If you have visited an allergist or read articles in ourLearning Library, the subject of laundry has certainly come up. One of the major steps in allergy proofing a home is to implement a regular washing regimen - about every two weeks for bedding. Before I go any further, it is important to lay out the allergist-recommended instructions for washing:
"Avoidance measures related to bedding is most important with suitable encasements, [and] washing sheets/blankets at >130° F (to both kill the House Dust Mite and wash away allergens.)" Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology 1999;103:179-91
You may be wondering if a simple round in a very hot dryer will take care of the whole dust mite problem. According to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology,
"...drying at maximum temperature setting for one hour will kill the great majority of dust mites in comforters as well as blankets. However, the levels of dust mite allergens are not reduced."
What To Wash
Blankets, sheets and other bedding are the obvious recipients of frequent washings. Our bodies shed skin, oils and moisture each night when we sleep. This means that dust mites find our sheets and blankets a welcome environment, making frequent laundering a wise, and doctor-recommended dust mite control strategy.We have encasings to protect mattresses, pillows and shams, comforters and duvets. However, that still leaves other unprotected bedding like blankets, quilts, mattress pads and sheets which certaintly need regular washing if possible. Should you wash your encasings? That depends a bit on your personal preference. The main issue of concern is allergens in the air settling on the surface because the encasing is a two way barrier. Most allergen settling from the air will occur on your regular sheets since they are on top of the encasings. Here's my approach. I wash my pillow encasing every few weeks when I wash our other bedding, but I wash my mattress encasing less frequently. Regardless of your washing preferences, your encasings will be just as effective at blocking allergens. Remember that most National Allergy encasings have lifetime warranties, so wash them as much as you like, and don't worry about wear and tear... we made 'em and we'll stand by 'em. Our lower-maintenance SofTEK encasings should only be washed in emergencies, but you can vacuum the encasings every few weeks to keep then fresh and dirt-free.
For more information on our different encasing options, see our Encasings Comparison Chart.
Washing clothes is another important chore that helps control allergens. I have learned that I need to wear a dust and pollen mask when I am cleaning our closet because if I don't, I'll have itchy eyes and congestion in no time. Clothing, shoes and other items stored in your closet collect dust and dust mite allergen. But dust mite allergen is not the only culprit for making our clothes an allergy risk. Spring and fall pollen easily stick to clothes and shoes. Pet dander is also a very "tacky" allergen that will remain on clothes and other surfaces for a long time, unless they are properly laundered. And moisture from shoes can promote mold growth in some climates.
Other items that allergy sufferers should launder if possible are stuffed toys and children's pillows and blankets. Bathroom and kitchen towels also should be washed frequently at high temperatures as they can harbor mold and mildew.
How To Wash
For my most delicate items, I do the hand-washing routine in a sink or basin. Unfortunately most delicates instruct the owner to hand wash or lightly machine-wash in cold water. Without ultra-hot water the allergens will remain on these items. But here's a little help - just two tablespoons De-Mite Laundry Additive will rid any wash load of dust mites and their allergen.
The basic design of a washing machine barrel is to turn the contents so as to shake lose any dirt and allow your detergent to penetrate and clean the clothing or bedding fibers. As I have mentioned, only extreme hot-water washing will actually eliminate dust mites. However, while hot-water washing will kill dust mites, frequent washings of this type may also kill the look and feel of your fabrics or blankets. To avoid these pit-falls of allergen-free washing, I recommend toning down the heat every few washes and instead using an additive or special detergent to take care of the allergen. Products like Anti-Allergen Laundry Detergent or De-Mite are completely safe for fabrics and will eliminate allergens in hot or cold water. Keep reading and I'll explain the science behind some of the newest anti-allergen laundry products.
The Dirt On Detergent
As many bells and whistles as washers and dryers have these days, it seems detergents have more. Their variety of forms - powders, liquids, unit dose tablets and liquitabs - offer features like color-fastness, skin-safety and shape retention, to name a few. If only they'd load the machine for you!As consumers we must wade through this sea of claims and examine what some of these solutions are made of, and whether they are truly safe for our families. People with chemical sensitivities and those with eczema should be particularly vigilant about avoiding some of the harsh chemicals found in common detergents. We recommend that you look for products free of chlorine, phosphates, petroleum distillates, perfumes or dyes. Remember that residual detergent, bleach, or fabric softener left on clothes after washing can also cause itching. I have read recommendations from some eczema and chemical sensitivity sources that advise rinsing twice, and even to run a cycle with no clothing, just to rid your machine of residual chemicals.
Other laundry "accessories" can contain irritating or harmful ingredients as well. For example, common spray starch ingredients include formaldehyde, phenol, and pentachlorophenol, which can irritate the lungs. Dryer sheets can cause buildup and residue in your dryer like detergents can in washing machines. I have heard testimonies from our customers of their dryers losing efficacy because of clogging after many years of continual use of dryer sheets. And, the residue can linger. On a recent visit to our home, my father, who has very sensitive skin, questioned me on what I had used to wash the guest room sheets. I promised him that I had used a chemical-free detergent. However, I later remembered that we often use dryer sheets during the dry cycle, which likely caused his skin rashes the next morning.
If you want to clean up your washer and eliminate potentially harmful chemicals, it may be time to make the switch to chemical-free products like EnviroRite's Laundry Pre-Treat and Detergent. They contain no hazardous ingredients, petrochemicals, perfumes, dyes or animal by-products. To give you and your dryer a clean slate, I recommend the non-irritating Static-Eliminator. It's a washable dryer sheet that keeps clothes fresh and cling-free without the chemicals. For allergy sufferers like me I recommend an all-in-one product than can clean safely and remove allergens. Allersearch Allergen Wash, has special surfactants that bind to allergens and remove them. Anti-Allergy Solution Laundry Detergent takes care of dust mite and pet allergens at the molecular level by denaturing the proteins in the allergen so they do not affect you. The science of these Anti-Allergen products is really cool, and it will give your clothes a break from constant hot-water washings!In a previous newsletter, I made mention of several common household items like vinegar, borax or salt that can be used as chemical-free cleaning solutions. Some of these very same solutions can be helpful for clothing care as well. For example, mixing sodium chloride, otherwise known as salt, with lemon juice makes a chemical-free stain remover for clothes. Adding a couple of cap-fulls of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle can act as a fabric softener and help cut through residue and fragrances that many detergents leave on your clothes.
Well, you may not enjoy the subject of doing laundry, but I hope you have learned a few valuable things. Hot water washing and anti-allergen detergents can be a good thing for allergy sufferers, but using the wrong products can also be irritating for individuals with chemical or skin sensitivities. Make sure you know what's in your detergent and other clothing-care items, and remember the important role that laundry plays in reducing your home's allergens.