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Spring Cleaning For Your Health

Warmer weather, budding trees, pollen, and sneezing. Spring is on the way! We come out of the winter doldrums and feel the surge of renewal. The desire to clean rises from deep within us, and since cleaning has such an impact on allergy and asthma symptoms, the topic of our March newsletter is Spring Cleaning For Your Health.


Margie Bullock
& The National Allergy
Newsletter Team

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National Allergy E-Mail Newsletter
Spring Cleaning For Your Health

Allergy and asthma sufferers have to be more particular and thorough about housecleaning to remove allergens from their homes because allergen avoidance is key to the prevention of allergy and asthma symptoms. If you have allergies or asthma, cleaning takes on a whole new dimension, and it becomes very important to gain and keep the upper hand with dust, dust mites, pollen, pet dander and mold. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, "A proper spring cleaning of your home can help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms." If you have allergies or asthma, cleaning is not just a matter of your home looking good; it becomes a health issue.

Best Practices For Regular Cleaning

Of course, you are doing the standard dusting-vacuuming-bathroom type of cleaning regularly, but here are some suggestions to take spring cleaning up a notch to spring allergy cleaning:

HEPA Vacuum Cleaners For Spring Allergy Cleaning
  1. Use a HEPA vacuum cleaner or microfilter vacuum bags to keep dust, dirt and allergen from escaping with the exhaust.
  2. Dusting should be done with an electrostatic cloth or a damp cloth to keep dust from just being stirred up. When you finish dusting and look at the cloth, that is where the dust should be - not flying around in the air for you to inhale or to settle back down when your back is turned.
  3. Manage humidity to control dust mites and mold. If the relative humidity in your home exceeds 50%, a dehumidifier may be needed to bring it down. A humidity gauge can be handy to monitor the humidity level.
  4. Clean away mold, and use products to keep mold from returning quickly (see more below).
  5. Choose chemical-free cleaning methods when possible, and be aware of the chemical ingredients in the products you use (see more below).
  6. Use zippered allergen covers on mattresses, box springs and pillows for dust mite allergen protection.
  7. Wash all bedding every week or two in hot (130-140 degree) water, or use an all temperature allergen detergent or laundry additive.
Beyond Regular Cleaning

In addition to the necessary regular cleaning chores, you can take proactive steps to halt potential problems in their tracks.
  1. Reduce Pet AllergenDeciding what to do with your pet(s) is a tough decision. Give away your pet, keep him outside, or at the very least, do NOT allow your pet in your bedroom and certainly not in your bed. You cannot possibly clean away the allergen your pet produces daily, so you must avoid as much of it as possible. If you cannot bear to give your pet away, you can use special shampoos and wipes to minimize pet allergen. Pet odors can be a trigger for allergies and asthma, too. Air fresheners can contain a lot of chemicals, so look for products that will eliminate the odor instead of masking it with other fragrances.
    *NOTE: Even if you don't have a pet, but a pet used to live in your house, there is lingering allergen. If you spend time with a friend who has a pet, the allergen will attach to you and you will bring it home. So if you have a reaction to pet dander, you may need to use a neutralizing carpet treatment - whether you have a pet or not.
  2. Treat mold with respect because it can be dangerous. Check your roof (and attic if you have one), around the hot water heater, in the basement, around the washing machine, around the dishwasher and under the sinks for leaks, and repair them as quickly as possible to prevent extensive mold growth. Dr. Jay Portnoy, chief of the Section of Allergy Asthma and Immunology at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City observes, "People are often surprised to find out that their allergies can be triggered by common household mold." He goes on to "recommend that people who have mold allergy take simple actions to avoid exposure and reduce growth by managing moisture and cleaning regularly and properly." There are places that I seldom look that should be checked for mold on a regular basis:
    • Condensation on windows, window frames and window sills can cause mold, so check behind the curtains and blinds.
    • How long has it been since you looked at your refrigerator drip pan? (There's a drip pan?)
    • If you frequently save left overs from meals, keep an eye on them as well to prevent any unintential "science projects".
    • Your washing machine could be a mold culprit as well. Mold can grow in any number of places around (and even in) your machine. Don't leave clothes in the washer - they need to go right in the dryer - and leave the lid open after doing a load.
    All You Need For Mold Clean-UpAny place where there's moisture, there's a potential mold hazard. If you do find mold, it should be removed and the area treated with a preventative. If you are allergic to mold and have to do the cleaning yourself, be sure to wear non-vented goggles, a mask, and gloves. These products are available in a mold remediation kit we've put together. Although you can do a lot yourself, if you can smell mold but you cannot see it or if mold covers an area of more than 10 square feet, you may want to seek professional mold remediation assistance.
  3. Limit your exposure to VOC's. Two Volatile Organic Compounds you would be likely to come in contact with in your home are formaldehyde and perchloroethylene. Both can cause respiratory tract irritation and should be avoided, but first you have to know where they are. Formaldehyde is commonly found in wood building materials, permanent-press fabrics, some other textiles, cosmetics, and by combustion processes, including gas flame and cigarette smoke.Austin Air HealthMate Plus Air Purifier When doing new construction or buying wood, ask for new products with low formaldehyde emission. Use your vent fan when cooking with gas, quit smoking and forbid it in your home and car.
    Perchloroethylene (PERC) is the chemical used in dry cleaning. When you pick up your dry cleaning, if the odor is strong, the clothing may not have completely dried. Come back for it. If this continues to occur, change cleaners. PERC can also be added to aerosol formulations, solvent soaps, printing inks, adhesives, sealants, polishes, lubricants, typewriter correction fluid and shoe polish. If you're having trouble avoiding exposure, certain air purifiers (like the Austin Air HealthMate Plus and the IQAirHealthPro Plus) Use Allergen Reduction Furnace Filtersare equipped to remove VOC's from the air.
  4. Keep doors and windows closed to reduce pollen exposure. When my kids were little, I would try to save money on air conditioning by opening the windows in the spring. I found out that taking my kids to the doctor cost more than the money I saved on air conditioning. Airing out the house in spring is very pleasant, but just not worth it with allergy/asthma sufferers present. Use allergen reduction furnace filters to capture some of the airborne allergen before you breathe it. Or, if you must have outside air inside your home, use a window filter.
  5. Get rid of cockroaches. Although cockroaches don't immediately come to mind when thinking of allergens, they are triggers for allergies and asthma. It isn't pleasant to think about, but when you see one cockroach, you can almost bet that there are plenty more you can't see. Initially, professional extermination may be needed. Then use bait traps to keep cockroaches under control. Do not use irritating chemicals. Make a less attractive environment for cockroaches by covering garbage and not leaving food sitting out.
  6. A lot of people are concerned about their air ducts. After all, the air you breathe comes through them picking up whatever is there. However, unless you can actually see mold, piles of dust or evidence of rodent or insect infestation, you probably do not need to have your ducts cleaned. It is possible to do more harm than good by having your ductwork cleaned if it is not done properly. If you would like to know for sure, you can have the ducts inspected by a reputable company. The HVAC company that services your heating and air conditioning units may be able to recommend someone. Be wary of expansive health claims and keep in mind that neither duct cleaning nor any duct cleaning services have been approved by the EPA (the EPA just doesn't do that).
Beware Of Household Chemicals

Read labels and buy cleaning products wisely. Be aware of household chemicals that could be especially detrimental to the allergy or asthma sufferer. A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that exposure to cleaning products accounts for 15 percent of all asthma cases. Many common household cleaners contain chemicals that can be harmful if inhaled (especially in poorly ventilated spaces or if inhaled over long periods of time), ingested or come in contact with skin. In 1989, the EPA estimated that the fumes produced by common household cleaners were three times more likely to cause cancer than other air pollutants.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to know if our favorite cleansers contain these harmful chemicals because labels can be misleading. The Federal Hazardous Substances Labeling Act of 1960 states that only ingredients that cause immediate harmful side effects must be disclosed. I looked under my sink at some well-known, commonly-used household cleaners, and the ingredients weren't listed. So I went to the website given on the labels. Under FAQ's (frequently asked questions), I found the question, but not the answer. At least not the list of ingredients I wanted. The products vaguely said things like detergents, solvents, fragrance, alcohol, and gentle cleaning conditioners. National Geographic's Green Guide reports, "Since World War II, roughly 75,000 chemicals have been introduced into consumer products, but less than 5 percent of them have been tested for health or environmental side effects."

Now, having criticized labels, I am going to turn around and urge you to read them. It is very difficult to avoid all chemicals and get the desired result from cleaning, but you can choose the products with the least chemicals or the least irritating chemicals. Here are some things to look for in picking products that have the lowest impact on your health and the environment:
  • Avoid when possible: phthalates, petroleum distillates, parabens, and d-limonene.
  • Look for specific claims like "no solvents" or "plant-based". Terms like non-toxic, biodegradable and ecologically-friendly or natural can be true and desirable or these terms can be misleading since there are no restrictions on their use.
  • Choose plant-based (coconut, palm kernel, corn) instead of petroleum-based ingredients.
  • Avoid when possible: diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA), common sudsing agents.
  • Avoid when possible: ingredients that have "butyl" in the name. Grain alcohol is a good alternative.
  • Avoid when possible: ammonia, sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite (bleach), and chlorine.
  • Avoid when possible: triclosan (chemical name: trichloro hydroxy diphenyl ether) as much as possible.
  • Choose "fragrance free" or "no added fragrance" because fragrances can be a source of chemicals such as phthalates.
  • Avoid when possible: cleaners marked "Danger" or "Poison" on the label, and look out for other tell-tale hazard warnings, such as "corrosive" or "may cause burns."
Not only is it hard to determine the ingredients, but when you do it is not always easy to recognize the ones you want to avoid because chemicals have a variety of names. The trick is to choose the least detrimental product for the job at hand. It is up to us to be savvy consumers and do our homework to pick cleaning products that are not likely to harm us or future generations.

Practical Cleaning Tips

Sometimes little things can make a big difference. There are steps you can easily take, but you might not think of them, to reduce your exposure to irritating substances.
  • Get rid of cardboard boxes and paper bags in attics, closets, and basements. They harbor mold and cockroaches.
  • Buy limited quantities of kerosene or lawnmower gasoline and store in a well-ventilated area - preferably away from the house.
  • Keep down clutter - it just makes dusting harder. Put knick-knacks in glass-doored cases or give them away.
  • Choose furniture with simple lines. Curlicues are hard to dust.
  • Choose leather furniture that does not catch dust.
  • Keep clothes in closed drawers or closets.
  • Limit the number of houseplants - real ones can have mold in the soil and both real and artificial ones can collect dust.
  • Do not store anything under the bed because dust bunnies love to congregate there, and you need to be able to clean easily.
  • Keep firewood outdoors because the bark can contain mold.
  • Make sure there is an exhaust fan over the stove to remove cooking fumes.

Allergen avoidance and cleaning with non-irritating chemicals can be an important factor to your overall health but can seem overwhelming. Just jump in somewhere and keep at it. Remember that our phone experts have plenty of experience guiding people through their options for allergy, asthma and sinus relief, so feel free to give us a call at 1-800-522-1448.

National Allergy E-Mail Newsletter
The information in this newsletter is for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor first about your specific condition, treatment options and other health concerns you may have.

Remember that our customer service representatives have plenty of experience guiding people through the options for allergy, asthma and sinus relief, so feel free to contact us by calling one of our phone experts at 1-800-522-1448 Monday through Friday between the hours of 9:00 am and 5:30 pm Eastern Time. You can also e-mail us at

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