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Allergens and other indoor pollutants

Opening a window can improve your health

 

MetPet.com Staff Writer

Houses and cars today are so well insulated that indoor pollution can actually be worse than what is outside.  Chemicals on fabrics, cleaning agents, pesticides, mold, dust, smoke, cooking fumes, dander, etc. can accumulate inside the house and cause or aggravate allergic reactions in people and pets.

Here are some useful tips to make your home healthier for everyone. 

Open the windows  
Provided there is no "spare the air" day in your area (i.e. when outdoor pollution makes breathing the air hazardous to those susceptible to respiratory problems) then open up windows and let the air circulate every day.

Before you open your windows please make sure you have screens to prevent accidental falls by pets.  Every spring in large cities everywhere, cats are subject to "high rise" syndrome.  They slip and fall out of tall buildings with often tragic consequences.

You will need open windows on both sides of your house for circulation.  Otherwise, you can turn on a fan to help move the air.  Central air conditioning set on "fan only" is another option.

Clean air filters  
Depending on your system and how dusty your house can become, you should clean or replace air filters every three months.  Some filters can be vacuumed and rinsed with a hose, others need to be tossed and replaced with new ones.

 A good rule of thumb is to check them once a month to see if there is a buildup.  At minimum, the change of seasons (turning on the air conditioning or the furnace) is a good time for a checkup.  Some filters do a better job than others so inquire at your hardware store or home center for what is new and improved. 

Filters are rated using the MERV (Minimum Efficiency Rating Value) scale from 1 to 20.  Filters for use in residential buildings generally run from 1 to 12 with the higher number signifying the filtering of smaller particles.  There are other systems, such as those from big box retailers, that use different scales but a higher number usually signifies both higher cost per filter and the removal of smaller particles. 

This is also a good time to vacuum vents.  That strange little round brush attachment for your vacuum helps you get between the slats.  If your house is prone to excessive dust build up - lots of traffic, lots of pets and people, dusty environment - an annual professional ductwork cleaning service may be worth the expense. 

Clean carpets 
As much as we love them, thick wall-to-wall carpeting is a dust and dander magnet.   Fleas and dust mites, hair and dirt just love that luxuriant pile to hide in.   If you are considering replacing your flooring, a hard surface like wood, laminate, vinyl, tile, marble or slate harbors fewer allergens.  If you must have softly carpeted floors, consider an industrial or office type carpeting with a very short pile (1/2") and tightly woven fibers. 

Another option is to minimize dirt and grime in the first place.  Try leaving outdoor shoes in the front hall, replacing them with slippers or indoor-only soft clogs.  Place lightweight, washable mats both inside and outside the door to catch as much dirt as possible.  You can even use lightweight, washable area rugs on top of the wall-to-wall provided both the carpeting and the rugs are colorfast and won't bleed color onto each other. 

When choosing small rugs and mats, make sure they are rated by the manufacturer as ok to wash in your washing machine.  If you need rubberized bottoms, consider getting a separate rubberized rug mesh.  Rubber and plastic non-skid bottoms tend to disintegrate in the wash over time. 

Deep clean carpets once every six months to a year depending on wear.  If you use a flea-powder like boric acid, remember to replace it after steam cleaning. 

Clean pets 
As much as 10% of the US population and 30% of asthma sufferers are allergic to some parts of some animals.  The most common pet related allergy is to dander which consists of dead skin cells that fall off of pets on a regular basis.  Saliva in cats especially contains the Fel d1 protein which is a common cause of allergic reactions.  When cats groom themselves with their tongue which they do often, the allergens are deposited on the skin and fur.  As skin cells are sloughed off or as the fur is petted the allergens are released into the air or onto skin and clothing. 

A regular washing program can help reduce the amount of allergens considerably.  If you roll your eyes at the thought of trying to give your cat a bath, wash your hands after handling him and keep him away from direct exposure to your face.  Even wiping your cat daily with a fresh, damp wash cloth may help reduce the number of allergens. 

It's best to keep pets out of the bedrooms and definitely off the bed to minimize exposure to allergens during sleep.  If you want to give them access to the bed to sleep on during the day, make sure to cover the entire bed with a sheet that you roll up and remove at night. 

Wear lighter clothing that can be cleaned frequently 
Studies show that lighter weight cotton clothing such as T-shirts hold fewer dust mites and allergens than do heavier clothing such as wool sweaters.  Since allergens are everywhere, it is best to wash clothing, especially that worn above the waist, before wearing it each time. 

It is hard to believe but cat dander actually exists in Antarctica although there are no cats there and, as far as we can tell, never have been.  The dander made it to the scientific research colony there on the clothing (particularly the heavy sweaters) of visitors!

Streamline your environment  
Heavy drapes, lots of stuffed animals, excess cushions and overcrowding in general can aggravate the situation.  Twice a year, pack up everything you no longer use and donate or dispose of it.  Minimize dry flower arrangements, wreaths, tapestries, open bowls of potpourri, dust-collecting decorations, stacks of dusty books and excess plants.

If you have a choice, select miniblinds or plantation shutters over fabric window coverings.  If you want fabric coverings, consider washable sheers or cafe curtains in order to minimize the amount of fabric.  Curtains actually act as filters, trapping dust and providing homes for little critters as air moves in and out of the room. 

Select furniture with exposed legs that are easy to clean under.  Consider leather, wood or vinyl furniture instead of heavily upholstered pieces.  Cover chairs and sofas with slipcovers that can be washed weekly.  Flat bed sheets work well as inexpensive covers and are easy to clean.  Not only will you reduce allergens and pollutants, you'll have less cleaning to do. 

Pick up dust  
Vacuum dusty places thoroughly several times a week.  Then spray water onto a paper towel and use it to pick up remaining dust.  For the most complete dust removal, the old standby of a damp rag works the best.  Hardware stores and big box retailers sell boxes of shop rags or recycle your old bath and hand towels for the job.   

Plain feather dusters and dry mops tend to just move dust from one place to another and fill the air with dust as they go.  The new synthetic dusters catch some dust particles to be shaken out or rinsed out later and work for light dusting done frequently. 

Clean and air out cars  
If you travel on crowded commuter highways, you probably keep your windows closed.   Recent studies are now showing that air pollution inside your car can be significantly worse than what's outside your vehicle.  If you park in your own garage, open the windows when you get home to allow air to circulate.  Periodically use your air conditioning system to bring in fresh air rather than just recirculating interior air.

Dander, dust mites, etc. from your home can be tracked into your car via shoes and clothing.  Vacuuming the carpets and seats once a week is probably all you'll need to minimize most allergens and pollutants.  When buying a car, consider getting leather instead of cloth seats and plastic or rubber mats instead of carpeted ones. 

Smoke outside  
Pets who live with smokers are subject to the same respiratory problems and cancers that people are.  As studies now show, the smoke from the tip of a cigarette is more hazardous than what the smoker inhales.  Just to be safe, it's best to smoke outside away from your pets.

Related Information:
Minimizing Pet Allergens in the Bedroom
Wall-to-Wall Carpet Solutions
High-Rise Syndrome in Cats

Additional Resources:
US Environmental Protection Agency: indoor air quality
American Lung Association: air quality in the home
American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
 

 
 
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