Indoor Spring Cleaning Tips For The Allergy Sufferer
One of the most important considerations for the allergy sufferer during both indoor and outdoor spring cleaning projects is to be aware of your allergic sensitivities. For protection against airborne allergens like dust, mold and pollen, try a mask like our popular Silk Mask - it's washable, cool and breathable! For bigger jobs, use a long lasting 3M Particulate Respirator for excellent protection while spring cleaning. Non-Latex Gloves are also a good idea for working in potentially moldy areas or while using cleaning agents.
Wash Bedding, Drapes & Clothing. What would spring cleaning be without fresh bedding and drapery? Wash all your winter blankets, comforters and quilts in hot water. Water must be above 140 degrees to kill the dust mites that have probably been making a home in these items all winter. If you are concerned about hot water causing damage to your bedding, consider using De-Mite Laundry Additive which will eliminate dust mites in a cold or warm water wash. The window treatments from your bedroom or living room have, most likely, been collecting allergens and dust for several months as well. Vacuum them, take them to the dry-cleaners or launder them on a gentle cycle. A cold water wash is fine here since you're just trying to clean and wash out collected allergens. It is also a wise idea to give your winter clothes a good washing prior to packing them up. This will give you a fresh start for fall and also cleanse them of allergens that may have collected. Also remember to use the 12 month rule when cleaning out closets - if you have not used or worn an item in at least 12 months and it's still in good shape, consider donating it to a local charity or a needy family as part of your spring cleaning.
Vacuuming Tips. Presumably, you have maintained a fairly regular vacuuming routine through the winter. Spring means it's time to move the furniture and appliances aside in order to pick up the dust and dirt that has collected under them. Vacuum your furniture as well using an upholstery attachment. This is also a great time to use one of our dust mite treatment products that we discussed in our dust mite treatments page. Don't forget to vacuum those hard-to-reach places like baseboards, windowsills, vent and return registers, and even books themselves that have been gathering dust all winter. Magazines and newspapers are also dust collectors so part with them if you can, dust or vacuum them if you can't. If you have a HEPA air cleaner, it's a good idea to turn it on high while you vacuum since this chore tends to stir up a lot of allergens (this is an ideal time to change the pre-filters in your HEPA air cleaners, too). This spring may even be the time to consider a new vacuum cleaner. Are you using an older model that does not have HEPA filtration? Have you noticed an increase in symptoms when vacuuming? National Allergy's line of HEPA filtered vacuum cleaners offer excellent suction power and filtration in an upright or a canister at a variety of price ranges. Plus, they are all included in this month's product specials.
Dusting Tips. While dusting is often an unpopular task, it is a necessary step in spring cleaning and in your allergen-avoidance routine in general. In addition to furniture, bookcases, and other "known" dusting areas, you should run a dust cloth over china, crystal or other knick-knacks that may be losing their luster due to a coating of dust. Ceiling fan blades, window blinds, cabinet tops and bookcases are also notorious havens for dust and allergens to settle. When tackling a whole-house dusting project, make sure you are armed with tools to make the job as quick and painless as possible while keeping the dust down to a minimum. An item that will help with this effort, as well as being a spring cleaning customer favorite, is the Dust Grabber dust cloth. The Dust Grabber is a re-usable, washable dust cloth that carries an electrostatic charge so dust clings to it and stays there rather than just being pushed around. With this product, you save money plus help reduce the waste of disposable cloths. You can find this and other helpful Dust Reduction Products on our website.
Preventing Common Springtime Allergies
Dehumidification To Reduce Dust Mites And Mold
The arrival of spring for much of North America means April showers and May's warmer temperatures. Unfortunately, moisture and warmth are two conditions that contribute to increases in both dust mites and mold. As you plan for ways to reduce your allergen exposure this spring and summer, keeping your home's relative humidity low should be one of your top priorities.
As a reminder, using dust mite-proof encasings for your bedding is one of the key components in creating an "allergy safe" zone by reducing common household allergens. Home treatment products for carpets and upholstery are also helpful in reducing exposure to allergens. An important third step is to add dehumidification to your allergen avoidance protocol if you haven't already done so.
Countless studies have shown the link between humidity and the prevalence of dust mite populations. The reason is simple: 70-75% of the weight of a house dust mite is water. They maintain this needed water level through the absorption of water vapor in the air. So high relative humidity is crucial to their survival. Some of the leading experts in the field of dust mites and their allergen wrote the following in a recent article:
"Maintaining RH [relative humidity] below 50% is one of the most common recommendations for reducing dust mites and their allergen levels in homes because ambient RH is the key factor that influences dust mite prevalence. Mites must obtain sufficient water from the air to survive. Laboratory studies have shown that adult mites die of dehydration in 5 to 11 days, depending on temperature (25°C-34°C), when continuously exposed to RHs of 40% or 50%"
Larry G. Arlian, PhD, Thomas A. E. Platts-Mills, MD, PhD. "The biology of dust mites and the remediation of mite allergens in allergic disease." Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. March 2001.
Moisture in your home's air not only makes the environment more hospitable to dust mites, but to mold growth as well. Molds thrive in humidity at or above 50-55%. A musty smell in your basement or bathroom is likely a mold or mildew problem as a result of excess moisture from leaks or spills or from consistently high relative humidity in your home. Extra care should be taken to monitor your home's relative humidity, especially if your region is prone to heat and moisture. To read more about mold prevention and clean-up, see the pages on mold and indoor air quality.
What Is Relative Humidity And How Can It Be Controlled?
Relative humidity is the measure of the amount of water in the air compared with the amount of water the air can hold at a specific temperature. For example, a 77° F room with 60% relative humidity means that the air is holding 60% of the total amount of water vapor it can hold at that temperature. The higher the temperature, the more moisture the air can hold. So a reading of 60% humidity at 77°F is more severe than that same reading at 50°F. An instrument called a hygrometer [or humidity gauge] is used to measure relative humidity in the home and is an important tool for monitoring your home's humidity levels all year long. We offer the Acu-Rite Humidity Gauge, which gives relative indoor humidity readings as well as indoor/outdoor temperature readings and time of day - all at the same time!
In any given home on a summer day, humidity levels from room to room can range from 50-100%! Air conditioning and electric dehumidifiers are the most effective ways to control indoor humidity levels. Air conditioning works because cool air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air. Most dehumidifiers use a fan or a blower to pull air in, where it then passes through a cooling coil and is chilled to its dew point. This process results in condensation on the coils, which then flows into a bucket. Some dehumidifiers allow for the collected water to be pumped through a hose and into a sink, bathtub or out a window. After passing through the coils, the moisture-reduced air is then heated back to room temperature and released into the room.
A Personal Testimony
The following is an excerpt from a series of articles by Lois Turley, RN where she shares her own "moldy story". Lois operates an excellent allergy help website called Allergynursing.com where she is often reviewing products and answering questions for allergy and asthma sufferers. Lois has been involved in the field of Allergy Nursing since 1991.
"I plan to share more soon about my own mold problem. But I want to tell you now about one of the first steps I've taken to combat it. I purchased a good dehumidifier. When it came in the other day, the temperature was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity level inside was close to 70%. I had not yet replaced my air-conditioning unit which went out last fall. I'd been out of town and the house was closed up. When I entered, it was so hot and humid inside I could barely breathe. Fans helped only a little. I quickly unpacked the dehumidifier and hooked it up, and in about half an hour the humidity level was near 50% inside. I'd had a headache all day. Suddenly it went away. The temperature remained the same, but it felt much more comfortable, easier to breathe. Fans created a cool breeze. Even if I didn't have a mold problem, the dehumidifier is well worth the comfort it provides. If you live in a humid climate, a dehumidifier may make a big difference for you too. "
Lois Turley, RN. "A Moldy Story: Dehumidifier provides comfort, combats mold." www.allergynursing.com. April 2002. Printed with permission.
Questions To Ask When Looking For A Dehumidifier
There are several key questions you should ask when looking at the various models and options for home dehumidification:
- What is the unit's water extraction capability?
- Does it have an automatic shut-off when the tank is full?
- Can the water be pumped to a sink or outside using a hose or tube?
- What is the lowest temperature at which the unit can operate without freezing up?
- Does it have a multi-speed fan?
- What is the energy consumption?
- How loud is it?
Soleus Dehumidifiers are available in 4 sizes that can operate in temperatures as low as 40° F without icing up making them usable in any room almost year round. It even works in your basement.
Pollen and Allergies: What Kinds Of Pollen Could Be Bothering Me?
The beauty of spring's fresh growth and flowering trees also means, for about 35 million Americans, the arrival of dreaded pollen and allergies. While these thousands of airborne pollen grains take flight every spring to fertilize other plant life, millions of Americans react with sneezing, stuffy noses, itchy eyes and headaches. Pollen allergy is also known as seasonal rhinitis or hay fever. Many pollen allergy sufferers have or develop year-round allergen sensitivities to things like molds, dust mite allergen and pet dander.
The pollens most people are allergic to are produced by plain-looking plants that do not have showy flowers because these type of plants rely on bees and birds to carry their pollen. The pollens that cause allergy problems are carried through the air. It could be said that the more you see of a plant or its pollen, the less sensitive you probably are to it. For example, National Allergy is headquartered just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. And in a few weeks, virtually everything will be coated with a layer of yellow pine tree pollen (it's already started in fact). Many people think that this it the cause of their misery since they see it everywhere. But very few people are actually allergic to pine pollen - it just happens to be the most visible. The fact that we can see it everywhere tells us that it is a heavy particle that settles quickly out of the air making it rather tough to breathe in. Hundreds of other pollen allergens that we can't see are also in the air, making this year's pollen season one of the worst on record. The main allergy culprits in the early spring are other tree pollens like hickory, elm and oak.
Late spring and early summer is when weeds such as ragweed, sagebrush, redroot pigweed and Russian thistle (tumbleweed) produce their pollen. A single ragweed plant can generate a million grains of pollen a day, but unlike pine tree pollen, you may never see a single one. Unfortunately, your body will know they are there as ragweed is one of the major culprits for sneezing and runny noses in North America. In the late summer and early fall, grasses including Kentucky bluegrass, timothy grass, Bermuda grass and redtop grass are the main pollen offenders. Most people who are allergic to pollen are usually sensitive to several different types.
You've probably heard your local news station give you information about pollen counts in your area. A pollen count represents the concentration of all the pollen (or a particular type if noted) in the air in a certain area at a specific time. The measurement is expressed in grains of pollen per square meter of air collected over 24 hrs. The National Allergy Bureau offers pollen counts, which may be available for your area.
How Can I Prevent Reactions To The Pollen Around Me?
Certainly you can talk to your doctor and let them know that you think you might be reacting to pollen allergens. Some especially sensitive individuals will leave town on a planned vacation during peak pollen season. Other sufferers should be aware that the peak time of day for pollen counts is usually in the morning, so if you cannot avoid outdoor activities altogether, at least postpone work and play until later in the day. Below are a number of things you can do to avoid pollen just as you would with other allergens.
Allergen filter masks are a must if you love to work outside, but hate the wheezing and runny nose of spring. National Allergy has a Lightweight Silk Mask that is breathable, washable and great for preventing the inhalation of pollen. Our Disposable Dust / Pollen Masks should also be a springtime staple for various activities in and around the house.
Take steps to reduce pollen counts inside your home. First, keep windows, attic fans and other unfiltered openings closed. Next, look at home filtration options such as a Filtrete Ultra Allergen Furnace Filter From 3M, which allows you to open a window without allowing airborne irritants in. High-efficiency, disposable furnace filters like the 3M Filtrete Ultra or the doctor-developed Filtrete Micro Allergen Furnace Filter From 3M are a great way to trap pollen particles and keep them from circulating around your home. Adding Vent Filtration Material to the air registers in key rooms will further aid your furnace filter. If you've been considering a HEPA air cleaner, there's no better time than now. Running an air cleaner in your bedroom with the door and windows closed will drop particle counts dramatically.
Finally, keep a watchful eye out for other ways pollen will try to make its way into your home. Limit your pet's time outdoors and give them more frequent baths. This will help to control the amount of pollen they track into the house on their fur. Quick Bath Pet Wipes are a fast, easy solution for removing pollen and dander from your pets. Also remember that a day's worth of activity most likely means you have been attracting pollen, too! So be sure to shower and wash your clothes more frequently.