Shop Smart for Allergen-Reducing Products

Avoid the hype: Buy the real deals that can actually help allergy-proof your home.

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There are only a handful of allergens that infest the average home, but what a rogue's gallery they are: dust and dust mites, mold spores, pollen, animal dander, cockroaches. Without a doubt, the best tools to fight them are your allergy-proofing wisdom and ruthless cleaning skills, but you can get some help from allergen-reducing products. Each allergen presents a slightly different problem, and no single product works against all five culprits.

Allergies are irritating, and sometimes you'd give anything to be free of them. Some marketers count on just that. So maybe it isn't wise to buy that tungsten-pleated cloaking device advertised to end all mold forever in your home. Instead, stick to the types of products that have been tested and verified by allergy experts to be credible aides:

Allergen: Mold spores
Tool: Dehumidifier.
Allergy-inducing molds produce spores that need moisture to thrive, and that's where a dehumidifier comes in to bring your home’s humidity level to an ideal 35 to 50 percent. Whole-house machines are available and expensive. Most dehumidifiers are designed to treat one room.

  • Target bathrooms, kitchen and basement first.
  • Look for larger capacity units that work faster and more efficiently.
  • Go for units with a washable filter, quiet operation and sturdy wheels.
  • Empty and clean it regularly, or you'll grow more mold than you destroy.

  • Allergen: Pollen
    Tool: HEPA panel filter.
    Your central air system sucks air in from outside and brings pollen in with it. Most pollen particles are the male sex cells of plants, which lodge in your mucus membranes. HEPA (high efficiency particulate arrestance) filters were first developed to remove radioactive particles from atomic labs, and they work on pollen and other allergens, too.

  • Filter must capture at least 99.97 percent of all particles 0.3 microns in diameter or larger, and some products block even smaller particles.
  • Consider price and ease of handling.
  • Check out the recommended cleaning and replacement intervals.
  • Note: Individual air duct filters have promise, but they have not been tested by allergy experts for effectiveness.

  • Allergen: Dust mites
    Tool: Bedding encasements.
    Feeding chiefly on tiny flakes of human skin, dust mites are most plentiful where humans spend most of their time — the bed. Smite the mites (well, most of them) with allergen-resistant encasements for your bedding.

  • Encase it all — pillows, mattress, box springs and comforters — or you're wasting time and money.
  • Materials should be machine washable in 130-degree water and certified not to accumulate high levels of allergens.
  • Items should be dust-mite impermeable.
  • The pad must cover the mattress on all sides and zip closed, same for box springs.

  • Allergen: Pet dander
    Tool: Air-filter machine.
    Pet (and rodent) dander is lighter than most other allergens, so it floats in the air longer and gets stirred up more easily. Mechanical air-filtering machines can help by fan-forcing air through a HEPA filter. Air filtering devices are heavily marketed, often with bogus claims, so select a unit certified by an independent lab.

  • Make sure the ozone byproduct of the fan is within acceptable levels.
  • Match the unit's capacity to the size of the room you will use it in.
  • Whole-house systems are considered to be less effective than single-room units.
  • Go for an easy-to-change, inexpensive filter that doesn't need frequent replacement.
  • The unit should operate quietly, or you won't use it.
  • Note: Many allergy experts say to avoid ion- and ozone-type air cleaners.

  • Allergen: Cockroach "parts"
    Tool: Small-particle vacuum cleaner.
    Creepy enough already, these critters' feces, saliva and body part fragments are also the source of allergens. Since cockroach allergens are relatively heavy and settle quickly on the floor, a thorough vacuuming with a good machine can help, too. Some machines touted as allergy-specific cost more than a thousand bucks, but you don't need to pay that much.

  • Choose a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter, correctly fitted so no allergens leak around the motor or collection system.
  • Select a unit proven to retain allergens by filtering the exhaust.
  • It should have excellent suction power maintained throughout the life of the unit.
  • Go bagless, and opt for a removable canister that can be cleaned.
  • Note: Carpet-cleaning powders and solutions can be irritants to allergy-prone people.

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