While the start of spring brings warm weather and blooming flowers, it also brings pollen and other allergens that can cause sneezing, itchy eyes, headaches and a range of other symptoms. If allergies are getting you down, expand your spring-cleaning routine to create an allergen-free bedroom for you or other family members who are suffering. Your bedroom can serve as a controlled sanctuary where you enjoy clean air and freedom from pollen, dust mites, pet dander and dreaded mold or mildew.
Whether your allergies are related to the spring blossoms or other year-round causes, taking the time to allergen-proof your space gives you a place to retreat when allergies are at their worst.
Before you can eliminate allergens from the bedroom, you've got to stop bringing pollen and other allergens into your sleeping space.
Your pets are the No. 1 culprits tracking new allergens into your bedroom. Everything from dander and hair to your pet's saliva may be the source of your itchy eyes or runny nose. Start by keeping bedroom doors closed so pets can't get in, and never let your pets share your bed. If allergies are still a problem, consider keeping pets outdoors as much as possible, or setting up their sleeping spaces in well-ventilated, easy-to-clean rooms, like the kitchen.
Of course, pets aren't the only ones to blame. Many homeowners would be surprised to learn just how many allergens they bring along with them each time they enter their sleeping space. To keep pollen, dust and other allergens out, take off your shoes and outerwear before entering the bedroom, or better yet, leave them at the front door. Finally, remember that plant pollen is a major source of allergy problems -- resist the urge to decorate with fresh flowers, no matter how pretty they look on your nightstand. If you must have flowers inside the home, choose lilies or other varieties with large stamens, the vertical tufts in the center of the flower where most of the pollen is stored. Remove and dispose of the stamens outdoors before bringing your blooms inside
The sight of a cockroach in the home is enough to send a chill through almost any homeowner. But did you know that cockroaches -- even dead ones -- also cause an allergic reaction in roughly half of the population? If you spot these pests in your home, hire an exterminator ASAP to help eliminate the problem. Avoid using over-the-counter chemicals and sprays, many of which can exacerbate allergy problems. Once the bugs are gone, take steps to keep them from coming back. Keep food stored properly, and never take it in the bedroom. Eliminate standing water everywhere in and around the house, and seal gaps in your home's exterior walls with caulk. Don't forget to caulk the gaps around doors and windows.
Even if you don't have cockroaches, microscopic arachnids known as dust mites may be hiding in your home. While most homes have millions of these pests, you can minimize or eliminate your dust-mite count by getting rid of areas where dust can collect, especially in the bedroom. Switch from soft carpets (which are a haven for dust mites) to hard-surface flooring materials that are easy to clean. Swap curtains and drapes for blinds or shades, which are a breeze to keep dust-free. Finally, store dust-magnets like doll collections or piles of stuffed animals far away from the bedroom.
No matter what steps you take to allergy-proof your bedroom, regular cleaning is critical to keeping dust and other allergy-triggers at bay. Vacuum your floors twice a week using a vacuum with a high-efficiency performance (HEPA) filter. For hard-surface floors, mop once a week, making sure to clean your mop well after each use. If you must have carpets in the bedroom, steam clean them regularly to remove dust and dirt, or replace them with easy-to-clean scatter rugs.
Steam clean soft items like curtains, comforters or even your mattress to get rid of stubborn dust mites. Wash all linens weekly at temperatures of 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius) or higher -- lower temperatures won't kill these mites. If your kids have special soft toys or blankets, stick them in the freezer for a few hours a day or every other day to kill dust mites.
Wipe away dust with a damp rag or electrostatic cloth to make sure it's gone. Avoid feather dusters -- all they do is push the dust around. If allergy attacks tend to cut your cleaning time short, wear a dust mask while you work, or open the windows to help clear the air.
Allergy-sufferers may want to consider switching to bedding and linens specially designed to ease their suffering. These include mattresses, sheets, pillows and other linens that are made with tightly woven fibers to keep dust mites out. If these products are too expensive for your budget, try using vinyl mattress covers as a low-cost alternative. After all, if you're spending eight hours a night in bed, you don't want millions of dust mites making themselves at home in your mattress.
Don't forget that your linens themselves can also contain allergens. Avoid down feathers and stick to organic materials like cotton that are less likely to trigger allergies.
Finally, consider the effect of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs, such as urea formaldehyde, are chemicals found in everything from paint to carpeting. These materials not only contribute to poor air quality, but can also trigger allergies. Look for products marked low-VOC or VOC-free to avoid the health and allergy effects of these chemicals.
Effective ventilation is one of the most important tools in the fight against allergens. Not only does the correct amount of ventilation bring fresh air into your home, it also helps regulate humidity and moisture levels to control everything from mold to dust mites. The ideal level of humidity in most homes is 50 percent (you can test your humidity levels with simple moisture meters found at hardware or home improvement stores). At this level, the air in your bedroom will stay dry enough to prevent mold and mildew growth, but wet enough to keep dust and other allergens from circulating through the air. If mold is still an issue at this level, lower humidity to 40 percent.
If you can't reach this level of humidity by adjusting your heating and air conditioning systems, choose a separate dehumidifier unit just for the bedroom. Many models will allow you to set a desired humidity level, then will automatically adjust to keep the room at this level. Whether you're relying on your HVAC system or a separate unit, check that the filters are clean, and replace standard filters with more effective HEPA-versions.
One final tip: Don't be fooled by duct cleaning services that promise to improve your indoor air quality or relieve allergies. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), duct cleaning shouldn't be considered a routine maintenance procedure. Clean your ductwork only if you spot visible mold or pest infestations within the ducts.
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More Great Links
- Brown, Jessica. "Allergy-Proofing Your Bedroom." Nickelodeon. (March 23, 2010).http://www.nickjr.com/kids-health/allergies/home/allergy_proofing_bedroom_ap.html
- Environmental Protection Agency. "An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality." Oct. 27, 2009. (March 26, 2010).http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html
- Environmental Protection Agency. "Should You have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned?" Jan. 6, 2010. (March 26, 2010).http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/airduct.html
- Howarth, Dr. Peter, and Reid, Anita. "Allergy-free Living." Octopus Publishing, London. 2000.
- Mayo Clinic. "Allergy-proof Your House." April 8, 2009. (March 26, 2010). http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/allergy/HQ01514
- Wall, Richard. "Five Ways to Allergy-Proof Your Home This Spring." HGTV. (March 26, 2010). http://www.hgtv.com/home-improvement/5-ways-to-allergy-proof-your-home-this-spring/index.html
- Willis,Gerri. "Allergy-proof your Home." CNN. April 27, 2006. (March 26, 2010).http://money.cnn.com/2006/04/27/real_estate/tips/willis_tips/index.htm