How to keep allergens out of your indoor environment

We have lived through some of the worst of the fall weed season!  But there are other allergy hazards to watch out for when the house gets closed up and the heat goes on.  Here’s how to prevent allergy flares from dust, molds, roach parts (hate to mention it but it’s true!) air “fresheners” and other yucky things you might be inhaling in your home or office.

Checklist for an allergy free home

1.  Make sure your heating system is clean, and free of moisture, rodents and rodent contamination, insects, dust and mold.  Here is what the EPA has to say about getting your heating ducts cleaned:

  • Learn as much as possible about air duct cleaning before you decide to have your ducts cleaned by reading this guidance and contacting the sources of information provided.
  • Consider other possible sources of indoor air pollution first if you suspect an indoor air quality problem exists in your home.
  • Have your air ducts cleaned if they are visibly contaminated with substantial mold growth, pests or vermin, or are clogged with substantial deposits of dust or debris.
  • Ask the service provider to show you any mold or other biological contamination they say exists. Get laboratory confirmation of mold growth or decide to rely on your own judgment and common sense in evaluating apparent mold growth.
  • Get estimates from at least three service providers.
  • Check references.
  • Ask the service provider whether he/she holds any relevant state licenses. As of 1996, the following states require air duct cleaners to hold special licenses: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Texas. Other states may also require licenses.
  • Insist that the service provider give you knowledgeable and complete answers to your questions.
  • Find out whether your ducts are made of sheet metal, flex duct, or constructed of fiber glass duct board or lined with fiber glass since the methods of cleaning vary depending on duct type. Remember, a combination of these elements may be present.
  • Permit the application of biocides in your ducts only if necessary to control mold growth and only after assuring yourself that the product will be applied strictly according to label directions. As a precaution, you and your pets should leave the premises during application.
  • Do not permit the use of sealants except under unusual circumstances where other alternatives are not feasible.
  • Make sure the service provider follows the National Air Duct Cleaning Association’s (NADCA) standards and, if the ducts are constructed of flex duct, duct board, or lined with fiber glass, the guidelines of the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA).
  • Commit to a preventive maintenance program of yearly inspections of your heating and cooling system, regular filter changes, and steps to prevent moisture contamination.

2.  Vacuum regularly, with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter.  Because carpet and rugs are dust-catchers, wood or tile floors are recommended for people with dust allergies.  If you have carpet that you cannot remove at this time, use a good dust-mite prevention powder to clean your carpet.  You spread it on the carpet and vacuum it up.  It generally prevents dust mite growth for about 6 months.

3.  In addition to vacuuming, control dust by using zippered dust-barrier covers on all mattresses, pillows, and box springs, and by washing comforters and pillows in hot water and drying them in a hot dryer at least once every two months.  This means you need to have down-free bedding, because it is a dust collector and cannot be washed often enough for a person with a dust allergy.  Also, many people are allergic to the feathers themselves.  Sheets, blankets and pillowcases should be washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer once a week.

4.  To prevent mold growth, keep your home at less than 50% humidity (30-40% is ideal).  Overuse of humidifiers, and keeping humidity at above 50% can encourage mold growth.  Be sure to use fans in the bathroom.

5.  Be sure to repair all leaks.  Moisture can attract cockroaches, as well as being a source of mold growth.

6.  Avoid all use of scented “air freshener” products and scented candles.  There are some products that plug into the wall, producing a constant cloud of chemicals in your indoor air.  NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) testing of 14 air fresheners revealed that 12 of them contained unlabeled phthalates, a “gender bending” chemical.

Here is what the NRDC had to say:

Air fresheners have become a staple in many American homes and offices, marketed with the promise of creating a clean, healthy, and sweet-smelling indoor atmosphere. But many of these products contain phthalates (pronounced thal-ates)—hazardous chemicals known to cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems. NRDC’s independent testing of 14 common air fresheners, none of which listed phthalates as an ingredient, uncovered these chemicals in 86 percent (12 of 14) of the products tested, including those advertised as “all natural”or “unscented.”…

Phthalates are known to interfere with production of the male hormone, testosterone, and have been associated with reproductive abnormalities. Numerous animal studies have linked prenatal exposure to certain phthalates with decreases in testosterone, malformations of the genitalia, and reduced sperm production.  The State of California notes that five types of phthalates–including one that we found in air freshener products–are “known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm.”  Phthalate exposure in indoor environments has also been associated with allergic symptoms and asthma.”

So to prevent winter allergies, (and avoid gender-bending chemicals) use these tips to keep your air truly fresh and clean, and skip the “air fresheners.”

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