Au Revoir, Allergens: Reduce Sources of Indoor Allergies

With a few simple strategies, you can reduce the most common sources of indoor allergies—chemicals, mold and mites.


| May/June 2011


Allergy sensitivities are on the rise. They’ve doubled since the 1970s, according to a 2005 study by the National Institutes of Health. Some of that increase may be because most of us spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors, meaning we are almost constantly exposed to airborne allergens in our offices, homes and cars.

The most common home allergens are particulates and chemicals. Particulates include seasonal pollen, mold, dust, dust mites and animal dander. Indoor chemicals associated with allergies include formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (chemicals that outgas from products such as plywood and fiberboard), conventional paint and finishes, and permanent fabric treatments. By improving air flow and reducing sources of particulates, chemicals and moisture, we can reduce our homes’ levels of typical airborne allergens. Here are some strategies.

Particle Matters

Many of the chemicals in our homes are tracked in from our shoes and pets’ feet. One of the easiest ways to reduce our homes’ chemical loads is to remove shoes upon entering the house. We can also reduce exposure to tracked-in grime by making bedrooms off-limits to pets.

To control allergens that do get in, vacuum frequently, including upholstered furniture, with a HEPA vacuum independently certified to capture at least 99 percent of particulates. This is especially important if you have wall-to-wall carpet or pets. If you don’t have a HEPA vacuum, open windows while vacuuming and for 30 minutes afterward, as non-HEPA vacuums can stir up allergens. You might also invest in a HEPA air cleaner that filters particulates such as dust, pollen, dander and mold. The best HEPA cleaners contain carbon for chemical filtering.

Moisture Patrol

Moisture helps create an ideal environment for mold and other allergens. One of the most common sources of indoor moisture is condensation from bathing and cooking. Run exhaust fans when cooking and for 30 minutes after bathing, even if your bathroom has a window. (Make sure exhaust fans vent to the outdoors.) While fans are running, it’s wise to crack a nearby window to provide a source of makeup air (see “This House Doesn’t Suck” below). Outdoor moisture may also lead to indoor mold. Make sure your home’s drainage directs water away from foundation walls. 

In basements, avoid materials mold thrives on such as drywall and carpet. Instead, choose hard materials such as concrete, ceramic, tile and stone. Keep moist basement air out of living spaces by installing an airtight seal around the basement door and caulking holes where plumbing and electrical wires pass from the basement to the ground floor. Also install weatherproofing around attic doors.





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