Winter isn’t normally a time of year that we associate with allergy problems. If pollen isn’t in the air, allergies are the last thing from our minds. But for those suffering from indoor allergies, winter can be a nightmare.
During the cooler months, we tend to keep our homes airtight. Windows are closed – fresh air never gets a chance to come in. That means dust, dander, dirt, and other particles never get a chance to go out, leading to respiratory issues for many people.
So how can you prevent your home from becoming a haven for winter allergens?
Use The Right HVAC Filter
When it comes to winter allergens, your forced-air heating system is a highway for grime. A clean filter helps to keep the spread of allergens under control. Air filters in heat pumps and furnaces trap minute particles that can irritate sinuses and lungs, and hold them in place until you change the filter for a clean one (which you should do on a regular basis).
But not all air filters are created equal. If you suffer from winter indoor allergies, you should consider a filter with a higher MERV rating. This score indicates the size of particles that can be captured and removed from the air of your home. For those with severe allergies, you may want to consider a HEPA filter, but check to make sure your HVAC system will handle it – these filters can sometimes impede airflow, leading to heating problems.
Consider An Air Purifier
Purifiers add an extra layer of protection when it comes to keeping your home allergen-free. Like the filter in your HVAC system, air purifiers circulate air through and remove particulate matter.
Like filters, air purifiers are not created equal. For those who suffer from severe allergies throughout the year, or who have other health problems that require an immaculate environment, it might be worth considering a whole home purifier. These systems are built into your existing HVAC system and clean all of the air in your home. Initial cost is high, but it may be worth the expense to reduce breathing problems.
For those with less severe allergies, a portable air purifier will likely help with keeping things clean. These units are available at most hardware stores and can easily clean the air for a single room.
Keep Your Bedding Clean
Unfortunately, dust mites, pollen, and dander love to cling to fabrics, which makes your bed the perfect place for allergens to reside. Have you ever woken up to a completely stuffed up nose and a scratchy throat, only to have the symptoms disappear as soon as you get up? Your bed is the likely culprit.
Dust mites especially love to make their homes in the stuffing of mattresses and pillows. One way to prevent reactions to these nasty little critters is to use hypoallergenic mattress and pillow covers. These covers prevent dust mites from going in or coming out, allowing you to get rid of them.
Bedding should be washed at least once a week in very hot water, to get rid of dust mites and any other allergens that have settled on the fabric. Don’t forget about your comforter, as dust mites like to live in that stuffing as well. For those with allergies, it might be wiser to invest in a bed cover that is easily washed or a larger washing machine and dryer that can handle oversized items on a regular basis.
Wash Curtains and Draperies
Just like bedding, curtains and drapes offer a place where allergens can safely cling until disturbed. Have you ever opened curtains in the morning, only to see a cloud of dust appear in the light coming through your window? All that stuff floating in the air can end up in your sinuses and lungs, leading to a stuffy nose.
Curtains and drapes made from washable fabrics are best. Like bedding, they should be thrown into the wash once a week using very hot water.
Get Rid of Carpet
Carpet can be toasty warm and soft on feet during the winter months. Unfortunately, it’s also a great place for dust mites and allergens to gather. Just imagine…with every step you take, a small cloud of nasty particulate matter is kicked up into the air for you and your family to inhale.
Flooring such as tile, wood, or laminate prevents allergens from finding a long-term home. These surfaces are easy to clean and can be decorated with washable rugs to help warm your feet in winter.
If you are dead set on keeping your carpet, consider getting a high-powered vacuum with a HEPA filter. Using this every day will help to keep allergen levels down.
Don’t Ignore the Upholstery
Like the other fabrics we have mentioned so far, upholstery is an allergen-catcher. While upholstered furniture is not washable, it can be vacuumed. Make sure these items are receiving a good cleaning at least once a week so that you can sit in your favorite chair without the side effect of a runny nose and itchy eyes.
Let Some Fresh Air In
If winter allergies are your issue, then it might be time to open the windows and let some air in. Of course, you will want to do this on a mild day, but having that fresh air will help to circulate out some of those allergens that are causing trouble.
Also be sure to regularly run your bathroom and kitchen exhaust, to get rid of any allergens that could be hanging out in these rooms. Both the bathroom and kitchen have a tendency to attract mold, which can cause breathing problems for many people.
Keep An Eye on Potted Plants
Potted plants are a great way to purify air naturally, but there is a danger of mold growing in soil that is too moist. For those with severe allergies, it might be best to remove the plants altogether. For those with less serious issues, try adding a layer of gravel over the top of the soil and keep to a watering schedule that doesn’t leave soil soaked at all times.
Avoid The Fireplace
We know…winter is exactly the time for a warm and cozy fire. The problem is that fires produce smoke, and the particulate matter in the smoke can exacerbate allergies. Having a fire in a wood-burning fireplace reduces the air quality in your home overall, making them a somewhat unhealthy design feature.
If you have allergies but want to enjoy a fire, it might be time to consider a gas fireplace. These offer a cleaner burning option while still producing a lovely atmosphere.
Keep Sinks Clean (Both Above And Below)
Because sinks are a primary source of moisture in your home, they also tend to attract mold growth. Make sure to keep all of your sinks clean, including the drains. An occasional flushing with baking soda and vinegar will help to prevent clogged material from building up inside the pipe, making a home for mold and mildew.
Don’t forget the space under your sink as well. Be sure to keep that area clean, and fix any leaks you may find immediately. Cleaning under the sink will help to prevent mold from growing in the first place.
Clean Up A Messy Kitchen
Crumbs happen…it’s just a part of having an active household. How can crumbs cause allergy problems? Because they attract pests like mice and cockroaches, which can leave behind “special surprises” that cause breathing problems.
Make sure you clean your kitchen after every use and keep those crumbs off the counter and floor.
Don’t Forget Your Pets
Unfortunately, pets are a major source of allergens. They shed skin cells, saliva, and hair, which can all cause respiratory problems even in people who don’t typically show allergy symptoms.
During the winter it is especially important to keep your pets clean and healthy. Much like people, pets can experience dry skin in winter, causing them to produce more dander. A vet can offer solutions on how to handle this issue. Meanwhile, a regular vacuuming routine and paying extra close attention to your HVAC filters can help when dealing with pet-related allergens.
Go All Natural
When you are in an enclosed space, it ‘s not a good idea to break out the high-powered cleaning supplies filled with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These chemicals not only cause breathing problems but can be hazardous to your health.
Instead, check out our post on traditional cleaning solutions that kick the VOCs to the curb. Not only will your house be clean, but you’ll be able to breathe easy.