Allergy-proof your home: Expert tips to get you breathing easily
Asthma, a serious condition that can restrict your ability to breathe, or hay fever associated with itchy eyes and congestion, are the reality for many millions of people who suffer the misery of allergies, both in the UK and the US. Whether it’s the spring pollen count in your garden, grass pollen in the summer, ragweed in the autumn or the dust mites in your pillow that are causing distress, keeping these allergens under control at home is an absolute necessity. Even if you aren’t an allergy sufferer yourself, there’s a high chance that someone close to you is. In the USA, 1 in 5 people suffer from an allergy, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
What causes allergies, and who is at risk of them?
All allergies are the result of an inappropriate immune response in the body, which encourages your immune system to overreact to a benign substance, such as mould (mold), animal dander or dust. When your body overreacts like this, it releases antibodies that would normally help protect you from disease-causing irritants which then attach to the allergens. It’s this process that encourages your body to release chemicals including histamine, which is the cause of your allergy symptoms.
Anyone can develop allergies, but you’re more at risk if you have family history of allergies. These allergens come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from latex to strawberries, nuts to bee stings, but in the western world, the most prevalent type of allergies are triggered by these allergens:
- mould and fungi spores
- grass, tree and weed pollens
- dust mite and cockroach droppings
- domestic pet and vermin dander
If your allergies persist all year, regardless of any external fluctuations in pollen count, it’s highly probable the source of your misery is an indoor one. The good news is that there are changes you can make within your own home, to minimise your symptoms significantly.
When we built our home and business in the French Alps, we made it an allergy-proof home, so that our guests would feel more comfortable. As a family we don’t suffer from allergies, but notice a marked difference in our own well-being when at home, compared to staying in a house that is carpeted, dusty and full of pet dander. So the following suggestions really do make a difference to the comfort and health of everyone in your home, whether they have allergies or not.
Allergy-proof your home
If you’re sensitive to more than one allergen, which is common, if you have several family members with asthma or other allergies, or if you’re not sure exactly what is causing your symptoms, you may want to try implementing most of the tips below. This will give you your best chance of eliminating allergic triggers at their source, before they cause you further misery.
Allergy-proof your home indoors
- Simplify your home and get rid of clutter. Clutter gathers dust and dander like nothing else and a cluttered home is a haven for dust mites, mould and even vermin. This is one of the most important and necessary changes you can make!
- Replace all carpeted areas with solid wood or ceramic tiles and dispose of all your rugs and throws, if you’re really serious in your quest for an allergen-free environment; as carpets and rugs harbour allergens that are difficult to dispose of on a daily basis.
- A central vacuuming system is the best system for cleaning an allergy-proof home, as the body of the machine vents directly outside, minimising air movement while vacuuming.
- If you can’t stretch to this, the next best thing is to invest in a vacuum with a high- efficiency particulate filter (HEPA) to trap allergens and other small particulates within the machine.
- Always mop the floors following vacuuming and do this regularly.
- Keep soft furnishings to an absolute minimum and choose leather over material sofas, shutters over curtains. Choose tablecloths and cushion covers etc. that can be washed regularly at high temperatures 60C/ 130F.
- Dust carefully with a specialist vacuum attachment- We find this works best for us, but you have to have a reasonably clutter-free home for this. Failing that, use a damp cloth, but wear a mask.
- Ensure that the kitchen, utility room and bathrooms have extractor fans to prevent moisture build-up which will encourage mould (mold) growth.
- Seriously consider installing a heat recovery ventilation system (HRV) or Passivent system with pollen filters. I have fitted these to many homes with resounding success for their previously allergy-blighted occupants.
- Wash your dog frequently. Pet dander is a very common allergen and the dog will need to be brushed daily outside and given a weekly bath if you’re serious about having an allergy-proof home. It’s imperative that you keep your pets away from bedroom areas and other soft furnishings that are more difficult to clean.
- Consider having a hypo-allergenic dog like a labradoodle?
- Purify your air with house plants. A NASA study has discovered many potent indoor plants that help reduce indoor chemical pollution. but don’t over-water them and be sure to clean them off weekly as they can harbour moulds
- Keep your kitchen clear of crumbs and other accessible food-stuffs. Keep food in airtight containers and your rubbish (trash) bin well sealed in order to discourage mice, rats, cockroaches and other pests from invading your home. The droppings from these pests really aggrevate allergy sufferers .
- Only use bedding that can be washed regularly at 60C/ 130 F as this is the temperature in which dust mites cannot survive. Use zippered dust-proof covers for your mattress and pillows, this prevents the dust mites from irritating you. Remember to keep those pets out of the bedroom!!
- Wash soft toys frequently in hot water. If your child has allergies, it’s best to keep them to a minimum if you can.
- Clean your bathroom with natural cleaners. Many of the chemicals used in commercial cleaners can cause allergic symptoms- go natural and you’ll quickly notice the difference! Pay particular attention to the grouting between tiles and your shower screens or curtains.
- Use natural cleaners throughout your home. Many chemicals used in commercial cleaners are thought to aggrevate us all, but particularly those who suffer from allergies already.
- When redecorating, stick to natural paints and instead of varnish use hard wax oil on wooden floors and work surfaces.
Allergy-proof your home outdoors
- Check pollen counts daily and remain indoors when counts are very high in the peak allergy season.
- Keep your windows and doors closed to keep outdoor allergens from sneaking indoors and definitely consider a heat exchanger to keep your indoor air healthier than your outdoor air. In the meantime certain houseplants will help.
- Shower ,wash your hair and clean clothes daily when pollen counts are high, so you don’t bring the pollen inside with you.
- Don’t stack wood too close to the house as these promote mould (mold) growth.
- Choose outdoor plants that like to be pollinated by insects, these tend to have heavier pollen which doesn’t travel through the air so easily as the ones that pollinate mid-air which tend to be the allergen culprits, as they are lighter.
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About the Author (Author Profile)
John Watkins, a mountaineer, rock-climber and photographer, travelled the world with wife Rebecca before setting up a successful home building business in Devon. After years of overwork, he moved to the French Alps with his family and built the home of their dreams.
A man of many talents, he is happy to roll up his sleeves and give anything a go and is invariably rather good at it.