Guide to reducing allergens and improving air quality

Guide to reducing allergens and improving air quality

When people think about air pollution, they're usually worried about outdoor contamination from sources like cars and manufacturing plants. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that many sources of indoor air pollution can be just as harmful — if not more so.

Pollutants from sources like heating systems and cleaning products are emitted indoors, where they are confined. It's easier for people to breathe in these particles since they have nowhere to go. Plus, external sources of pollution like pesticides and gas fumes can enter from outside via doors and windows, making the problem worse. On top of that, there are allergens to contend with, like dust mites, pet dander and cockroach feces.

It sounds pretty daunting when you add it all up! The good news is that you can take steps to improve your home's indoor air quality, protecting the health of yourself and your loved ones. Implementing these measures can safeguard your health and help reduce uncomfortable asthma and allergy symptoms associated with poor indoor air quality (e.g., red eyes, scratchy throat, runny nose, coughing and sneezing).

This guide provides tips to improve your home's indoor air quality.

  • What are the most common allergens found in homes?
  • Why is indoor air quality important?
  • 11 ways to reduce allergens in your home and improve air quality

What are the most common allergens found in homes?

Pollen from trees, bushes and flowers is often blamed as the primary allergy trigger. But it's more than the stereotypical beautiful blooms associated with allergy season that can cause problems! There are many other causes, some of them stemming from indoor sources. According to the U.S. EPA, common allergens found in the home include:

  • Mold spores
  • Dust
  • Hair
  • Pet dander
  • Cockroaches
  • Tobacco/smoking
  • Pesticides
  • Lead
  • Asbestos
  • Ozone
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Wood or coal heating
  • Fireplaces
  • Air fresheners

Infographic on relative size of common indoor allergen particles

Why are allergies worse in the house?

Most people assume that allergies get worse outside due to triggers like pollen and dust. However, indoor allergens like cockroach feces, dust mites and pet dander can also trigger allergies. Additionally, allergies tend to get worse in the house because these particles build up inside and have nowhere to go. This results in a higher density of particulate matter in a confined space, so people are more likely to breathe in allergens through their mouth or nose.

Infographic on the most common indoor allergens, pollutants and sources

Why is indoor air quality important?

Good indoor air quality isn't just a question of comfort. It's better for your health, reducing the risk of triggering allergies and asthma. Early-life indoor environmental exposures increase the risk of childhood asthma, for example. Plus, poor indoor air quality can raise the risk of issues like cancer and heart disease. Here are some more fast facts about indoor air quality:

  • We spend almost 90% of our lives indoors. (EPA)
  • Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. (ACAAI)
  • 8% of adults and 7% of kids suffer from seasonal allergies. (AAFA)
  • 99% of U.S. homes contain at least one major allergen. (Cleveland Clinic)
  • 62% of U.S. households have pets, making them susceptible to dander. (American Lung Association)
  • Asthma caused 455,000 deaths globally in 2019. (WHO)
  • More than 50 million people in the U.S. have allergies. (ACAAI)
  • 29% percent of Americans never change their air filter in their home. (The Zebra)
  • 82% of Americans fail to change their air filter monthly. (The Zebra)
  • Of those who do change it, 31% only change it every few months.(The Zebra)
  • Carpets account for 38% of the total U.S. flooring market. (CRI)
  • Dust mites are found in higher concentrations on carpets (concentration of 31 ng) than on smooth floors (concentration of 18 ng). (Clinical & Experimental Allergy Journal)
  • Carpeted floors contain more proteins, dust and allergens per unit area than smooth floors. (EAACI)
  • 64% of U.S. homes contain cockroach allergens. (ACAAI)
  • Walking on carpeting puts more spores into the air than walking on a smooth floor. (Applied and Environmental Microbiology Journal)

11 ways to reduce allergens in your home and improve air quality

Making an effort to reduce allergens in your home is well worth it. You'll be able to minimize the risk of symptoms associated with poor air quality, like a stuffy nose and red, watery eyes. Plus, you'll be making a valuable investment in your family's long-term health. Here are some simple ways to create a healthier, more comfortable indoor atmosphere and allergy-proof your home.

Change your AC filter

Your air conditioning filter removes dust, pet hair, pollen and other particles from the air, ensuring they don't get pumped into the home. You won't benefit from this cleansing effect if your AC filter is clogged. Plus, your AC unit will have to work harder to pump air, which can result in higher electricity bills. You can also upgrade to a high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA filter), which removes 99.97% of mold, bacteria, dust, pollen and similar airborne allergens. Change your filter at least every 90 days.

Reduce allergens in your home: Change your AC filter

Change filters in other household appliances

Your AC isn't the only household appliance with a filter. The vacuum cleaner, clothes dryer and kitchen vents also have filtration systems that help capture debris and keep it out of the air you breathe. Check each device's owner's manual to determine how often to change the filter. For example, Dyson recommends changing vacuum filters at least once a month.

Reduce allergens in your home: Change filters in other household appliances

Consider getting an air purifier

An air filter or air cleaner can help improve indoor air quality by removing particles from the air. It can also help eliminate volatile organic compounds (VOCs), gasses and other indoor pollutants. You can place portable air cleaners in high-traffic rooms, like the bedroom, where you spend a lot of time. Studies even suggest that air portable HEPA cleaners can improve cardiovascular and respiratory health.

Reduce allergens in your home: Getting an air purifier by room size

Check your air ducts

Your air ducts siphon temperature-controlled air from your HVAC system throughout the home. Over time, dust, mold, dander and other particles can build up in air ducts. This debris is then pushed out into the air you breathe, reducing air quality. An HVAC professional has special tools, like a unique vacuum, that they can use to clean out air ducts (which are inside the walls of your home, so you can't clean them yourself). In addition to a yearly HVAC inspection, consider adding duct cleaning to your to-do list.

Reduce allergens in your home: Check your air ducts and know when to clean them

Check humidity levels in your home

Humid environments are hotspots for mold growth. This is a problem as mold releases spores into the air, which can be allergy and asthma triggers. Some types of mold can even be a health hazard, increasing the risk of lung diseases. Maintain a dry environment to minimize the risk of mold growth. Ventilate your home well by using ceiling fans to improve airflow and reduce humidity, and invest in dehumidifiers if needed.

Reduce allergens in your home: Check humidity levels in your home

Clean carpeting thoroughly

The fibers of area rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting entrap dust, pollen, hair and other allergens. When people walk across the carpet, they can stir these irritants up and into the air. Keep carpets clean by regularly vacuuming using a low-pile vacuum setting with a HEPA filter (this prevents the particles from stirring into the air). Shampoo carpets at least once per year to further reduce particle buildup. If possible, consider replacing carpets with hard surfaces like linoleum or hardwood, which are easier to keep clean.

Reduce allergens in your home: Clean carpet throughly with filter efficiency by particle size

Close and clean windows

Your home's windows can let in pollen and other outdoor irritants. This is especially problematic during pollen season. Check the pollen count via your local weather provider and close windows on days when it's high. If you're worried about ventilation, you can maintain good airflow in the home with your AC instead.

Windows can also be an area where mold and mildew grow because of the condensation that may form due to indoor-outdoor temperature differences (for example, if it's winter and you're heating inside but it's freezing outside). Keep an eye out for mold growth and tackle it promptly using a mixture of water and bleach, vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.

Reduce allergens in your home: Close and clean windows

Get allergy-proof covers for mattresses

You spend plenty of time in your bed every night. This is the last place you want allergens thriving! Wash your linens at least once per week with a mild detergent and hot water to keep your space clean. Also, invest in allergy-proof covers for your pillows, mattress and box springs. A waterproof cover can also be useful in protecting against moisture, which can damage your mattress. It can also help to replace feather or wool bedding, which traps allergens, with synthetic fabrics.

Reduce allergens in your home: Get allergy-proof covers for mattresses

Avoid upholstered furniture

Upholstered furniture may be cozy; however, it's also a hotspot for dust mites, pollen, hair and other allergens to gather. Instead of upholstered items, look for furnishings made of smooth materials like plastic, metal, wood or leather. Bonus: They're easier to clean. Wash furnishing accessories like throw pillows and blankets monthly using hot water to remove irritants.

Reduce allergens in your home: Avoid upholstered furniture

Check kitchen appliances

The kitchen is a big source of indoor air pollution due to cooking fumes. Use vents and exhaust fans to reduce fumes and moisture in this area. Also, keep your appliances in good shape. For example, a fridge can collect moisture if the seals around the door aren't properly closing, increasing the risk of mold development. Meanwhile, a leaky dishwasher can create wet spots on the floor that likewise attract mildew.

Reduce allergens in your home: Check kitchen appliances

Repair any leaks or water damage

Again, a humid environment can result in the growth of mold or mildew, which release harmful spores into the air. Promptly repair leaks to minimize humidity and maintain a dry environment. Check areas prone to water damage, like around windows, the home's foundation and stairwells. Also, monitor areas prone to dampness. For example, your shower curtain in your bathroom can harbor mold if not regularly cleaned with bleach.

Reduce allergens in your home: Repair any leaks or water damage

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Even if none of your family members has asthma or allergies, taking the steps above can still be well worth your while. Clean air fosters good health and can create a more comfortable living space overall. While outdoor allergens are one concern, indoor allergens also need to be addressed. The guide above provides a comprehensive approach to help you address both types of triggers.

You can also help promote a healthier environment by ensuring that your home systems, like your air conditioner, are in good working order. A Cinch Home Services home protection plan provides coverage for many home appliances and built-in systems, like your AC unit, central vacuum, ductwork and range exhaust hood. By protecting these systems, you protect your home and the people inside it. Find out more about Cinch home protection plans and how they can help you save money.

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