By Claire Gillespie for Family Handyman
Just because you’re waving goodbye to summer doesn’t mean hay fever goes with it. Here’s how to allergy-proof every room in your house in time for fall.
Keep Fall Allergens Out of Your Home
Your garden may have lost the full bloom of summer, but don’t think you’re safe from common allergy triggers. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, some allergy sufferers find fall the hardest season due to two major sources: ragweed pollen and mold. Ragweed can continue into September and October and can be carried hundreds of miles by the wind. A single ragweed plant can produce up to one billion grains of pollen per season! You may think of mold growing in the dampest areas of your house (your basement and bathroom), but mold spores also thrive in wet spots outdoors, like piles of damp fall leaves. To keep your allergy and asthma flare-ups to a minimum, make sure you allergy-proof every room in your house.
Your hall may be one of the smallest spaces in your home, but it’s where pollen finds its way indoors. Get into the habit of taking off your shoes and outerwear before entering the house, and have both indoor and outdoor mats to wipe your feet. Additionally, Tania Elliott, MD, chief medical officer of EHE, recommends having an air filter (or air purifier) in this area to reduce the pollen count in the air. The type of floor in your hallway is also key: As a rule, carpeting is the worst choice for seasonal allergies because the deep pile will trap allergens from dust mites, mold, pollen, pet dander, grass, dirt—and pretty much anything else you have on the soles of your shoes. The best choices are cork or bamboo flooring, as these are resistant to mold and mildew, provide no place for dust mites and other allergens to hide, and are also eco-friendly.
Your living room should be a place to relax and spend quality time with your family, not worry about fall allergies. Unfortunately, the more comfortable your living room is, the more likely it is to be a haven for dust mites. The mites get into upholstery, cushions, curtains, and drapes, laying eggs and leaving droppings and sheddings wherever they set up home. To make cleaning easier, Dr. Elliot recommends removing curtains, drapes, and carpets if possible, since mold can grow on these areas. If not, vacuum with a HEPA vacuum at least once a week. She also suggests choosing leather furniture over upholstered to prevent dust mites, which cannot survive in leather. “Avoid decorative pillows, too, which could be a breeding place for dust mites,” she adds. (Here are some surprising ways to cut down on indoor air pollution.)
Cleanliness is key when it comes to keeping your kitchen allergen-free. If cockroaches get into your kitchen, their droppings and sheddings can trigger an asthma attack. Never leave food or garbage uncovered (use a covered or sealed trash can) and wipe the stovetop and countertops right after cooking and any spillages to remove the food particles that roaches are drawn to. Another possible allergy trigger in the kitchen is mold, as there are so many damp places for it to thrive: under the sink, refrigerator, and dishwasher. Always turn the kitchen fan on when cooking to stop steam and moisture from condensing on surfaces, clean your kitchen floor and floor mats weekly, and keep an eye out for mold. If you do spot mold, remove it immediately, and use a mold/mildew spray on the affected area.
Dust mites, mold, and pet dander often set up home in pillows, blankets, and mattresses, so it’s important to take care of your bedding and replace it when necessary. Mold in particular is frequently found in mattresses and pillows, and releases spores that can trigger asthma symptoms. For this reason, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) recommends replacing pillows every two years and investing in mattress and pillow protectors. Dr. Elliot recommends washing your sheets once a week at 130 degrees to kill dust mites and their eggs, and using bleach when washing to kill mold. If you have pets, never, ever let them onto your bed, as they can transfer mold, dander, and pollen from outdoors.
Your kids’ room is a breeding ground for allergens—dust mites, mold, and pet dander accumulate on toys! If you have children with allergies who are attached to stuffed animals, Dr. Elliot suggests putting them in a ziplock bag and sticking them in the freezer overnight once a week to kill off dust mites. Also, make sure to keep kids’ toys away from pets. Try storing children’s toys, games, and stuffed animals in plastic bins, and have regular decluttering sessions to get rid of the stuff your kids no longer play with.
Your warm, damp bathroom is a breeding ground for mold. Start your allergy-proofing with good ventilation. “The goal is to avoid mold growth, which thrives if there are poor seals, leaks, or high humidity,” says Dr. Elliot. Decide if your bathroom needs a fall makeover: Instead of carpeting and wallpaper—definite no-nos for allergy control—use tile, vinyl, wood, or linoleum flooring, and install tile or paint walls with mold-resistant enamel paint instead. To stop mold from forming, keep as much moisture out of the bathroom as possible. Towel-dry the tub after each use, and use bleach when cleaning the tub, shower, plumbing fixtures, and faucets. Get rid of moldy shower curtains and bathmats immediately, and always attend to leaks.
You might not spend as much time in the basement as you do in other rooms of your house, but it shouldn’t be neglected when it comes to allergy-proofing for fall. It’s actually one of the spaces you’re most likely to find a number of potential triggers, such as roaches and rodents who find their way from outdoors (along with their droppings and sheddings), and mold thrives in the dark and damp and releasing allergy-triggering spores. To get rid of allergens from your basement, Dr. Elliot recommends finding and fixing all leaks, seams, and cracks in the foundation (to keep moisture out), fixing leaks and drips in pipes and in and around the water heater and central HVAC system, and carrying out a thorough inspection and removal of mold. If you store items in your basement, do so in plastic storage bins.
And then there are the allergy-proofing tips that apply to every room in your house: Keep the temperature between 68 degrees F (20 C) and 72 degrees F (22 C), and don’t let the relative humidity rise above 50 percent. Use a de-humidifier to keep mites and mold at bay.
The quality of indoor air is also crucial; tiny, light allergens can easily move anywhere around your house. The answer is HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters throughout your entire house central air system, or in-room air-cleaning devices. If you have pests in any room in your house, use traps from the hardware store or hire a professional exterminator, then seal cracks and other possible entryways to prevent re-infestation.
Finally, think about your lifestyle habits. Countless research, including one 2018 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Science, has shown a clear link between secondhand smoke and asthma in children. If you’ve recently quit smoking, here’s how to get rid of smoke smell in your car.