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Spring Cleaning For Allergen Avoidance
Springtime! Everything is bright and new outdoors, and we start to think about sprucing up our homes. It's a great time of year to focus on projects around the house. And if someone in your home has allergies or asthma, housecleaning to eliminate allergens and asthma triggers in the spring and year round becomes very important.
The easiest way to avoid allergens is to toss the things that collect dust - or at least put those things in a cabinet. Then clean the things you can't toss like furniture and sinks regularly with plant-based or low chemical cleansers, vacuum with a HEPA-filtered vacuum, or treat to eliminate or neutralize allergens.
When allergens make you sniffle, sneeze, cough and wheeze, allergen avoidance by cleaning and tossing can definitely help you feel better.
Meet The Culprits
The main culprits lurking in your home that need to be eradicated are dust, mold & mildew, harsh chemicals, cockroach & dust mite detritus (dried feces and body parts), pet dander, and pollen. Let's take a closer look at each one.
Dust is not just "dust"; it has many components. A single speck of dust may contain allergens such as animal dander, dust mite allergen, cockroach allergen, mold spores plus sloughed off dead human skin cells, bacteria, food particles, paint flecks, and more. The quantity and contents of dust varies from home to home. For example, a construction site nearby usually means more dust until the project is finished. The degree to which house dust is a problem depends on the components of your dust and your particular allergies. For example, if you are highly allergic to animal dander and you own a pet, it is crucial that you control dust in your home to avoid allergic reactions because your dust will certainly contain pet dander.
Another component of dust is dust mite allergen, the dried feces and body parts of the microscopic arachnids that are present in practically all homes in almost every place on earth. You can't see them, but they are there simply as a part of the ecology. You can't get rid of them, but you can take steps to avoid the allergen by dusting regularly and preventing excess allergen with mattress, pillow, and box spring covers.
Cockroaches are very common pests, too. Unfortunately, we can see them. And even worse, if you see 1 cockroach, it is estimated that there are 800 more living in the walls and nooks and crannies of your home that you don't see. Like dust mites, the problem is in the feces and body parts. The miniscule flakes become airborne or they settle on furniture and floors. They become part of dust and are stirred up into the air when you set something on a dusty table or walk across carpet, and then you inhale these tiny particles. Cockroaches live all over the world, from tropical areas to the coldest spots on earth. Studies show that 78 percent to 98 percent of urban homes in the United States have cockroaches. Each home has from 900 to 330,000 of the insects, according to the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America.
Another part of dust is mold spores. Mold reproduces by sending spores into the air. While airborne, mold spores can be inhaled and cause allergic reactions in people with mold allergy. The mold spore also settle out of the air and become part of dust. Regularly checking for excess moisture that can lead to mold is very important. If mold is found, it should be cleaned away and steps should be taken to prevent regrowth to the greatest extent possible.
Animal dander, the dried saliva and dead skin cells of animals, is also found in house dust. Of course, there is animal dander in your home if you have a pet. But even if you don't, you may still have animal dander. Although you can't see it, it is very sticky and clings to surfaces in a home long after an animal is gone. It is very common to bring it home with you when you've been visiting someone with pets. If the previous owners of your home had a pet, you very likely have pet dander. Another source you may not have considered is critters in your home. If you have rats or mice or if squirrels are invading your attic, they may be adding animal dander to your home.
Pollen is a problem in spring and in fall. It is such a big problem that it is on the news and weather reports beginning right about now. The goal is to keep pollen outside and you inside. It's hard. Pollen comes in every time you open a door, it hitchhikes in on pets, and clings to your clothing to sneak inside. It circulates in the air and settles to become a component of dust.
Starting At The Top With Spring Cleaning Tips For Allergen Avoidance
1. Get rid of cardboard boxes that attract cockroaches and promote mold growth if they get damp. Toss them out and replace with plastic containers if you have to keep what was in them.
2. Check the drip pan for your air conditioning unit and check for leaks in your roof. Clean away any mold you find and apply a protective barrier.
3. Check the flooring and insulation for signs of critters.
4. Change furnace filters regularly if using disposable brands. Wash them often if using a permanent type.
1. There are lots of places for dust to accumulate in a bedroom: on and under all furniture including the bed, lamps and shades, drapes or curtains, window sills, blinds or shutters, wall hangings like pictures, mirrors, etc., and knick knacks sitting around, carpet and floors. Keep a close eye out for dust accumulation.
2. Check your windows for mold that could have formed due to condensation over the winter. Clean when needed and apply a preventative to window sills.
3. Mattresses, box springs, and pillows are havens for dust mites and sheets, mattress pads, and bedspreads or comforters can contain dust mite allergen or dust. Put as much as you can in mite proof, zippered covers. Curtains, dust ruffles, comforters, and mattress pads that are not in zippered covers should be washed every 2 weeks in very hot water or with a laundry additive or allergen elimination laundry detergent.
4. Pet dander should not be a problem in the bedroom because allowing your pet in the bedroom if you have an animal dander allergy is a big no-no.
1. Check for leaky faucets and mold under sinks and around tubs and toilets.
2. Read the labels of bathroom cleansers. Use steam or vegetable-based or low chemical products to keep fumes and gasses out of your air.
3. Look at windows and window treatments for mold and dust.
4. Keep surfaces free of mold and use a preventative to slow down regrowth.
THE LIVING AREA
1. Treat carpet for dust mites and pet dander to eliminate or neutralize the allergen.
2. Remove dust that collects on furniture, floors, carpet, drapes or curtains, window treatments, knick knacks, etc. Make dusting easier by decreasing the number of dust catchers you have.
3. If your pet stays indoors, it may be in the living area (since we all know it is not allowed in the bedroom). Keeping allergen levels low in the living area includes bathing the pet often and reducing allergen on the pet bed or the pet's favorite chair.
1. Check for mold under sinks, around seals on the dishwasher and refrigerator, in the refrigerator drip pan.
2. Look for signs of cockroaches. Obviously dead bugs are a giveaway, but you may also see little tiny fecal pellets that look like coffee grounds that let you know cockroaches are in your home.
3. Dust can collect in the kitchen, too, on shelves or stove hoods.
THE LAUNDRY ROOM
1. Check (and smell) the inside of the washing machine for mold.
2. Dust often around and under the washer & dryer to remove lint that can combine with allergens.
3. Use an allergen neutralizing laundry detergent or additive when washing bedding, curtains, and clothing.
1. Watch for signs of mold and mildew on concrete or dirt surfaces.
2. A musty smell can be a tip that there is mold present that you can't see.
3. If you use your basement for storage, get rid of cardboard boxes and stacks of newspapers that can become damp and moldy.
Prevention Is Easier Than Cleaning
Having to dust and scrub mold and wash bedding is a necessary evil when you have allergies. But what if you could prevent allergens from forming and collecting? That sounds much better. Here are some tips for prevention:
- Make sure pipes and faucets are in good working order with no leaks.
- Take care of leaks in your roof or HVAC system.
- Apply a mold preventative to vulnerable places such as tubs and showers.
- If you have seen cockroaches, call a pest control service.
- Use room air purifiers to capture airborne particles. Cleaning the air you are breathing while asleep is very beneficial for allergy and asthma sufferers, and dust is reduced (although not eliminated).
- Use vent filtration covers over two to four heat/air vents that are bringing air into the room - bedrooms first, then living areas. This will reduce dust that is in the air pulled through your HVAC system coming into your room.
- Keep your pet outdoors if possible. If not, limit the areas he can roam to make allergen cleaning easier and bathe the pet often.
- Clean your carpet and upholstered furniture regularly to eliminate and neutralize dust mite and pet allergen.
- Do what you can to keep pollen from entering your home. Keep windows and doors closed. If you must open a window, use a window filter to capture pollen and other airborne particles.