Cleaning tips to keep allergies at bay
Phyllis, January 2016
Allergies are a nuisance at best, and life-threatening at worst. While the most important thing is to follow your doctor’s advice and take any prescribed medications, there are also steps you can take to help keep things under control. Cleaning, especially with products that won’t exacerbate allergies, is an excellent way to assist those medications in doing their job.
Dust mitesHouse dust mites are the most common allergen source in humid areas such as coastal cities and towns. Levels tend to be lower in drier inland areas. There is no easy way of removing house dust mites. Regardless of what advertisements may say, there is no vacuum cleaner, dust mite spray or dry cleaning that will completely eliminate dust mites.
- Wash sheets, pillowcases and other bedding weekly in hot water (more than 60̊ degrees C). This will kill dust mites and wash away the allergen they produce. If you can’t wash in hot water, use a commercial product that has tea tree or eucalyptus oils, formulated to kill dust mites in cold water. You can also hot tumble items for 10 minutes after they are dry. Dry cleaning is not as effective as it will kill house dust mites but won't remove the allergen they produce.
- Cover mattress, pillow and quilt with dust mite-resistant covers. Suppliers include Allergend, Allerseach and Miteguard. The covers must be washed every two months. You can also wash blankets and non-encased washable doonas every three months in hot water.
- Remove sheepskins or woollen underlays from the bed and bedroom.
- Remove all soft toys from the bed and bedroom. Replace them with wooden or plastic toys that can be washed. Soft toys can be washed in eucalyptus oil weekly or placed in the freezer overnight). Freezing soft toys overnight kill mites but does not remove the allergen.
- Replace carpets with hard floors such as wood, tiles, linoleum or concrete. Carpets can contain large amounts of house dust mite and animal allergens that can’t be completely removed by vacuuming.
- Damp dust or use electrostatic cloths to clean hard surfaces (including hard floors) weekly.
- Vacuum carpets weekly. NOTE: Vacuuming increases the amount of house dust mite allergen in the air for up to 20 minutes.
- Reduce humidity – Where possible, have a dry and well-ventilated house and adequate floor and wall insulation. Avoid using evaporative coolers and unflued gas heaters, as these both release water into the air and can increase indoor dust mite and mould levels.
- Windows - Venetian blinds or flat blinds are easier to clean than heavy curtains. Other options include washable curtains or external shutters.
- Consider leather or vinyl lounges instead of cloth.
Pet danderExposure to pets (such as cats, dogs, guinea pigs, horses, rabbits, mice, rats) at home or work can trigger allergic reactions in some people. Cats and dogs are a major source of allergens in the home. The allergens come from the sweat glands in all cats and salivary glands in all dogs. The allergens become airborne when the pet sheds their hair. Cat allergen is particularly difficult to remove and can stay in the house for months after the cat has been removed. Cat allergen can also be found in places where cats have never lived. For example, it can be carried around on clothing to schools and offices.
MouldMould in the home can show as mould, mildew or a musty smell. It is commonly found in bathrooms, refrigerators and in places with little air circulation such as walk-in and built-in wardrobes, and in bedrooms with en suites.
- Remove visible mould by cleaning with bleach or other mould reduction cleaners
- Ensure plenty of natural ventilation including extractor fans
- Seal leaks in bathrooms and roofs
- Clear overflowing gutters and blocked under-floor vents
- Remove indoor pot plants (these promote mould growth)
- Dry or remove wet carpets
- Avoid working with garden compost, mulch or mowing lawns
PollenThe main grass pollen season is between late September and Christmas and most pollen is in the air between 6am and noon. Most pollen is deposited within a short distance of its source. The highest pollen counts are on calm, hot, sunny days in late October, November and December, although in Queensland the season is different and January is a particularly high pollen month. Pollen allergy in tropical areas is mainly during the dry season, but thunderstorms can also cause problems. When pollen granules come into contact with water, starch granules are released that are small enough to be breathed into the airways, triggering hay fever and asthma in some people. Avoidance of pollen is difficult but the following advice may help:
- Stay indoors when possible during pollen seasons, particularly on windy days or after thunderstorms
- Avoid activities known to cause exposure to pollen, such as mowing grass
- Shower after outdoor activities where exposure to pollen is high
- Use re-circulated air in the car when pollen levels are high
- Wear sunglasses
- Dry bedding and clothing inside or in a tumble dryer