Where common indoor air pollutants come from and where they're commonly found in your home is the first piece of knowledge you'll need to improve the air quality in your living space.
Five Steps to Allergy-Proof Your Home
Nov 25th, 2019
Five Steps to Allergy-Proof Your Home
Here are five easy ways to make your home less conducive to allergens.
by Alec Lower
For many of us, spring is the season of allergies. While it may be the worst season for a lot of people, allergies can be an all-year-long issue. It's true, the outdoors can be a treacherous place for a lot of people in the summer, fall, and even the dead months of winter. While you can't get rid of the allergens floating around outside, you can take steps to minimize the amount of allergens that can get inside your home. Here are five tips to allergy-proof your home.
Wash clothes frequently
Allergens can enter your home in many ways, with one of the most common involving hitching a ride on your clothes. The best way to counter this, obviously, is to wash your clothes frequently and at the right temperature.
It's no secret that hot water is best. Hot water kills pesky allergens like dust mites and is more effective than cold water at removing particles like pollen from clothes.
A study from the American Thoracic Society1 recently showed that washing clothes at 140ºF will kill 100% of dust mites. Washing at a still quite hot 104ºF will kill less than 7% of dust mites. That’s quite a big difference and essential for those with allergies.
That's the upside to washing your clothes in hot water: it's excellent at cleaning allergens and particles out of them. The downside is that it costs more to heat the water to 140ºF, and not all articles of clothing can be washed in that level of heat. If you're not able to kill allergens with hot water, there are alternatives.
Most newer washing machines out there have sanitize wash settings. This setting washes your clothes with super hot water of at least 165ºF, which well exceeds the temperature necessary to kill pests and germs.
You can purchase allergen-targeting laundry detergent. This detergent formula contains an additive known as ACARIL, which effectively removes allergens from bedding and clothes during the wash cycle. It works absent of temperature, so you don't need to wash your clothes on high heat for it to work, and it is safe to use with all colors and fabrics. If you already have a detergent that you like, you can purchase ACARIL by itself.
An allergen's dream home would be made entirely of carpet. The floor would be carpet. The walls would be the carpet. The ceiling would be carpet. You get the point.
A carpet allergy is a two-fold attacker. Sometimes you're allergic to the actual carpet itself and the materials used to make it. More often, you're simply allergic to the common allergens that get caught in your carpet and then released into the air when you walk on it.
Carpet is a repository for allergens. Dust can build up inside of it with ease and be extremely difficult to remove. Particles like pet dander that feature jagged edges stick to carpet without any effort. In fact, all of these allergens are commonly found in household carpets.
Indeed, some people are actually allergic to certain materials in carpets. But most people that have a "carpet allergy" actually just have an intolerance to an allergen that has entrenched itself in their carpets. One potential solution is just to get rid of the carpet altogether. This is actually recommended by multiple allergy-focused organizations including the American Lung Association2.
Opting for hardwood floors instead can save the allergy sufferer a lot of sneezing. Particles in your air will still settle on hardwood just like they do on carpet, but they are considerably easier to remove with a vacuum because they cannot get stuck inside the material.
You can still add throw rugs to get that homey feel while minimizing allergens. Make sure to buy washing machine safe ones and simply run a load of rugs about once a week.
The downside with hardwood is obviously the price, and if that's enough of a deterrent, or you just really really want carpet, you have a few options. First, always use low pile carpeting. "Low pile" simply means that the strands of material that make up the carpet are shorter. With this type of carpet, the crevices for allergens to hide in are smaller, making it harder for them to get stuck, making them easy to remove with a vacuum. Never ever ever use high pile carpeting if you have a common allergy. You will not enjoy your time with it.
One way that sneaky particles like pollen and bacteria can get into your home is through drafts and incomplete seals along windows and doors. Sealing off those unintentional airways with some weatherstripping is a quick and generally pretty easy way to keep those allergens out of your home.
Weatherstripping's primary goal is to lower your energy bill, but cutting off sources of air pollution is a secondary benefit of this home maintenance task. Weatherstripping is especially valuable in this role to homes in places that see higher than average levels of outdoor air pollution such as Los Angeles.
There are tons of different types of weatherstripping, most of which can be used in several situations and are extremely easy to install. First, you have to figure out if you have drafts and where they are. An energy audit from a professional will give you detailed descriptions of where you need to add weatherstripping. If you prefer to conduct the search yourself, there are a few ways to identify drafts.
There are tons of different types of weatherstripping, many of which are adhesive-backed, making their installation process as easy as sticking it to something. Others require nailing in, such as a door sweep, which protects your home from drafts coming from underneath doors. Read more about all the types of weatherstripping right here.
Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter
Make sure to invest in a quality vacuum that will suck up allergens from all types of flooring and keep them locked away until you clean it out. The way to do this is to purchase a vacuum that contains a HEPA filter. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particle Arrestance—it's basically a supercharged filter.
A true HEPA filter is required to catch at least 99.7% of particles larger than 0.3 microns in diameter. That's extremely tiny.
You cannot use a HEPA filter in your home because it will cut off too much airflow to the HVAC unit, but that is not an issue inside a vacuum. Get a vacuum with the best filter you possibly can to ensure that it traps as many tiny allergens as possible. This will stop pollutants from recirculating into the air.
Change your air filter
Bar-none, the most effective way to improve your IAQ of allergens is to use a high quality air filter and change it with regularity. Like weatherstripping, this will also help lower your energy bill, but its primary function is cleaning the air.
Many pollutants that infiltrate the air you breathe are so small they aren't cute anymore. No matter how many precautions you take to protect your home's air from the threats outside, some pollutants will still get inside. To get these out of your house, you need a filter you can trust to catch these pollutants.
A fiberglass air filter can never be counted on to catch even medium-sized pollutants, much less small ones. These pollutants will simply recirculate through your ductwork and back into your home, where they're free to be inhaled into your lungs. The ones that don't will get caught in your HVAC system and create buildup that can lead to costly repairs or breakdown.
Washable filters may get these small particles, but they'll struggle with larger ones, which there are usually more of and just as harmful to your indoor air quality.
Instead, get a pleated air filter with a MERV 8 rating or higher. If you suffer from allergies, own pets, or deal with various pollution issues, upgrade to a MERV 11 or MERV 13 filter. Pollutants that get past all your initial defenses and enter the air in your home won't last long against a pleated air filter.
Turns out that de-allergyifiyng (definitely a real word) your home just requires a few routine practices that you probably already do anyway. You just need to adjust how you do them slightly. Some things you can even take off your to-do list instead of adding them, such as changing your air filter. Check out Second Nature's air filters subscription service to never have to think about using the right air filter again.