Cleaning Tips to Reduce Allergens


How to Reduce Allergies in the Home

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While it's a challenge to truly allergy-proof your home, there are certainly practical cleaning tips to reduce allergies if you address allergen traps. Here's helpful advice.

Allergen Traps

Several factors have long established our home as a major allergen trap:

  • A dirt driveway, a wood-heated house (sawdust, smoke, ashes) that opens directly into a small solar greenhouse that serves as the home’s primary entrance (planting-medium particles and dried plant/insect debris).
  • Insects and their droppings, spiders (their webs and droppings) in abundance throughout the house.
  • Garden dirt tracked in during the growing season; also, pollen coming in on hair, clothing, and line-dried laundry.
  • Our joint proclivity towards casual house cleaning. Perpetual dust has encouraged thriving colonies of microscopic, allergy-producing dust mites.

Just before the winter holidays, we had our 120-year-old home rewired. The crew surgically disemboweled the whole house, attic to basement, cutting innumerable holes through original plaster ceilings, walls, and oak beams, trying to locate the old wires, then removing and replacing them with stiff metal-clad wires (to prevent rodent-gnawing), adding a couple dozen new outlets as they went.

Along the way, the crew added several new layers of plaster dust, commingled with sawdust and other stuff that emerged from the holes. Achew! Achew!

I’ve long suffered from a post-nasal drip caused by various allergies, which the recent home repairs made immeasurably worse. So, I began researching tips for allergy-proofing a house.

Allergy-Proofing Your House

To truly allergy-proof your house is quite a challenge. Here's what you would need to do:

  • Dust and vacuum the entire house—baseboards, walls, ceilings and floors—at least once a week. Preferably twice. One website recommended “If cleaning has been neglected for several weeks, wearing a protective mask is a good habit.” (Several weeks? We hadn't cleaned sections of our basement, attic, and behind/around certain things for years.)
  • Consign all items exposed to household dust to plastic boxes or fully enclosed shelves, e.g., stuffed animals, small collectables, knicknacks, magazines, and books. (Books? We have hundreds of them on two floors and in the attic, “stored” in open bookcases.)
  • Enclose bed pillows, mattresses, box springs, and duvet covers with zippered, tightly woven fabrics that prevent dust, and therefore dust mites.
  • Use “allergy-proof” sheets and other coverings.
  • Replace wool blankets and feather pillows/comforters with synthetic stuffings and coverings.
  • Don’t hang laundry outside, where drying clothes and bedding will pick up pollen and other airborne allergens. Wash laundry in hot water—130° or higher—then dry in dryer. (Yikes! I’ve always advocated line-drying for energy savings; we don’t even have a dryer.)
  • Wear a hat outside during the growing season to prevent pollen from collecting on hair.
  • Always change your clothes when you come in from pollen-laden outdoor environments; keep clothes hampers in the laundry area and out of the bedroom.
  • Exchange upholstered furniture for wood, plastic, or leather-covered couches and chairs. Cracks, crevices, and napped fabrics trap dust and become a haven for dust mites.
  • Use two doormats at entryways, and/or have everyone remove their shoes before entering the house.
  • Get rid of carpeting; use washable area rugs or bare floors. If you must have carpets, get them professionally cleaned at least once a year.
  • Choose plain (not frilly, pleated, heavily textured), washable cotton curtains or roll-up washable blinds. Wash them often.
  • Keep windows closed during high-pollen seasons and run an air conditioner.
  • When you dust, use microfiber dust cloths, dampened to capture more dust and prevent it from rising. Work down from the ceiling.
  • Prevent or seal leaks in household plumbing that may allow mold to grow. Especially check those dark recesses under sinks, around toilet, tub and shower installations.
  • Use dehumidifiers and exhaust fans to maintain 30 percent to 50 percent moisture in the home. Helps prevent mold from growing and reduce dust-mite populations.
  • Clean or replace filters on heating and air conditioning appliances, dehumidifiers and vacuum cleaners according to manufacturer’s recommendations.

Wow! Three words came to mind in response to what I’d learned about allergy-proofing my old house: expensive, time-consuming, and (in our old house)...impossible.

But armed with new knowledge, I realized if we couldn't allergy-proof our living quarters, we do a lot more at allergy reduction, my editor’s actual charge. And so we began.

Reduce Allergies in the Home

  • We started with a quick, onceover, vacuuming the visible dust in the house with our old shop vac. (It wasn't really quick, except by comparison of the work ahead.)
  • We moved into the basement, tossing out assorted stuff that had been collecting dust for years. We swept or vacuumed the beams, ceilings, walls, and floors.
  • We used damp microfiber cloths to wipe down the basement appliances (refrigerator, two large chest freezers, hot water header, and washing machine), tools, shelves of canned foods (still stored on open shelving).
  • I’ve purchased a raft of spiffy, hand-held cleaning and dusting implements. Not cheap, but they should make dust removal easier and more thorough.
  • I recently inherited a new HEPA-filtering vacuum cleaner, and have begun using it to clean the floors, corners, and crevices of our upholstered furniture.
  • We’ve resolved to vacuum, sweep, and dust more often, hopefully one room a day with our new tools, so the work doesn't become too onerous.
  • We’ve vowed to wash the bedding weekly with a hot-water setting, and I’ve ordered a set of allergy-proof sheets, pillowcases, mattress, and box-spring coverings.
  • We’ve put extra doormats in the entryway, and vowed to take off our boots or shoes before entering the kitchen.
  • More to come...

We’ll still be hanging the wash outside on sunny days, growing leafy greens all year long in the greenhouse that opens to our kitchen, and trekking to and from our outdoor vegetable gardens during the growing season.

But we’ve made a good start.

Learn more:

Allergy-proof your home

Indoor Air Pollutants and Toxic Materials

Learn About Mold

Finally, we don’t have any companion animals these days, but many people do. Here’s a good place to begin if you're concerned about pet allergies.

About The Author

Margaret Boyles

Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles

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