During allergy season, outdoor irritants (such as ragweed, grass and tree pollen) join existing indoor pollutants (dust mites and mold spores) and assault overactive immune systems, causing annoying symptoms. Follow these simple steps so you can breathe easy in every room of your house all season long.
By Wendy Manwarren
Close the windows. If you can, rely on an air conditioner during pollen season. The AC can also help you stop indoor mold and mite growth if the indoor humidity level stays below 40%. To monitor how much moisture is in the air, consider getting a hygrometer (sold at hardware stores, starting at $5).
Banish dust. When shopping for new furnishings, choose leather, wood, metal, or plastic, which can be cleaned with an electrostatic fabric duster, a wand that removes more than 90% of dust mite allergens. Consider covering upholstered couches and chairs with washable, removable slipcovers.
Vacuum often. The floors, carpets and any upholstered furniture should be vacuumed twice a week. If possible, use a cyclonic machine (like a Dyson) or one equipped with a micro-pore or high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which reduces the particulate and allergen count in a room.
Hide your stuff. Avoid organizational tools, such as straw baskets, that collect dust. Instead, stash books, magazines, and DVDs in closed cabinets or sealed plastic containers.
Beware of hard-to-clean furnishings. All airborne allergens make themselves at home in fabric, so limit the number of cloth items in the room. This includes cushioned headboards, upholstered furniture, curtains, and throw pillows. Hang washable window shades instead of blinds or heavy drapes.
Launder your linens. You spend about one-third of each day in your bed, and if you're not careful, so do thousands of dust mites. These microscopic bugs can inflame nasal passages, causing sneezing and a runny nose. Avoid feathers, down, and foam rubber; use bedding made of cotton or synthetic materials. Wash sheets weekly in hot water and toss in the comforter, mattress pad, and blankets once a month.
Wrap it up. Protect mattresses, box springs, and pillows with allergen-resistant covers (visit allergycontrol.com). Look for coverings that allow "perspiration-vapor transmission," which means they're breathable so sweat and water vapor don't get trapped inside and lead to mold. Mold can trigger coughing, itchy eyes, and even asthma attacks.
Clean with bleach. To prevent fungus from growing, once a week use a chlorine-bleach solution (1 ounce bleach to 1 quart water) to clean surfaces, including those tight corners in the shower or tub, vinyl shower curtains, and baseboards.
Strip wallpaper. Avoid mildew-trapping paper in the bathroom. Instead choose a mold- and mildew-repellent paint, such as Zinsser Perma-White Mold & Mildew-Proof Interior Paint (available at hardware stores).
Don't let moisture linger. Wet, steamy rooms are the perfect environment for mold. Repair leaky faucets and pipes promptly. If there's a fan, turn it on while you bathe, and always wipe down the shower walls afterward. Leaving the shower door or curtain open will allow the tub to dry faster.
Steer clear of carpeting. Rugs in bathrooms are a favorite hiding place for mold. Go with washable bath mats instead and launder them once a week in hot water. Damp-mop floors weekly, then towel-dry immediately.
Keep things dry. Ventilate the kitchen when you cook to remove smoke, grease, and other pollutants that can create breathing problems for sensitive individuals. Drain and clean the often-neglected drip pan under the refrigerator at least once a week, as it can quickly become a home for mold.
Skip the sponges. Wipe out all cabinets regularly with a disinfectant formulated to kill mildew, and scrub the sink and countertops to remove mold and food debris. Work with warm, soapy paper towels instead of sponges, which are a breeding ground for mold spores and unwanted bacteria.
Remove houseplants. Cultivate your green thumb outside. Mold grows on the leaves and in the soil of indoor plants, especially those on sunny, warm windowsills.
Purify Your Air
Forget ionizers, fresh-air machines or ozone generators to filter indoor air, says James Sublett, M.D., chief of pediatric allergy at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky. You are better off with a whole-house solution. Have your heating and air-conditioning units serviced twice a year. Invest in high-efficiency, disposable pleated media filters for your furnace and air-conditioning system (they cost $10 to $20 each), and change them every three months. Look for a filter with a high MERV rating (11 or 12 is ideal), a ranking that measures the filter's ability to remove particles from air. Then turn on the AC (set it between 68 and 72 degrees) or run the fan at all times to filter and dehumidify the air in your home.
Originally published in the May 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.
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