Dust, vacuum and de-clutter your way to a less-sniffly you.
'Tis the season for sneezing, itching, coughing, wheezing, watery eyes and runny noses. That's right—it's allergy time. Trees are blooming and windows are open, blowing pollen indoors and dust all around. If you're among the 1 in 3 Americans who suffer from seasonal (or year-round) allergies, cleaning up your personal environment may help clear up your symptoms.
The most common household allergens are dust, dust-mites, pollen, pet dander, mold, cleaning supplies, paint, adhesives and smoke. Few are willing to suit up in hazmat gear and shave the cat, but decreasing allergens around the home, office, and car may cure you of your Kleenex addiction. We've got 50 tips for allergy-proofing your environment.
Dust and dust mites
1. Clean furniture surfaces frequently to eliminate dust. Forget about feather dusters, which toss dust around without collecting it. A variety of disposable and microfiber dusting products are available for purchase, but clean, damp rags work just as well, and they don't add to the landfill or strain your budget.
2. Hardwood floors are easier to keep clean than carpets, and low-pile carpets collect less dust than their high-pile counterparts. Vacuum twice weekly. Invest in a good vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter to catch and confine dust.
3. Get rid of dust/dirt-collecting throw rugs, or wash them weekly.
4. Adopt a no-shoes-in-the-house policy.
5. Venetian blinds, window treatments and heavy drapes are hard-to-clean dust magnets. Window shades and washable curtains are better.
6. Change sheets and wash bedding in hot water at least once a week.
7. Cover pillows, mattresses and box-springs with allergy proof covers.
8. Clear the knick-knacks, books, magazines, toys, clutter and junk from your tables. Keep whatever's left dust-free.
9. Keep houseplants to a minimum, and clean their leaves frequently.
10. Stuffed animals harbor dust, mites and mold. Kids who sleep with them are at risk for snuggling allergens too. Keep them to a minimum, washing them regularly and keeping them off the floor.
11. Instead of running fans, which blow allergens around, keep your windows closed and use an air conditioner with a HEPA filter.
12. Cover inside vents with cheesecloth.
13. Invest in a home air-filtration system.
14. Change furnace filters regularly.
15. Clean air ducts annually.
16. Avoid outdoor activities in the early morning, and stay indoors on dry, windy days when pollen counts are highest.
17. Don't hang laundry outdoors, where it can collect pollen.
18. Shower and/or wash your face and hands after outdoor activities to keep pollen from contaminating your house.
19. Keep pets out of your bedroom.
20. Don't have pets, and stay away from households that have pets. If that's not possible, at least keep your four-footed friends off your furniture. Good luck with cats on that one.
21. Bathe pets weekly. Again, good luck with cats.
22. Don't let pets lick you. Pet saliva and dander causes most pet allergies.
23. Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum.
24. It's not just the gross stuff stuck to the shower wall that causes trouble. Mold molecules and spores break off and float around the house and up your nose. Eliminate them. A simple solution of bleach and water works well but may cause respiratory irritation. Have someone else clean the mold if this is a problem.
25. Clean bathrooms frequently.
26. Wash shower curtains and liners frequently.
27. Use a dehumidifier to eliminate the moisture that mold needs in order to grow.
28. Get rid of houseplants. Mold grows in damp soil.
29. Keep firewood outside.
30. Use an exhaust fan on your dryer to vent moisture outside.
31. Don't hang wet laundry in the house.
32. Air-out damp clothes and shoes before storing.
33. Learn more about dealing with household mold.
Cleaning supplies, paint and adhesives
34. Avoid products that contain formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—these are common triggers for allergies.
35. Wear a mask when cleaning, painting or working with chemicals.
36. Use natural cleaning supplies like baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice, or invest in "green" products, now available in most supermarkets.
37. Use low-fume, low-VOC, nontoxic paints, and always paint in well-ventilated areas.
38. Don't smoke, and don't hang around smoky areas.
39. Have a fan in the kitchen that vents cooking smoke outside.
40. Don't use a wood-burning fireplace.
Clean up your office
41. Cover your computer and keyboard at night, and wipe it down first thing in the morning.
42. Dust your own furniture, and if you don't have a cleaning service, vacuum frequently.
43. Keep your desk clear and paper-free, and clean your family pictures, desk supplies and books. Minimize clutter.
44. Go paperless whenever possible, and toss out newspapers and paper you don't need.
45. Don't leave coffee cups and water glasses on your desk overnight; this gives them an opportunity to grow mold.
46. If possible, sit at a metal, glass or solid wood desk. Particle wood furniture emits formaldehyde fumes. Leather or vinyl seating is easier to keep dust-free than fabric-covered furniture.
47. Request a fragrance- and smoke-free work environment.
In the car
48. Vacuum, wipe down and de-clutter your vehicle.
49. Don't let anyone smoke in your car.
50. Don't eat in your car. Food particles attract dust, critters and mold.
Jeanne Faulkner is a freelance writer and registered nurse in Portland, Oregon. Her work appears regularly in Pregnancy and Fit Pregnancy, and she has contributed articles to the Oregonian, Better Homes & Gardens, Shape and other publications.