Allergy medicine commercials rarely take place indoors. They often show people sneezing during outdoor activities, while pollen floats around in the air. What they don't show is someone getting ready to work from home and flying through nearly half a box of tissues before even finishing their morning coffee.
But, if you're anything like me (and my also allergy-stricken roommates), this is a much more realistic representation. Not to mention, for us, "allergy season" seems to be all year round. If you also feel stuffed up, sneeze often, and get itchy eyes all without stepping outside your front door, there's a good chance you're dealing with indoor allergies, too, and a number of things in your home could be the culprit.
Things like pet dander, dust mites, mold spores, and more can all be triggers for indoor allergies, and even if you try to keep your home clean, they can still be lingering in unsuspected places. As an eco-designer and ambassador for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Robin Wilson is focused on helping people to eliminate these triggers and create healthier living spaces. From the dust on your walls to the mold in your refrigerator and even the toxic chemicals hiding in your shower curtain, Wilson told HelloGiggles about some of the many areas of our home that could be affecting our asthma, allergies, and overall health. So, before your next spring cleaning spree, take note of the Clean Design: Wellness For Your Lifestyle author's advice below to cut back on the germs and the wheezing and sneezing in your home.
1. Clean your walls with a dust cloth.
Our walls are the largest surfaces in our homes, so we shouldn't be neglecting them when cleaning. Even though it might not always be visible, dust collects on walls, which can lead to worsening allergy, asthma, and even eczema symptoms. So, to reduce the amount of dust in your home environment, Wilson recommends using a microstatic dust cloth or mitt at least once a month to rub down the walls and collect any dust that's gathered.
hellogiggles - 15.99 Available at Amazon
2. Change your air filters.
Air conditioning is a blessing, but if you're not changing the air filters frequently enough, it could be negatively affecting your health. "You need to change those filters at least twice a year because otherwise, you're just blowing in more dust or dirt," Wilson says. However, depending on the type of AC filter you have, the number of people in your home, whether or not you have pets, the air pollution around your house, and more factors, some recommend changing the filter as often as every 30 to 60 days. If you're in a rental unit or home, you can send a request to the management to change the filters for you.
Wilson also says it's important to change the filter when using air purifiers. Air purifiers can be a great solution for people with allergies and asthma because they can remove allergens from the air, but, similar to AC units, they can make matters worse if the filters are overloaded with dust and dirt. So, read the instructions when investing in an air purifier to learn how often you should be changing the filter.
hellogiggles - 84.99 Available at Amazon
3. Clean your refrigerator (not just the obvious parts).
You probably know to clean up food spills and gunk left behind from produce-gone-bad, but the less-visible parts of your refrigerator are where the bigger problem lies. Wilson specifically points out the drip pan, which is usually located underneath the refrigerator and is often overlooked during cleaning. The drip pan catches condensation coming from the unit and can produce a build-up of mold if it isn't cleaned or changed at least once or twice a year, per Wilson's recommendation.
4. Use non-toxic cleaning products.
If you're not paying attention to what type of cleaning products you use, you could simply be replacing the dust and dirt with toxic chemicals—and then be breathing them in. Wilson explains that many cleaning products include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are organic chemicals that, when inhaled, can lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, liver or kidney damage, and potentially cancer. So, when shopping for cleaning supplies, look for non-toxic products that don't include VOCs. Brands like Method and Mrs. Meyer's are both great safe options.
hellogiggles - 3.29 Available at Target
Wilson also provided some alternative ideas for cleaning options that you may already have around the house. For cleaning stove burners or markings on the wall, she recommends toothpaste, and to tackle stubborn toilet rings, she recommends pouring a can of Coca-Cola in the toilet overnight.
5. Change your pillow and everything on it.
We breathe, drool, and put our faces into our pillows every night, and they can collect a pretty disturbing amount of dust, dirt, and bacteria over time. Even so, most of us probably aren't cleaning our pillows enough.
Wilson uses a "rule of threes" to help people remember how often they should be cleaning and replacing their pillows and everything on them. In addition to washing your pillowcase weekly, she recommends washing your pillow protector (which you should use if you have allergies) every three weeks, washing the pillow itself every three months, and completely replacing the pillow every three years.
hellogiggles - 10.99 Available at Target
6. Don't buy a petroleum-based rug.
Rugs are basically allergen magnets, but you don't have to give them up entirely. On top of vacuuming your rugs frequently to free them of all the collected dirt and dust, you should also pay attention to the material of rug you choose. Wilson points out that some rugs, especially those on the more affordable side, are petroleum-based, which can emit VOCs into the air and affect your health. So, look for natural, non-toxic materials, like wool, jute, sisal, and organic cotton when shopping for rugs to fill your space.
7. Clean your window treatments.
Wilson says a better name for drapes would be "dust collectors." Drapes and window coverings are another often overlooked aspect in the home when cleaning, but they shouldn't be. Wilson recommends opting for panels or window treatments that can be easily vacuumed so that they aren't collecting so much dust. If you prefer traditional drapes, just be sure to choose something washable and wash them whenever you are cleaning your walls.
8. Buy a nylon shower curtain.
If you've never thought twice about what kind of shower curtain or liner you're using, you might want to start. Vinyl shower curtains are cheap and super common, but they could be secretly disrupting your health, not only by collecting mold but also by making your air toxic.
In 2008, results from a study released by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice showed that shower curtains made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic contain harmful chemicals, including VOCs. In more disturbing news, that "new shower curtain smell" most of us are familiar with is actually the smell of toxic chemicals being released into your home. So, Wilson recommends investing in a non-toxic, washable nylon shower curtain.
hellogiggles - 13.99 Available at Amazon
9. Clean your child's (or your own) stuffed animal.
A well-loved stuffed animal is a precious thing, but it can also be pretty disgusting. Like anything else, stuffed animals collect dust and dirt over time and people often forget that they need to be cleaned, too.
However, some stuffed animals are too delicate to go through the wash, so Wilson recommends putting them inside a plastic bag and keeping them in the freezer for 48 hours as an alternative. This won't entirely clean the animal, but, if there are dust mites, Wilson says they will crystallize and fall off, leaving the animal more allergy-friendly in the end. After the stuffed animal's "trip to the North Pole," as Wilson likes to call it, you can thaw it out and use a vacuum to clean off any excess dirt or dust.