People are rarely allergic to the things that make up a house — that is, the paint, wood, steel, plastic, and such. Instead, it’s the microscopic things growing and accumulating in the house that cause allergies. Those unwanted occupants come in several forms, but the most prevalent in-home allergies are dust and its components (primarily dust mite and cockroach droppings — yuck!), molds, fungi, and pet dander. Our room-by-room plan will help you identify allergy “hot spots” and get them under control.
- Use a doormat made of synthetic material. A doormat made of natural material (such as rope or other fibers) can break down and become a good environment for mites, mold, and fungus, which then get tracked into the house. Wash all mats weekly.
- Clean dead insects from porch lights. As they decompose, they become an allergen source.
- Put a rack by the front door for footwear. Encourage your family and guests to remove their shoes when entering. This will reduce the amount of dust, mold, and other allergens that are tracked in.
- Tackle the dust. Clean behind the bed and dressers, under the bed, and on the top of the ceiling fan. Always use a damp cloth; dry cloths just spread the dust around.
- Eliminate the following items, which are dust and dust mite magnets: wall-to-wall carpeting, blinds and curtains, down-filled comforters, anything made with feathers, stuffed animals, and upholstered headboards.
- Make the bedroom a no-pet zone. Keep your door shut so they can’t even cross the threshold.
- Strip your bed. Wash everything, including the comforter or blankets, in 130°F water. Wipe down the mattress with a damp rag.
- Keep clothing in zippered plastic bags and shoes in boxes off the floor.
- Forgo mothballs in favor of cedar chips, or store clean woolens in sealed plastic or airtight containers. You can also place garments in the freezer for several days to kill moths and larvae.
- Check corners and walls for mold. You may have a leak you’ve never noticed because it’s in the back of a dark, crowded closet.
- Check under and behind toilets to make sure there’s no mold growing because of condensation. Make sure toilets are installed properly so water doesn’t leak into the walls or floors, which could encourage mold.
- Wash the shower curtain in hot water once a month. Or use a shower curtain liner that you can replace inexpensively every couple of months.
- Wash the bath mat in hot water every week. The dampness from stepping onto it wet from a shower can attract dust mites and cause mold growth.
- Run the exhaust fan or leave the window and door open when taking a shower or bath.
- Get rid of your overstuffed couch. Replace it with leather or vinyl, which will not be as hospitable to dust mites and other allergens.
- Consider replacing the carpet. Solid-surface flooring, such as laminate, vinyl, or wood, is much less likely to harbor allergens. For the same reason, consider swapping fabric window curtains with simple shades.
- Check your houseplants. Put pebbles on top of the dirt to prevent mold spores from getting into the air too easily.
- Put the contents of all open boxes of food in airtight containers to discourage insects.
- Clean the tray under the refrigerator with a bleach solution. It’s a mold magnet. Add salt to the drip tray to help reduce the growth of mold and bacteria.
- Check under the sink. Quite often, a sink sprayer leaks around the fittings, and water drips under the sink, soaking everything down there and creating a perfect environment for mold.
- Inspect every inch of your basement, including crawlspaces, for signs of dampness and mold. If you find any, clean the area with bleach solution.
- Check all belongings stored in the basement. Anything that is stored directly on a concrete floor — such as boxes, newspapers, clothing, or wood — is vulnerable to mold and rot from condensation.
- Measure the humidity with an instrument called a hygrometer, available in most hardware stores. You want a reading below 50 percent.