Allergy-proof your home

Whether it’s house dust mites, mould, pets or pollen that you’re allergic to, there are steps you can take to allergy-proof your home.

Read below what you can do in the different rooms of the house to help prevent allergies at home.

house

Bedrooms

Because we spend so much time in our bedrooms, this is usually the best place to start allergy-proofing. Your bedroom can be an excellent breeding ground for house dust mites — tiny creatures that feed on human skin scales. It’s the droppings and residue from the dust mites, rather than the mites themselves, that cause allergies.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to completely remove house dust mites, which are especially prevalent in warm, humid areas. But it is possible to reduce the number of dust mites in your home, and some people find this helps relieve their allergy symptoms.

Allergy-proof the bedroom
Bedding
  • To kill dust mites and wash away the allergen they produce, sheets and pillowcases should be washed once a week in water that is hotter than 55 degrees Celsius. An alternative to this is to wash in cold water using a product that is formulated to kill dust mites in cold water.
  • You can also kill dust mites by tumble-drying sheets that are already dry for 10 minutes on hot.
  • Washing pillows and doonas regularly can also help; synthetic pillows and doonas seem to tolerate regular washing better than feather ones. Blankets and washable doonas should be washed once every 2-3 months in hot water (after checking washing instructions).
  • You may want to get special dust mite-resistant coverings for your pillows, doona and mattress. These covers need to be washed at least once every 2 months.
  • Remove any sheepskin or woollen underlays, which tend to contain large numbers of dust mites.
  • Remove soft toys, or wash them once a week using the same method as for your sheets. Putting soft toys in the freezer overnight kills the dust mites but does not remove the allergen (the substance that sets off an allergic reaction — in this case, the proteins in house dust mite droppings).
Floor
  • Carpet often contains a large number of dust mites, which cannot be completely removed by vacuuming. However, experts do not agree on whether switching to hard flooring benefits symptoms.
  • If you prefer carpet, low pile is thought to be better than high pile. Carpets should be vacuumed at least once a week — preferably by someone who is not allergic to house dust mite allergen because vacuuming increases the amount of house dust mite allergen in the air for up to 20 minutes.
  • Because we spend a lot of time in our bedrooms, it’s best to keep pets out, even if you let them in the rest of the house. This is especially important if the floor is carpeted, because carpet tends to trap animal hair and allergens.
Furniture
  • Choose leather, vinyl, metal or wood furnishings, which are easy to clean. And avoid upholstered headboards, which can harbour a high population of dust mites. Clean hard surfaces weekly using a damp cloth or an electrostatic cloth.
Windows
  • Heavy curtains are not recommended because they collect too much dust and are difficult to clean.
  • Blinds are a good alternative to curtains; vertical and washable roller blinds collect less dust than horizontal (Venetian) blinds.
  • Shutters and washable curtains are also suitable options because they are easy to clean.
Clutter
  • Reduce the number of books and ornaments, or display them in glass cabinets to reduce dust.
  • Children’s toys and games should be stored in plastic containers to reduce dust.

Bathroom

Mould can be a source of allergies in the bathroom.

Allergy-proof the bathroom
Extractor fan
  • You need an extractor fan in the bathroom to prevent steam build-up and reduce moisture while taking baths and showers. This will help prevent mould growth on the windows, walls and ceiling.
Floor and walls
  • Tiled walls and floors are best because they are water-resistant and easily cleaned.
  • Special mould-resistant enamel paint for the walls is also a good idea.
Sink, bath and shower
  • Remove any visible mould from taps and bathroom surfaces using a cleaning solution containing mould-reduction cleaners.
  • Regularly clean shower curtains and replace them if they become mouldy.
  • Seal any leaks in the bathroom.

Kitchen

Cockroaches can cause allergies, so it’s important to take steps to avoid attracting them to the kitchen. Mould can also be problematic in the kitchen.

Allergy-proof the kitchen
Range hood
  • Reduce moisture and cooking fumes in the kitchen by using an extractor fan or range hood while you are cooking.
Sink
  • Clean the sink of any mould and food scraps and do the dishes daily.
  • Fix any leaky taps or pipes to inhibit mould growth and deter cockroaches.
Bench, stove and cupboards
  • Make sure that the bench and stove top are wiped clean after meal preparation.
  • Take care to clean under the toaster where crumbs can accumulate.
  • Store food in tight-lidded containers.
  • Clean cupboards regularly.
Fridge
  • Clean the fridge regularly to prevent mould growth, and throw out any mouldy or out-of-date food.
Rubbish
  • Use a rubbish bin with an insect-proof lid, and take out the garbage and recycling once a day.
Floor
  • Clean and put away pet food dishes after use.
  • Place cockroach baits in the corners of the room and under appliances.
  • You may want to sweep the floor once a day to help ward off cockroaches.

Lounge room

Dust mites are often the main cause of allergies in the lounge room. If you are allergic to pets and allow them inside, animal dander (small scales from the skin and hair of animals) may also cause problems.

Allergy-proof the lounge room
Flooring
  • Carpet often contains a large number of dust mites, which cannot be completely removed by vacuuming. However, experts do not agree on whether switching to hard flooring benefits symptoms.
  • Rugs may be suitable if they can regularly be washed in hot water — dry cleaning removes the dust mites but not the allergen, while vacuuming may not effectively remove allergens because it does not clean the lower levels of the rug.
  • If you prefer carpet, low pile is thought to be better than high pile. Carpets should be vacuumed at least once a week — preferably by someone who is not allergic to house dust mite allergen.
  • It’s best to keep pets outside, especially if the floor is carpeted, because carpet tends to trap animal hair and allergens.
Furniture
  • Leather or vinyl furniture is better than upholstered couches, which tend to house a high population of dust mites.
Clutter
  • Reduce the number of books and ornaments, or display them in glass cabinets to reduce dust.
  • Pot plants can be a source of mould, so you should remove them, or, alternatively, add aquarium gravel on top of the soil to help contain mould.
  • Children’s toys and games should be stored in plastic containers to reduce dust.
Windows
  • Heavy curtains are not recommended because they collect too much dust and are difficult to clean.
  • Blinds are a good alternative to curtains; vertical and washable roller blinds collect less dust than horizontal (Venetian) blinds.
  • Shutters and washable curtains are suitable options because they are easy to clean.

House — general

Allergy-proof the house in general
Air
  • Dust mites and mould — 2 of the most common indoor allergens — tend to thrive in hot and humid environments. Keeping the temperature below 21 degrees Celsius and the humidity below 50 per cent with an air conditioner can help reduce dust mites and mould growth.
  • A dehumidifier can also be used to lower the humidity inside the house.
  • If you don’t have air conditioning, keeping the house well ventilated can help reduce humidity. However, open doors and windows can let in pollen and mould spores, so it may be better to keep doors and windows closed on high-allergy days.
  • If you do have air conditioning or central heating, remember to regularly clean the filters.
Cleaning
  • The floor and upholstered furniture should be vacuumed at least once a week.
  • Because vacuuming tends to stir up dust and temporarily increase the amount of dust mite allergen in the air, either wear a dust mask while vacuuming or ask a non-allergic person to do the vacuuming.
  • As dust mite residue stays airborne for about 20 minutes after vacuuming, wait 20 minutes until entering recently-vacuumed areas.
  • You may want to consider using a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or a double bag. These vacuums tend to stir up less dust, and may remove more allergen than other vacuum cleaners.
  • Damp-mop wooden, linoleum or tiled floors at least once a week.
  • When dusting furniture and ornaments, use a damp cloth or an electrostatic cloth, which stir up less dust than feather dusting.
  • To remove mould from indoor surfaces, scrub or damp-wipe using water and detergent or vinegar solution, and dry completely.
  • Regularly clean mould and condensation from windows, window frames and sills.
Pets
  • Dogs and cats shed allergens in their sweat and saliva. The allergens stick to skin cells and hair, becoming airborne when the animal sheds their hair. Cat allergens can be particularly difficult to remove from houses.
  • If you are allergic to animals, the most effective way to prevent symptoms is to not have any pets. For those who already have pets and don’t want to lose them, keeping them outside should help a little. However, homes with pets in the yard do tend to have a higher concentration of animal allergens.
  • Bathing your pet once or twice a week has been suggested, but it remains unclear whether this reduces allergen shedding.
  • If you have rabbits or guinea pigs, ask a non-allergic person to clean out their cage.
Pests
  • Cockroaches can get into your house through crevices, wall cracks, windows, floor gaps, and outside doors and drains, so seal these up.
  • Sometimes, a professional exterminator is needed to remove all household pests.
Last Reviewed: 3 October 2012
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References

1. Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology (ASCIA). Allergen avoidance (updated January 2010). http://www.allergy.org.au/patients/allergy-treatment/allergen-avoidance (accessed October 2012).
2. National Asthma Council Australia. Asthma and allergy – what you should know. http://www.nationalasthma.org.au/publication/asthma-and-allergy-asthma-series-brochure-1- (accessed Oct 2012).
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