Spring Allergens

Our Spring Cleaning series continues, and this week, we’ll talk allergens.  This time of year can be very challenging in Chicago, but there is no reason you should be aggravated by allergies in your home.  If ridding your house of allergens sounds like an epic job, read on, because it’s not.  There are several easy changes you can make, and we’ll offer some basic tips to get your started.

To begin, a well-ventilated house and leak-free duct work is a first line of defense against bringing allergens into your home.  See our previous blogs on how to check for leaks, and other inefficiencies in your systems.  Try to maintain the humidity level in your home.  Mold will grow in moist air, but dust and pollen are mobile in dry air.  Shoot for a comfortable balance of about 70 degrees, with 50 percent humidity.  Rely on air conditioning with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters to help maintain this balance, and fight the temptation to open windows in the early morning hours, between 10am and 3pm, and on windy days when pollen counts are highest.  A dehumidifier can also reduce dampness; just be sure to clean it once a week.

Clean up clutter! The less stuff, the fewer allergens. Believe it or not, that pile of magazines and newspapers you’ve been accumulating is a breeding ground for all sorts of stuff. Get rid of porous items you are not using, like newspapers, clothes, and rags.  A lot of this stuff can be found in your bedrooms, so start there. The bedroom can be command central for all kinds of allergens.  In addition to some basic weekly housecleaning – regular vacuuming and linen changes – try encasing your pillows, mattresses and box springs in dust-mite proof covers.  Control the situation underfoot with hardwood floors, or washable, low-pile carpeting.  Your window treatments should be washable, and consider replacing horizontal blinds with washable, roller-shades.  Fight the temptation to sleep with your windows open.  Rely on air conditioning during pollen season.  Pay attention to any mold or condensation collecting on window frames and sills, and clean it as soon as you spot it.

Then there is the bathroom…mold heaven!  Again, conduct a careful inspection of your pipes for any leaks, and fix.  If you should happen to find any mold, scrub!  If you don’t have a ventilation fan in the bathroom, consider installing one, and allow them to run for 30 minutes after you shower or bathe. Replace any old, or moldy shower curtains, rugs or mats.  Incorporate wiping the bathroom walls down with a non-toxic cleaner into your weekly cleaning schedule.Speaking of the weekly cleaning schedule, here are a few tips: first, make a weekly cleaning schedule!  A short check-list will make your life so much more comfortable.  Start by mopping wood or linoleum flooring, and vacuuming carpeting. Use a vacuum cleaner with a small-particle or a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Hit other surfaces with a damp cloth, including the tops of doors, windowsills and window frames. Dust is the enemy! While dusting, think about wearing a mask to keep allergic reactions to a minimum. Don’t forget to give your kitchen the once-over as well.  Install a vented exhaust fan to remove cooking fumes and reduce moisture.  If you have a vent, make sure it vents outside.  Maintain a clutter-free, and clean sink; again, pay attention to mold growth.  Keep an eye on what’s going on inside your refrigerator: throw out old food, wipe up any moisture, and make sure the rubber seals around the doors are in good shape.  You can clean your counters and cabinets with a detergent/water solution.

If you’re really dedicated to ridding your home of as many allergens as possible, there are a few other changes you might like to consider…like replacing your furniture.  Your husband’s ugly recliner is making you sick!  Replace your upholstered furniture with furniture made of leather, wood, metal or plastic.  If you have a wood-burning fireplace, consider replacing it with a natural gas fireplace.  Replace any carpeting with wood, tile or linoleum flooring.  The rugs you use should be washable.  Wallpaper – although now very trendy – can be bad for your health.  Try tile, or paint with mold-resistant enamel paint.  And, if you have a green thumb, try covering the dirt in potted plants with gravel to contain any mold.  Finally, pets.  They are walking breeding grounds.  Allow them a bit more time outdoors this season, and introduce them to a nice groomer to help control shedding.  Bedrooms should be off-limits to them.

You can also make some changes in your landscaping, so that various particles stirred up by wind, are kept to a minimum.  Avoid planting allergenic trees like maple, birch and ash.  Dogwood, cherry and magnolia are better choices.  Low-allergy flowers include astilbe, impatiens, hosta, scabiosa, columbine and viola.  Enjoy an allergy-free spring!

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