Allergy-Proof Your Home

6 tips for clearing your indoor air
By: Richard Wall

Making your home inhospitable to allergens sounds like a daunting task. In a particulate sense, it's going to be you against millions of mold spores, dust mites and pollen. Fortunately, you're smarter than these minute microbes, and following these tips can help you to keep allergies at bay.

1. Clear the air. A well-ventilated house and non-leaking ductwork is a first line of defense against bringing allergens into your living space.

  • Use HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters in the air-conditioning system.
  • Maintain the humidity level in the house at about 50 percent. Mold likes moisture, and dust and pollen are easily stirred in dry air. As most dehumidifiers are designed to treat one room, use them to target bathrooms, the kitchen and the basement first. Look for large-capacity units that work faster and more efficiently. Also look for units with washable filters, quiet operation and sturdy wheels. Empty and clean them regularly or you'll grow more mold than you destroy.
  • Keep your windows closed when pollen counts are highest: in the early-morning hours, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and in windy conditions.
  • Pollen and mold spores settle on clothing, so when you come in from outside, remove your outer garments in the mudroom and take a shower.

2. Clean up clutter. The less stuff in your house, the fewer places for allergens to hang out. And just as important, the easier it will be to clean thoroughly once a week.

  • Get rid of old rags, newspapers, clothes and other porous items.
  • Limit knickknacks, magazines, and other dust-catchers that you don't use or enjoy.
  • Focus on bedrooms especially, because you and allergens both spend the most time there.

3. Clean the cleaning room. Your bathroom is for mold what your bedroom is for dust mites: heaven at home.

  • Inspect water pipes for leaks and fix.
  • Regularly clean walls with a nontoxic cleaner.
  • Make sure ventilation fans are routed to the outside, and run them for 30 minutes after a shower or bath.
  • Scrub away mold on pipes and fixtures.

4. Reduce dust generators. Fabrics and carpeting add to the dust in your home through the breaking down of fibers. Consider pitching curtains, high-pile carpeting and upholstered furniture in the bedroom?all cozy accommodations for allergens.

  • Best bet: washable throw rugs on top of wood, linoleum or tiled floors.
  • Damp-mop regularly, and clean walls and other surfaces.
  • If you must have carpeting, make it short, tight pile, and vacuum weekly with a cleaner that has a small-particle or HEPA filter.

5. Make smart plant and tree selections. The yellow, sticky pollen that bees carry from plant to plant rarely causes allergic reactions. It’s the fine, lightweight particles that are blown about by wind that trigger discomfort.

  • Avoid adding allergenic trees such as male maple, birch and ash to the landscape. Instead, choose low-allergy trees such as dogwood, double-flowered cherry and magnolia. Female ash and maple trees are considered low-allergy, too, but buy from a reliable nursery source to be sure of a trees’ gender.
  • When you bring your plants in to overwinter, their mold spore friends are coming along, so limit yourself to a few houseplants, and don’t overwater them. And get rid of terrariums and large potted plants. Low-allergy flowers include astilbe, impatiens, hosta, scabiosa, columbine and viola.

6. Get tough on pet dander. 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’ll use it in.
  • Opt for single-room units, which are considered to be more effective than whole-house units.
  • Go for an easy-to-change, inexpensive filter that doesn’t need frequent replacement.
  • Make sure the unit operates quietly or you won’t use it.
  • Many allergy experts recommend avoiding ion- and ozone-type air cleaners.
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