Your home is supposed to be a safe haven. Unfortunately, allergens can follow you into your house, and leave you sniffing and sneezing. If you or your loved ones have severe allergies, you may wonder whether you will ever find relief from your symptoms. But there is good news: A (relatively) allergen-free home is possible. By knowing which allergens are present in your house—and where you can find them—you can take the steps necessary to reduce your allergen exposure and rest easy in your home.
“The usual suspects”: Common allergens found in homes
Most indoor allergens can be found in homes year-round, leaving many people with runny noses, sore throats and itchy, watery eyes long after “allergy season” is over. If you or your loved ones experience allergy symptoms regardless of seasonal changes, you may be sensitive to one of the following common household allergens.
Pollen – If you think of pollen as a primarily outdoor allergen, you might be surprised to learn how easily it can accumulate in your home. Pollen can be brought indoors on the clothes, hair and fur of family members and pets, as well as float in through open doors or windows.
Mold – Mold is a fungus that spreads by releasing tiny spores in the air. When inhaled, these spores can cause allergy symptoms. Mold typically grows in the warm, damp corners of your home, such as windowsills, showers, under-sink cabinets and laundry rooms.
Dust mites – Dust mites can be found throughout the home, but are most commonly found in the bedroom. These microscopic creatures prefer warm, humid environments and typically make their homes in bedding, carpeting and upholstered furniture.
Insects – Cockroach allergens tend to be more spread throughout the home than dust mites because cockroaches are highly mobile. Cockroaches and their waste tend to be concentrated in insect hiding spaces such as inside cracks and crevices, behind appliances or large furniture, or in any other place that is not easy for humans to access.
Pet allergens – Contrary to popular belief, people with pet allergies are sensitive to an animal’s saliva, dander (dead skin cells) or urine, rather than its fur. This is why hairless or non-shedding animal breeds, sometimes touted as “hypoallergenic” pets, can still cause allergy symptoms. Pet allergens are usually widely spread throughout the home but are most concentrated in your pet’s favorite areas.
Tips for reducing allergens in every room of your home
Anyone with allergies knows how quickly a runny nose or sore throat can ruin a relaxing evening at home. Your house should be a place where you can find relief from allergy symptoms, but that is not always possible when you are sharing your home with a wide range of allergens. Fortunately, a little time and effort can help make each room in your house or apartment allergen-free.
The carpets, rugs and upholstered furniture in your living room can harbor allergens such as dust, pet dander and pollen brought in from the outdoors. Follow these steps to turn your living room into an allergen-free gathering place for you and your family:
- Replace carpeting or upholstered furniture with easier-to-clean options such as tile or hardwood and wooden furniture with removable cushions.
- Clean carpets or area rugs weekly with a HEPA vacuum.
- Wash fabric curtains, throw pillows and blankets weekly in warm water.
- Limit the number of potted plants in the room, as the soil can often harbor mold.
- Dusting regularly with a wet cloth and removing any trinkets or dried flowers that gather dust.
- Keep windows and doors closed to avoid letting in pollen.
- Avoid the use of wood burning fireplaces. The smoke and ash that they introduce into your home can cause respiratory irritation and allergic reactions.
Allergens in your bedroom can cause allergy symptoms to worsen while you sleep, meaning that you wake up feeling congested and tired instead of well-rested. To get a better night’s sleep, free from allergy symptoms, you can:
- Use dust mite covers on your mattress and pillows.
- Wash your bedding and fabric curtains weekly in warm water.
- Remove wall-to-wall carpet from your bedroom and clean floors and area rugs regularly.
- Keep your pets out of the bedroom.
- Shower before going to bed to keep from bringing pollen, pet dander or other allergens into your bedroom.
- Use an air purifier to help remove airborne allergens from your room.
If you are not careful, your bathroom can become the perfect environment for mold and mildew to thrive. To keep even the darkest, dampest corners of your bathroom allergen-free:
- Use exhaust fans to help reduce moisture accumulation during and after baths and showers.
- Dry out the bathtub or shower after use to further eliminate mold-causing moisture.
- Replace carpeting in the bathroom with tile, linoleum, or hardwood if possible.
- Wash bath mats and shower curtains regularly and replace them if they start to show mold growth.
- Consider replacing wallpaper with tile or mold-resistant paint.
- Keep an eye out for leaks near the toilet or under the sink and repair them as soon as possible.
- Thoroughly clean any mold growth as soon as you see it.
Ventilation can be a big problem in basements, which can cause allergen concentrations to be higher than in other areas of the house with more air flow. Though you may not use it as often, your basement needs to be cleaned as regularly as other areas in your home. When possible, try to:
- Vacuum carpeting weekly, or replace it with concrete, linoleum or tile.
- Address any leaks immediately to curb mold growth.
- Replace moldy or water-damaged carpet and wallpaper as soon as you notice the problem.
- Use a dehumidifier to help reduce mold-causing dampness. It should be cleaned weekly to help maintain proper function.
- Use plastic storage bins to store clothing and other fabrics.
- Make sure that your clothes dryer vents the moisture outside.
Playroom or nursery
Reducing allergen levels in the playroom or nursery is necessary to help your children play and sleep without the discomfort of allergy symptoms. To minimize the presence of allergens in your child’s room:
- Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to clean the room weekly.
- Consider installing an air purifier to help remove airborne allergens, especially if the household has pets, mold issues or smokers.
- Wash stuffed animals weekly in warm water, and if possible, remove any fabric toys that cannot be easily washed.
- Keep pets out of the playroom or nursery.
- Clean and dry any toys that your child enjoys chewing on before putting them back in the toybox.
- Clean up any spills immediately to help prevent mold growth.
You might wince at the possibility of allergens in your kitchen, but, unfortunately, it is an ideal environment for both mold and insects. To help keep your kitchen free from unwanted allergens:
- Wash dishes daily and wipe off any resulting moisture from the sink and counters.
- Clean your refrigerator drip pan regularly and check for mold in the rubber seals around the doors.
- Avoid leaving food out. Instead, keep it sealed in airtight containers.
- Clean up any food debris or grease around the kitchen to prevent insect infestation.
- Empty the trash daily, and consider getting a trash can with an insect-proof lid.
- Plug any cracks that allow insects to enter your home.
- Install an exhaust fan that vents to the outside to help reduce accumulated moisture and fumes from cooking.
How to reduce allergens across your entire home
Preventing allergens from entering your home in the first place is just as important as cleaning and removing any existing allergens. Here is what you can do to keep allergens out:
- Manage the temperature and humidity in your home – Many allergen sources such as mold and dust mites thrive in warm, humid environments. By keeping the relative humidity in your home below 50% and the temperature cooler, you can help prevent their growth and spread in your home.
- Guard against pollen – By using your central heating and air system instead of opening windows and doors, you can help keep pollen from entering your home. Additionally, you should wash clothes after going outside and give your pet frequent baths to help reduce the amount of pollen that enters your home.
- Control pests – By keeping your home free of food debris and plugging up any insect-friendly cracks and crevices, you can keep your home free of pest infestations and reduce the concentration of insect allergens in your home.
To remove allergens that are already in your home:
- Use an air purifier or filter – By installing a HEPA filter in your HVAC system or adding an air purifier to your home, you can help reduce the presence of airborne allergens. With any method of air filtration, you should clean or replace filters regularly, as outlined by the manufacturer.
- Clean your home regularly, including weekly dusting and vacuuming – When dusting, make sure to use a damp cloth to capture the dust and avoid spreading it around. When vacuuming, consider using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, or even one with UV light and a HEPA filter to help remove the most allergens from your floors (and avoid reintroducing them into the air). Damp-mop any tile, hardwood or linoleum floors regularly to remove dust and food debris.
- Use easy-to-clean curtains and coverings – When possible, replace upholstered furniture and non-washable curtains and carpets with options that are easier to clean and less likely to harbor allergens.
It may take some effort, but it is possible to make your home a haven from allergens and allergy symptoms. By combining source control and allergen removal methods, you can help make your home an allergen-free zone.