Cleaning Tips for Allergy Sufferers

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Clean these allergen hot spots in your home to reduce your symptoms.

Woman in process of vacuuming her living room pauses to sneeze while holding a tissue in her hands

Does someone in your family deal with indoor allergies? Growing up, I remember taking an allergy pill with my Flinstone’s vitamin every morning. One skipped dose, and I’d spend the day with itchy, red eyes and a stuffy nose. Decades later, my son developed equally bad allergies, so I searched for cleaning tips to minimize his symptoms.

Ultimately, controlling indoor allergies through better cleaning involves reducing dust and keeping it under control through frequent, thorough cleaning. But first, make sure you are cleaning with the right equipment.

The Right Cleaning Tools Reduce Allergens

I used to try to save time cleaning by using things that promised they’d be more convenient than my usual equipment while doing just as good a job. Over the years, I learned most of these things either leave behind a lot of mess or a lot of fumes.

Stop Swiffering

Swiffers seem to move dirt from one surface to the next mostly. The dusters seem to shed as much dust as they collect, so my home was never truly clean. The same goes for their floor cleaning pads. If you want relief, you need to get the allergy triggers out of your home. Be open to the idea that you might need to change how you’ve been doing things.

Don’t Add Fumes, Either

According to Dr. Maria Robinson, a board-certified dermatologist, standard household cleaning products can make allergies worse. Aerosol formulas add irritating fumes to indoor air, and so does chlorine bleach. Products containing sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), sodium hypochlorite, D-limonene, ammonia, or formaldehyde can also irritate allergies. The problem is most don’t state their ingredients, so that’s why I started using homemade natural cleaning products. That’s helped enormously.

What Actually Gets Rid of Dust

To dust your home correctly, switch to methods that actually get rid of it. Ditch the brooms, feather dusters, and Swiffer sweepers. For dusting, a damp microfiber cloth, rinsed often, works best because those microfibers collect and hold onto more dirt than a plain cloth or paper towel. For floors, nothing beats a vacuum cleaner for removing dirt and other debris — not just pushing it around.

Keep Allergens Out of Your Bedroom

We spend a third of our lives in our bedrooms and most of that time in our beds. Once I got serious about following a weekly bedroom cleaning routine, we’d wake up with much less congestion. Over the years, I’ve also found a few other ways to keep allergens and dust out of our bedrooms.

Deep-Clean Your Bed Often

Bedding collects a lot of dust mites as well as pet and human dander. This makes it a massive source of irritants for allergy sufferers. To kill allergens on sheets and bedding, you need to launder them in water that’s at least 134°F/54°C, so check the care labels of your bedding and make sure it’s washable in hot temperatures. Then, wash your sheets weekly, your comforters or duvet cover monthly, and your pillows every three months. Make a point to deep-clean your mattress twice a year, too.

Choose Washable Window Treatments

Swap horizontal blinds for curtains and wash them every three months. Between launderings, vacuum them with a dust brush when you clean the room. Also, hang curtains high enough that they don’t pool on the floor collecting dust.

Sleep Separate from Pets

Allergy experts recommend banishing pets from your bedroom altogether. If you can’t bear that thought, make a habit of brushing or wiping pets outdoors at the end of the day. I am very attached to my French bulldog and somewhat fond of the cat, so I can’t imagine shutting them out of my room. Giving them both a quick brush before bed is now part of our routine.

Bathe Before Bed

A shower or bath before bed washes away pollen, especially if you wash your hair. I prefer showering and washing my hair in the morning, but have found that thoroughly brushing my hair and taking a quick shower to rinse off works just as well.

Stop Allergens in the Bathroom

Bathrooms are warm places, often full of steam, so it’s not surprising that they can be a source of mold and mildew. Many people with indoor allergies find even small amounts of mold or mildew make their symptoms worse.

Make Sure Towels Dry Completely

Spread towels unfolded across towel racks after bathing, so they can completely dry. If that’s not possible, change your towels at least every other day. Keeping damp towels in your bathroom leads to mildew on them and other surfaces, too.

Keep Moisture in Check

When the air is already humid in warmer months, run your exhaust fan during your shower and 10-15 minutes after you’re done. If you don’t have a bathroom fan, use a battery-operated stand-alone fan to circulate air. (But you may want to skip the fan during dry winter months since that moisture can help prevent static electricity buildup in your home.)

Don’t Use Damp Rugs

When we bought our house, the previous owners had a carpeted step leading to the sunken bathtub. I sneezed every time I walked into the bathroom until we pulled that thing out. Carpets don’t belong in the bathroom. They collect mold, mildew, and other things no one wants to think about. If your bathroom has carpet, consider replacing it with hard flooring, then use bath mats where you need them. Wash your bathroom rugs weekly and hang them to dry after each use.

Reduce Allergens in Living Areas

At home, if we aren’t in our bedrooms, we tend to be in the living room or family room — where the TV is or where it’s most comfortable to read. So, these hang-out spots are another area where it’s important to focus cleaning efforts to reduce allergens.

Dust First

You should always dust before vacuuming to move dirt from vertical and horizontal surfaces down to the floor, where the vacuum can remove them. If you have allergies, try dusting your ceilings and walls and then the baseboards every two weeks before vacuuming.

Vacuum All the Things

Vacuuming the floor isn’t enough if you’ve got allergies. You need to vacuum soft furnishings, blinds, and curtains, too. As a general rule, you should vacuum wall-to-wall weekly, including the sofa and chairs, then vacuum high-traffic areas mid-week. If you have allergies, you may need to increase this. I’ve found we sneeze less when I vacuum high-traffic areas and the top of sofa cushions every two days.

Plants Can be a Problem

Many people with allergies avoid live plants because they collect dust, and their soil can develop mildew. But you need to clean fake plants regularly to reduce allergens, too. If you want to keep real plants, wipe their leaves monthly to remove dust and ensure they have adequate drainage.

Keep Allergens Out of Your Indoor Air

Getting serious about targeting allergens when I cleaned was part of the solution to our allergy symptoms. We also saw a significant improvement when I began focusing on our indoor air quality.

Keep Humidity in Check

Dust mites and mold love warm, humid air. To keep these allergy triggers in check, aim for a temperature range of 68°F (20°C) to 72°F (22°C) with a humidity level of 50-60%. In our home, that means using a basement dehumidifier all summer. In the winter, I run a humidifier on each level of our home and clean our humidifiers weekly.

Clean Your System

When you have allergies, it’s essential to change your HVAC filters monthly so they can remove pollen, dust, and other allergens from your home’s air. Add a DIY air duct cleaning to this, and you’ll see far less dust throughout your home. I time this around when the system is serviced in the spring and autumn.

No Indoor Smoke

It’s not enough to banish indoor cigarette smoking. If something produces smoke, it produces allergens. That goes for your fireplace and candles, too. If you enjoy using your fireplace, keep it clean and have it inspected annually to make sure nothing is blocking smoke from going up it instead of into your home.

No Outdoor Shoes in the House

Shoes worn outside collect dust, pollen, and other allergens then bring them into your home. Have a no-shoes policy, or make sure everyone in the family has a pair of house shoes or slippers. Your floors will stay cleaner longer, too.

Switch to Hard Flooring

Carpets are a hotbed of allergens, and their pads act like sponges for any excess humidity in your home. Replacing carpets with hard flooring increases your home’s value and dramatically reduces dust. If you can’t make the switch yet, be sure you’re using a vacuum with a HEPA filter so it doesn’t release allergens into your air, and steam clean your carpets at least once a year to eliminate allergens.

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