, the heat generated by a dehumidifier can be too much in the summer and is used in conjunction with the air conditioning.

Like its cooler cousin, the air conditioner, dehumidifiers must be cleaned regularly or else mold spores will happily take over.

Enclosed spaces, such as closets, can trap moisture. Dehumidifiers work well here, but for even smaller spaces, such as an armoire or a cabinet, try using a desiccant. These moisture-wicking agents come in several forms, including absorbing flakes and cartridges. Some cartridges can be recycled by drying them in a warm oven. Desiccants also make ideal moisture wickers for camera bags, shoe storage boxes, and other areas where molds and moisture hide. Just be sure to keep the packages or cartridges away from children and pets.

The Heating System

Billowing dust isn't something you want in your home, yet it's what happens with forced-air heating, one of the least expensive forms of heating. If your house came with such a system, be sure to clean the filters at least twice a month and cover vents in each room with a fine mesh screen to keep dust particles down. However, don't bother to have your ducts cleaned. There have been five studies examining the effects of duct cleaning, and none have shown any benefit at all.

Radiant heating (in which heated water is passed through piping underneath the floor) and baseboard heating don't disturb dust particles as they heat. Radiators, especially those found in older homes, must be cleaned regularly as dust collects behind and underneath them.

If you heat the old-fashioned way, via a woodburning fireplace or coal stove, consider replacing them, as they produce smoke, carbon dioxide, and many other irritating gases. While not as cozy, electric fires won't produce such gases. Space heaters that burn natural gas, kerosene, or butane all emit harmful gases and should never be considered a heating option in an allergic person's home or work environment.

Filters

There has been much hoopla about the ability of air filters, particularly HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance) filters, to remove airborne allergens. And now HEPA's efficacy has been documented in a collaborative study between the University of Colorado and National Jewish Medical and Research Center. The study, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, found that the use of HEPA-filter vacuums and air purifiers in homes reduced the concentration of particles less than 10 microns by almost 50 percent.

If you choose to augment your cleaning process with air filters, be forewarned that they don't come cheap, and like any other filter, they must be changed regularly. People with allergies who don't have a forced-air heating/cooling system can purchase freestanding units, which will help keep the bedroom free of airborne allergens, such as pollen and animal dander. Some models come equipped with charcoal filters that help eliminate cigarette odors. When choosing a portable HEPA air filter, note the noise level and the price (between $100 and $500), and be sure to buy a system that's large enough to clean your room. Place the filter off the floor in the middle of a closed room and away from dusty areas since the unit's fan sometimes churns up dust particles. Run it constantly or after vacuuming.

Allergy sufferers with forced-air heating/cooling systems may want to invest in a whole-house filter, which attaches to the furnace. There are several kinds of filters, which can be easily affixed to the furnace. Many can be washed and reused. HEPA filters may not be an option; consult a heating and air conditioning contractor.

It's true that you should use air filters, but you can't rely on them alone. Use them as part of an all-out campaign to reduce allergens. Relying only on an air filter to remove allergens is like asking dust mites to leave: It doesn't work.

We've looked at a lot of different aspects when it comes to allergy-proofing your home. But what about your home away from home -- your office? Don't worry. Allergy-proofing your workplace will be discussed in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Allergy-Proof Your Office

Some people seem to live in their offices as much as they do their homes. That means those places, too, need to be kept as free of allergens as possible. This section will help you allergy-proof your work environment.

An Allergy-Free Office: Work at Keeping Things Clean

So you thought you could escape allergens at home and seek refuge at the office? Not likely. The office has its fair share of allergens and irritants, too. Perhaps your co-worker comes to work covered in cat hair. Perhaps the heating vent blows dust onto your desk. To save money, the boss insists on natural air conditioning, pollen season or not. There are plenty of allergens at the office.

Although you have less control over your office environment, these are some things you can work at:

  • Cover the computer monitor and keyboard every night. Use a damp cloth or similar product to wipe down your immediate office equipment once a week.
  • Use a damp cloth or similar product to wipe down the desk, picture frames, and furniture twice a month.
  • Don't rely on the office cleaners to dust regularly. They usually have enough to do. You may, however, want to inquire as to how often they vacuum. If it's not enough, put in a special request and hope for results.
  • A messy desk may be the sign of a creative mind, but it's also the sign of a dust collector. Make it a policy to file papers that aren't immediately needed. If filing just "isn't in your nature," consider hiring a professional organizer. They won't clean your desk, but they will work with "your nature" to help you develop and maintain an efficient filing system.
  • Throw out all old newspapers after clipping out relevant articles.
  • Don't leave dirty coffee cups on your desk unless you want to start a lab experiment. Mold spores breed in coffee.
  • Throw your leftover lunch into a receptacle designed for food, such as the break-room trash can.
  • Remove plants.
  • Close all windows, or at least your office window.
  • Keep wall decorations to a minimum.
  • If you have a choice, use leather or vinyl chairs, as upholstered fabrics are a dust-mite delight.
  • If possible, get a used solid wood, metal, or glass desk, as a new cheap, particleboard desk emits irritating formaldehyde fumes. The same goes for shelving.
  • Turn off all electronic equipment when it's not in use. Photocopiers have a reputation for emitting ozone, an environmental pollutant. In closed offices, the ozone can build up, creating problems especially for those with asthma or allergies. Make sure the copier room is well-ventilated.
  • Request that the entire office be a smoke-free, fragrance-free environment. It may take some persuasive lobbying, but your nose and lungs will thank you.
  • If you have some clout in company decisions, hire a cleaning company that uses only natural or environmentally friendly cleaning detergents.
  • Make sure there is an adequate ventilation and filtration system if you work in an environment where chemicals are used. Additionally, all chemicals, paints, glues, cleaners, and solvents should be tightly sealed and stored inside proper containers.

Now that we've allergy-proofed your office, let's head back to the home, where we'll look at preparing your car and garage. Both areas will be covered in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Allergy-Proof Your Car and Garage

Probably the last place you expect allergen overload is in your car. You don't live in it, (although sometimes it seems that way), but you do shed skin flakes, spill coffee, and let mold spores in unknowingly. The dear old auto needs a little attention, too, and this is how you should deliver it:

  • Make sure the carpeting is clean and dry, then cover it with plastic, washable, grooved floormats. Shoes can deliver plenty of junk to car carpets, including dirt, mud, grease, tar, pollens, rainwater, and snow. These will sit on or soak into uncovered carpeting, making nice rest stops for air-traveling mold spores.
  • Check it out -- does something smell sour in your car? Look underneath the seats for any moldy, long-forgotten french fries or other foods. If all appears clean and clear, consider the air-conditioning ducts as the odor's source. Mold spores dig the damp conditions. Change the air filter, and if the smell continues, take the car into the shop to have the ducts thoroughly examined.
  • Check to make sure weather stripping is intact and all doors shut properly. Faulty weather stripping on car doors can cause slow, unnoticeable leaks, especially if the water infiltrates the back seat and dampens seat cushions.
  • Vacuum upholstered seats whenever you wash the car, as they harbor dust mites just like your family-room couch. With all the sweating and shedding of skin you do while stuck in traffic, mites have a free ride. Avoid furry, carpeted, or wooly seat covers since they only attract more dirt, dust mites, and mold spores. Leather seats are best for allergy sufferers, but they're not always affordable or practical.
  • During pollen season keep windows closed and use the air conditioning, but only on the recirculating cycle.
  • Avoid air fresheners. Some contain chemicals that irritate nasal membranes.
  • If you purchase a shiny new auto, leave the windows rolled down for a few days, if possible. You may be fond of that new car smell, but those fumes come from the new carpets, new upholstery, and molded plastics and can be irritants. Savoring that smell isn't worth the price you'll pay for allergy problems.
  • Damp dust the dashboard and wipe off window film frequently.
  • If you carry an animal in the car, consider using a crate. It's not only safer for the animal, but it will (somewhat) reduce the amount of fur and dander flying throughout the car.

Allergy-Proofing Your Garage: General Tips

Face it: You're going to have six-legged or eight-legged critters in the garage. It's just the nature of the place. However, whom you decide to let in is often determined by the invitation. Is there a buffet of garbage waiting? Plenty of hiding spaces? No human interference?

Unwanted insects (cockroaches in particular) aren't the only problems that park themselves in the garage. Invisible fumes emitted from chemicals and the car can cause irritation to your sensitive sinuses, aggravated airways, and touchy skin. Cleaning (and maintaining) a garage is a big task but thankfully one that doesn't need to be done on a daily basis. Establish the garage as low allergen and irritant area through these recommendations:

  • Keep garbage in a sealed container. Garbage should be placed in plastic bags prior to placing it in the container.
  • Put all newspapers and recycling items in covered plastic bins. Remove weekly.
  • Don't let your pets sleep in the garage, even if you've created a comfortable corner for them. Curious cats, in particular, will explore during the night and, come morning, they'll bring dust, mold spores, insect parts, car grease, chemical residues, and dirt into your home via their fur.
  • Attached garages, while convenient, often allow exhaust emissions easy access to the household. Always keep the house door shut. If you plan to open chemicals (paints, lawn-care products, oil), make sure the garage is well-ventilated, either with an exhaust fan or simply by leaving the garage door open.
  • Never leave the car running in an enclosed garage for more than a minute or two.
  • Take all nonessential hazardous materials (unused paint, outdated cleaning supplies, old batteries) to a proper disposal center. Don't let them sit around.
  • Designate a broom and a heavy-duty vacuum for garage and outdoor area clean-ups. Don't bring either inside for household work.
  • Don't put wet gardening equipment or recreational items into enclosed boxes or storage units. Dry everything first.
  • Use open metal shelving to store items.
  • Try to store boxes and other items off the ground.
  • Establish an area in the garage for "outdoor" shoes. Make it a habit to remove grassy, wet, muddy, or dirty shoes in this designated spot.

We will finish our look at allergy-proofing your home with a guide to household chemical allergens in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Guide to Household Chemical Allergens

Chemicals exist everywhere, so it's impossible to completely avoid them. However, you can easily reduce their numbers. Why the need to scrutinize the chemical cabinet? Chemicals can be irritants, and they can be dangerous to touch or inhale. And if anyone in your home has chemical allergies, removing chemicals is a necessity. Below are some products you may have in your home that contain chemicals and known irritants. Ask yourself, "Do I really want this chemical around my home? Do I really need it?"

Formaldehyde

Most of us remember formaldehyde as that hideous liquid surrounding soon-to-be-dissected animals in high-school lab experiments. Little do most of us know that formaldehyde is found not only in the lab, but also in dozens of household products. Formaldehyde is a poisonous, colorless, foul-smelling (in large quantities) gas. (To preserve dissected lab experiments, it is dissolved in water.) Formaldehyde has attracted recent attention as a potential cause of cancer. It becomes a problem for those with allergies because formaldehyde-containing products emit the gas, which can irritate the respiratory system and cause other highly unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, headache, diarrhea, nosebleed, fatigue, dizziness, and memory lapse. Higher exposures lead to more life-threatening symptoms.

Most households only contain minute amounts of formaldehyde, but the level depends on a variety of factors, including humidity, ventilation (how "tight" the home is), temperature, and the number of products releasing the gas. Products rich in formaldehyde include carpets and foam padding; particleboard, plywood, and other wood products used for shelving and furniture; paint preservatives; permanent-press and dry-cleaned fabrics; paints; mothballs; air fresheners; vinyl products; spray starch...and the list goes on.

Allergic people want formaldehyde emissions in the house just about as much as they want that pickled lab experiment for a table centerpiece. There are a few ways to reduce formaldehyde emission, although none is particularly easy or inexpensive. Try the following:

  • Don't use, or limit the use of, pressed wood products, such as particleboard and plywood. Invest in real, solid wood.
  • New carpets expose everyone to formaldehyde, which is used to set the dye, waterproof the fabric, and stiffen the backing. By some estimates, carpets "outgas," or give off the fumes of, the formaldehyde for years. Some carpet manufacturers have become more environmentally aware, producing carpets low in formaldehyde. It's worth looking for them. Otherwise, request that your carpet be aired out for a couple days before it's installed in your home.
  • Don't smoke! First- and secondhand smoke contain higher levels of formaldehyde than any other source Smoke also contains 4,000 other chemicals, many of which are carcinogens (cancer causing).
  • After returning from a clothing store, wash all permanent press clothes before putting them into the closet. Remove plastic bags from all dry-cleaned clothes and air them out outdoors, if possible.
  • Research alternative products.
  • Ventilate. Ventilate. Ventilate.
  • Keep ventilating. Over time, formaldehyde emissions decrease and, depending on the size of the product, should be at lower levels within weeks or months.

As you can see, everybody can benefit from the reduction of formaldehyde emissions but it's especially important for people who have allergies and tend to be hypersensitive.

Other Hazards

We've discussed the dangers of formaldehyde within the home, however the following are several other chemicals allergic people should steer clear of:

  • Spot removers, furniture polish, paint thinners, car polishes, and mothballs all contain petroleum distillates, which can be irritating and are suspected carcinogens.
  • Toilet bowl cleaners and soap scum removers all contain acids that just might make you cry -- or worse. The acids found in bathroom cleaners are corrosive to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes.
  • Undiluted ammonia is a volatile chemical that can be hurtful (and potentially damaging) to the eyes, airways, and skin.
  • Bleach does the trick to make our clothes sparkling white, but it is a strong corrosive that can also irritate or burn the skin and eyes.
  • Artificial air fresheners can create a sour experience for your poor nose. Most air fresheners work by releasing a nerve-deadening agent or interfere with your ability to smell by coating nasal passages with an oily film. If that's not enough, some air fresheners contain formaldehyde and phenol. Touch phenol and your skin may swell, burn, crack, and peel, or you may break out in hives.
  • Carpet and upholstery shampoos use highly toxic chemicals to dig up and wipe out stains. Some cleaners contain perchlorethylene, a known carcinogen, and ammonium hydroxide, a corrosive agent that irritates eyes, skin, and airways.
  • Baked-on, caked-on stains in the oven are tough to remove. What's even tougher are the chemicals found in oven cleaners, in particular lye, which is caustic, burns eyes and skin, and causes severe tissue damage if swallowed.
  • You inspect the pocket of dirty clothes before throwing them into the wash, right? Why not inspect the detergent and softener that follow? Laundry products may contain sodium or calcium hypocrite (highly corrosive and will burn eyes, skin, and airways), linear alkylate sulfonate (a liver-damaging agent that is absorbed through the skin), and sodium tripolyphosphate (a chemical that irritates mucous membranes and is easily absorbed through the skin). How close to your skin do you want these ingredients?
  • In the current fight against bacteria, the supermarket shelves overflow with new antibacterial cleaners. Some can contain triclosan, which, when absorbed through the skin, might cause liver damage.
  • When considering zapping every insect with powerful pesticides, remember who else is down at ground level. Children, pets, and gardeners live close to the earth, too. Kids roll in the grass, pets recline on the walkway, and gardeners dig around in the dirt. All are easily susceptible to touching or inhaling pesticide residue. These innocents may be exposed to such evil ingredients as diazinon, which impairs the central nervous system, and organophosphates, a class of toxic substances that are easily transported into the lungs with every breath.
  • Flea powder contains chemicals that will cause more problems and more damage than any flea could ever inflict, most notably skin, respiratory, cardiovascular, liver, kidney, spleen, and central nervous system damage.

Allergy-proofing your home is the best nonmedical means to improve allergy symptoms. Whether its the bedroom, bathroom or garage, remembering to clean with environmentally friendly products and being careful not to introduce unnecessary chemicals into the house will go a long way toward improving life for allergy sufferers. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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