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How to Improve Indoor Air Quality in your Home

Jennifer Karami
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In this blog post, our friends at Redfin - specialists in helping individuals buy and sell new homes across the USA - underline the importance of maintaining a healthy indoor environment at home and explain the link between air quality and allergy symptoms.

 Jennifer Karami runs through the common indoor allergy triggers and explains what you can do to keep the air you breathe at home as clean as possible. 

What Could You be Allergic to in Your House?

When it comes to poor air quality and allergy triggers, many of us tend to think of outside triggers such as fire pollution and high pollen levels. However, the concentration of pollutants can actually be two to five times higher inside than outdoors. If you or family have been sneezing or wheezing more than usual at home, indoor pollution and allergy triggers could be to blame. Let's examine the common culprits below: 

1. Dust Mites

Dust mites are microscopic insects that feed off human skin flakes. They are among the most common in-home allergens. These tiny bugs thrive in warm, moist environments, which means bedding and soft furniture are often filled with these invisible pests. Although they don’t bite, they can inflame the nasal passages, leading to itchy, watery eyes and nasal congestion.

2. Mold

Mold is another common household allergen because it tends to grow in damp, dark places like basements, behind drywall, and in small, poorly-ventilated bathrooms. Like dust mites, mold can cause respiratory problems along with dry, itchy skin. Some types of mold, like black mold, are more toxic than others.

3. Pollen

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Indoor pollen levels can also be higher than you might think, particularly if your family tends to enjoy the outdoors during the spring and summertime, as all that outdoor pollen is easily tracked indoors.

Pets can also carry pollen inside, which is why some people mistakenly think they are allergic to dogs when it’s actually the ragweed or another irritant that’s hitching a ride your dog.

4. Cockroaches

Homes in southern areas may harbor cockroaches that secrete allergens in their saliva and feces. It’s a common myth that the chemicals used to eradicate cockroaches cause allergic reactions, when in fact the bugs themselves are the culprits.

5. Pet Allergies

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If your household includes four-legged members, you may be exposed to more allergen triggers than you think. Cats and dogs shed invisible dust and dander particles that can become airborne and travel throughout your home with ease. Even the protein in animal saliva, urine, and feces can cause an allergic reaction in some people.

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Signs of Allergic Reactions in the Home Include:

 

  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy skin
  • Nasal congestion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Allergic rhinitisor hay fever
  • An overall feeling of malaise 

Symptoms of indoor allergies can range from mild to severe, and some people even require prescription medication to get relief from the swelling within their breathing passages caused by dust mites, mold, pollen, and other irritants. Kids are particularly susceptible to poor indoor air quality because of their developing alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs), so long-term exposure can lead to respiratory issues.

How to Get Rid of Allergens in Your Home

1) Remove Carpets and Rugs Wherever Possible

Carpets can help keep your floors warm and comfortable, but they tend to exacerbate allergies. They can trap irritants like pet dander, dust, and pollen, only to re-release them again every time someone walks on the carpet. Worse yet, it’s virtually impossible to vacuum up particles that become trapped in the carpet underlay. 

If possible, focus on replacing the carpet in your bedrooms with impervious floorings such as hardwood or low-maintenance vinyl. The only exception is your entryway.  Studies have shown up to 85 percent of dust, dander, and pollen comes in on the bottom of the shoes. Placing a small, washable mat near your door can help trap dust, pollen, and other irritants before they are tracked into your living space. If you have carpet, be sure to vacuum at least once a week with a HEPA-certified vacuum, and steam clean it at least several times a year.

2. Invest in Zip-On Dust Mite Covers for Pillows and Mattresses

Since you can’t wash your mattress, the next-best thing is to regularly vacuum it and let it air out in a dry environment. You can also encase it in a specially-designed, dust mite-proof mattress cover. These washable covers are also available for your pillows to prevent build-up and make it easy to allergy-proof your bedroom.

3. Install Washable Window Covers

Replace heavy, thick curtains with ones that you can remove and clean regularly, and install wipeable roller blinds in place of those hard-to-clean mini blinds.

4. Vacuum Regularly

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Use a strong, high-quality vacuum to clean any remaining carpets and soft surfaces like sofas and chairs, and remember to clean the dust off from behind electronics like your television, speakers, and fridge.

5. Use Unscented Cleaning Products

Strong scents are a common irritant, so be sure to choose only unscented cleaning products and avoid the use of artificial air fresheners that can trigger breathing problems among people who suffer from asthma. Natural fabric sprays can also help remove allergens from the couch and furniture.

6. Keep your Furnace Filter Clean

Purchase a high-quality air filter for your HVAC system and remember to change it out regularly (usually every two months) in order to cut down on the allergens that are re-circulated throughout your heating and cooling vents.

7. Check the Air Quality Outside

Air pollution levels change dramatically on an hourly basis and can also be different from one street to the next. We recommend using a free air quality app to stay up to date with the air quality around your house – this will help you take preventative measures like closing windows & switching on an air purifier when the air quality gets particularly bad outside.

8. Use a Dehumidifier

A dehumidifier is a small machine that removes excess moisture from the air, making it difficult for mold and mildew to grow. It can also keep dust mites at bay, since these creatures thrive in damp environments. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’ve experienced sinus issues, as the dry air can actually exacerbate some sinus problems.

9. Hire Pest Control

There are several DIY ways to get rid of cockroaches, and some are even all-natural, like diatomaceous earth, essential oils, or over-the-counter solutions. However, the effectiveness of these home remedies is debatable, and some may even trigger or worsen allergies. The best way to deal with a cockroach infestation is through a professional pest control company. 

10. Consult a Home Inspector

Some mold, like mildew, lives on damp surfaces and is relatively easy to clean with a 1-to-8 bleach/water solution. Other types are more insidious and can live in drywall, carpet, insulation, or other hard-to-reach places. This type of fungus takes elbow grease to remove and depending on the severity of your allergy, it may not be a good idea for you to be in close proximity. An experienced home inspector can check your house for signs of mold and other allergens and make a recommendation on how to proceed. 

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