Allergies affect more than 50 million Americans every year, costing an estimated $18 billion and acting as a leading cause of chronic illness in the United States.
With symptoms like itchy, watery eyes, sniffing and sneezing, coughing and even asthma, allergies can leave everyone feeling miserable. That’s why it’s important to keep your home allergy-free and clean, especially if your symptoms are more severe.
Use this guide to allergy-proof your home or apartment. Click the links below to jump to a specific section:
It’s important to know what you’re fighting when trying to allergy-proof your home. From dust mites to mold, these allergens can trigger symptoms of serious allergies and leave you feeling itchy, achy and congested.
Below are some of the most common household allergies:
These microscopic insects are some of the most common household allergens, thriving in warm, humid environments around the house.
Common symptoms: Asthma, headaches, itchy nose, throat and eyes
Mold and mildew
Mold is a fungus that grows best in damp, poorly ventilated environments that don’t receive a lot of sunlight. The most commonly affected areas include bathrooms, piping and kitchens. There are many common types of mold, including Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Penicillium and Stachybotrys (also known as black mold).
Common symptoms: Asthma, COPD (in those with preexisting conditions) and headaches
Animal allergies are caused by reactions to the saliva and dead skin cells (dander) on your pet’s skin. As many as 30 percent of Americans have dog and cat allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Common symptoms: Itchy or swollen eyes, stuffy nose and trouble breathing
Many plants, including oak trees, ragweed and grass, create a fine powder called pollen when they begin to bloom. Over 25 million Americans are allergic to pollen of one kind or another.
Common symptoms: Itchy or watery eyes, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing and coughing.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are chemical gases emitted by a wide array of products, including carpeting, perfumes, air fresheners, certain cleaning products, upholstered furniture, adhesive and office equipment like printers and copiers. The three most common VOCs are formaldehyde, ammonia and benzene.
Common symptoms: Itchy eyes, sore throat, headache, nausea, fatigue and dizziness
How to eliminate allergens in the home
Whether you live in a studio apartment or a five-bedroom home, you aren’t defenseless against allergens and toxins in the air. Use the following tips to protect yourself and your home from allergens like mold, dust mites and animal dander.
Removing kitchen allergens
One of the most heavily trafficked rooms in the home, it’s important to keep your kitchen allergy-free and clean. Use the tips below to allergy-proof your kitchen:
Check under the sink often. The combination of leaky pipes and dark space makes the perfect breeding ground for mold. If you find mold here, use a cleaning solution of baking soda, white vinegar and tea tree oil to scrub pesky mold away. Renters should contact their property manager to repair any leaking pipes.
Clean your fridge frequently. We’ve all come across moldy food in the fridge — the lack of ventilation in most fridges makes mold growth likely. Once a week, remove all produce from your fridge and wipe down surfaces to remove mold-causing moisture. When you’re finished cleaning, be sure to store all produce correctly to prevent further mold growth.
Maintain good ventilation. Use the vent hood when cooking, open a window or turn on a fan to encourage good airflow and keep the air from retaining too much moisture. Poor ventilation makes it easier for mold to grow.
Pest-proof everything. Did you know cockroaches carry allergens? Many people are allergic to their droppings and sheddings, which can trigger asthma attacks in severe cases. Seal all food in air-tight containers, never leave food out and wipe down surfaces frequently to remove food particles these pests are attracted to. If you live in an apartment, you can often submit a request for pest control services.
Use a ventilation fan. Especially in small bathrooms, airflow is critical. In fact, the Mayo Clinic recommends an exhaust fan to reduce moisture build-up. If your bathroom doesn’t have a ventilation fan installed, ask your property manager to install one. Otherwise, keeping a window or door cracked can prevent moisture from building up.
Skip the plug-in air freshener. While keeping the air smelling nice is important, plug-in fresheners emit VOCs that can cause allergic reactions, exacerbate respiratory problems and trigger headaches. As an alternative to a plug-in air freshener, use a candle or air-filtering houseplant to keep the air clean.
Choose your shower curtain carefully. Vinyl shower curtains emit VOCs, which could contribute to your allergies. Instead, opt for a nylon curtain that is better for your health and for the environment.
Use mold-resistant paint enamel. If your bathroom has wallpaper, consider switching it out for paint or tile. Use a mold-resistant top coat to protect your paint and discourage mold growth. Be sure to check with your property manager before making any changes if you rent an apartment.
Eliminating bedroom allergies
Your bedroom is your sanctuary –– use these tips to keep it free from allergens.
Use dust mite-proof coverings. Up to 10 percent of the weight of a two-year-old pillow can be composed of dead mites and their droppings. To keep these tiny creatures at bay, use microfiber covers on mattresses, box springs, comforters and pillows.
Do the laundry consistently. Wash your bedsheets at least once per week using water that is 130ºF or hotter to kill dust mites. Alternatively, 15 minutes in a dryer at 130ºF will also kill dust mites and remove allergens from your bedding.
Keep pets off your bed. Dander and saliva produced by animals can trigger allergic reactions. If your allergies are serious, consider declaring the entire bedroom a pet-free zone to keep your symptoms at bay.
Replace your mattress. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends replacing mattresses every 10 years and pillows every five years. Mattresses and pillows can house mold spores, which can trigger asthma attacks and other allergy symptoms.
Keeping the living room clean
Another heavily trafficked room in the home, your living room could be harboring unwanted allergens like dust mites, mold and pollen.
Use allergy-friendly window coverings. Curtains are a breeding ground for dust mites. They should be laundered and even vacuumed at least every two weeks. Choose washable fabrics like cotton or linen, or use blinds that can easily be wiped down.
Opt for leather furniture. While plush, upholstered seating is great for comfort, it isn’t so good for allergies. Choose leather seating to reduce the possibility of dust mites, or use washable slipcovers.
Skip the carpet and area rug. Dust mites love carpeting, so consider replacing any carpet you may have in your living room with vinyl, tile, or hardwood flooring. If you’re renting, look for apartments that offer carpet-free living.
Wipe down surfaces often. Use a solution of white vinegar, olive oil and warm water to wipe down surfaces, including coffee tables, end tables, fireplace mantles and windowsills. This will remove any dust buildup and keep your furniture in good condition.
Other ways to allergy-proof your home
There are plenty of other ways to continue allergy-proofing your home. Using the right cleaners and equipment goes a long way to reducing allergens.
When cleaning, opt for natural solutions over chemical-based cleaners and disinfectants. Many household cleaners, including those with chlorine bleach, have been found to emit VOCs.
In fact, studies have found that “a higher frequency of using spray products during household cleaning (especially glass-cleaning and furniture sprays and air freshening sprays) was associated with a 40 percent increase in wheeze, a 50 percent increase in asthma symptoms or medication use and approximately a 100 percent increase in incidence in physician-diagnosed asthma.”
HEPA filter vacuums
To remove dust and dirt from your home, consider investing in a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter vacuum. Regular vacuums can push allergens back into the air, but HEPA filter vacuums prevent this re-spreading of allergens.
According to Consumer Reports, the best allergy-proofing HEPA filter vacuum cleaners are:
Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly Bagged Vacuum
Miele Dynamic U1 Cat and Dog
Miele Dynamic U1 Maverick
Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly UltraPlush 81714
Miele Complete C3 Marin
Kenmore Elite Pet-Friendly Bagged Upright Vacuum
Use a portable air purifier to reduce unwanted allergens in your home. There are many different types of air purifiers available, so consider choosing one based on the size of the room you’ll use it in.
The clean air delivery rate (CADR) determines how many particles and square feet an air purifier can reach. To determine the best CADR rating for your room’s square footage, use the following equations:
For example, if you see an air purifier at the store with a CADR rating of 100, it will be able to clean a room that is 155 square feet.
(100 CADR x 1.55) = 155 sq ft.
Alternatively, if you are looking for an air purifier that will clean your 250 square foot room, you can determine that you’ll need an air purifier with a score of 160 or higher.
(250 sq ft. / 1.55) = 161 CADR
According to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, you should use the smoke CADR score when doing these calculations, as this is the smallest particle size and will be the most difficult to clean from the air.
For more allergy-proofing hacks, check out the infographic below.
Whether your allergies include a runny nose or trouble breathing, it’s important to keep your home as free of allergens as possible. A clean, dust-free environment goes a long way to reducing allergies and consistent maintenance will help to prevent the spread of mold.
Alex Heinz is a writer with experience in a variety of industries from tech to lifestyle. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, TechCo and PopSugar. She's lived in a handful of large cities including New York and San Diego, giving her first-hand knowledge of the ins and outs of renting. In her spare time, you can find her exploring new hikes with her dog.