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Spring Cleaning

The Allergy & Asthma Friendly Way

by Jeffrey Demain, MD, FAAAAI

Allergy and Asthma image

Many people know that regular cleaning can help reduce allergy and asthma triggers in your home. But you may want to pause before you reach for that spray bottle. Some people’s allergies & asthma may be aggravated by the way they clean. Harsh chemicals may trigger asthma symptoms or allergies, and dust that is disturbed when cleaning can make the process a nightmare.

So what’s the best way to keep your home clean and free of allergy triggers without also aggravating your symptoms? And what kind of cleaning should you do in your home? These simple steps may reduce your risk of developing allergy and asthma symptoms when you clean.

What to Use
Numerous products have received the “green” seal of approval because they are easy on the environment. Many of these are derived from plant or natural sources rather than harsh chemicals, which can aggravate or create symptoms in people with allergies & asthma. An easy alternative to purchasing cleaning products is making them yourself from ordinary household ingredients such as lemon, vinegar, and baking soda.

In the Kitchen
Often the center of the household, kitchens should be meticulously cleaned and sanitized.

♦ Daily: Wipe down the sink, counters, and stovetop. Use an exhaust fan to remove cooking fumes and reduce moisture. Sweep or vacuum the floor. Place garbage in a can with an insectproof lid, and empty trash daily.

♦ Weekly: Mop the floor; wipe the cabinets, backsplashes, and appliances; clean cabinets and countertops with detergent and water; and check for plumbing leaks. Wipe up excessive moisture in the refrigerator to avoid mold growth. Store food – including pet food – in sealed containers, and discard moldy or out-of-date items. Empty and clean dripping pan and clean or replace moldy rubber seals around doors. Wash the dish rack, and wipe the switch plates, phone, and inside of the garbage can.

♦ Seasonally: Empty and scrub down the inside of the refrigerator and the utensil drawers. Scrub down the cupboard exteriors and clean the stove-hood filter.

An easy alternative to purchasing cleaning products is making them yourself from ordinary household ingredients.

Living Areas
Clean carpeting weekly with a vacuum cleaner that has a small-particle or HEPA filter. Wash area rugs and floor mats, and mop hard surface flooring weekly. Use curtains made of cotton or synthetic fabric. Wash seasonally.

Keep windows closed and use air conditioning during pollen season. Clean mold and condensation from window frames and sills with a solution of chlorine bleach (3/4 cup chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water). Always wear a protective mask when cleaning mold.

Encase pillows, mattresses, and box springs in dust-mite-proof covers. Wash sheets, pillowcases, and blankets weekly in 130° F water. Remove, wash, or cover comforters.

Remove anything that collects dust, such as knickknacks and books. Store toys, games, and stuffed animals in plastic bins. Keep pets out of the bedroom.

Hot, humid houses are breeding grounds for dust mites and mold. Maintain temperature at 70° F and relative humidity at 30 percent to 50 percent. Clean or replace small-particle filters in central heating and cooling systems and in room air conditioners at least once a month.

Control cockroaches and mice with traps from the hardware store, or hire a professional exterminator. To prevent re-infestation, seal cracks and other entryways.

The Bathroom
An exhaust fan can reduce moisture while taking baths or showers. Remove carpeting if possible and use wood or linoleum flooring. Use washable rugs. Remove wallpaper and install tile, or paint walls with moldresistant enamel paint.

Towel-dry the tub and enclosure after use. Scrub mold from tub and faucets. Clean or replace moldy shower curtains and bathmats. Quickly repair any leaks.

The Basement
In older homes, basements can be a challenge. Not only can they be damp and dusty, but they can also harbor rodents or mold. Always wear gloves and a mask when cleaning a basement that has either of these problems. If vacuuming, empty the bag outside, still wearing a mask, and place it directly into a trash bag, tie, and put it in the trash container immediately.

Remove moldy or water-damaged carpeting. If possible, use cement or linoleum flooring. If that isn’t an option, use low-pile instead of high-pile carpeting, and use a vacuum cleaner that has a small-particle or HEPA filter weekly. Install plastic sheeting (vapor barrier) under carpeting to prevent moisture seepage.

Check for and repair any sources of leaks or water damage. A dehumidifier can reduce dampness; clean it once a week. Use an exhaust fan to vent moisture from a clothes dryer outside.

Spring is just around the corner! Now, you have all the tools you need to safely and healthfully clean your home.


Dr. Jeffrey Demain is an allergist/immunologist based in Anchorage, AK.

Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, March/April 2010.