Allergy Friendly Homes: What To Buy, Replace, or Store

Learn how to make your home less likely to cause allergic reactions.

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Your home hides many allergens, which are the substances that cause allergic reactions. If you are allergic to pollen, dust mites, or mold, your choice of household objects or decor can worsen your allergies.

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Plush Toys

If you touch your plush animals, they can harbor allergens and cause allergic reactions. Dust mites are the most common indoor allergen—and these microscopic animals survive on a steady diet of human skin cells. "Every time we hug a stuffed animal, we're feeding the dust mites," said Stephen Canfield, MD, an allergist and assistant professor at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.

If you keep this toy, make sure to wash it once a week in hot water (at least 130 degrees).

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Your Pillow and Mattress

We spend about six to nine hours a day sleeping—which means that your bed is a major source of dust mite exposure. Experts recommend keeping your pillow and mattress covered in a special allergy-proof covering—ideally one that's labeled "mite-proof." We like this mattress cover from Mission: Allergy and this pillow protector by Sureguard.

"These casings are made of a tightly woven cloth that doesn't allow dust mites to settle into the fabric," Dr. Canfield said. Like with plush toys, you should wash your sheets in hot water once a week.

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Your Window Fan

Window fans suck in air from outside, pulling in allergens like pollen, ragweed, and even mold. "There are certain molds that mulch up the dead leaves on the ground, especially in the fall, and their spores are released into the air," Dr. Canfield said.

If your allergies tend to flare up during pollen season, for example, try to keep the windows closed and the AC running during those times. "At least you're not ushering in any new allergens," Dr. Canfield said.

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Mold can thrive inside buildings, too—especially in damp places like the soil of potted plants. While many outdoor molds lie dormant during the colder, winter months, the spores from the indoor varieties can trigger symptoms year-round. Unfortunately, the only way to ward off mold spores is to get rid of the moisture.

Still, you can look into plants that do not require moist soil. Also, some plants can remove other air pollutants from your home.

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Shaggy Blankets

Dust mites often live in textile fibers, so large populations can grow in shaggy blankets. Allergy experts recommend that people use "low-pile" material—i.e., fabrics that are made up of short, tightly-woven threads—since they harbor fewer dust mites than longer, shaggier fabrics.

The same rules apply to area rugs and carpeting. In general, solid flooring—like tile or hardwood—is the least hospitable environment for dust mites.

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Couch Cushion Fabric

Dust mites can also live in the thick fabrics on furniture. Unfortunately, unlike bedsheets or blankets, it can be harder to wash couch cushions.

Steer clear of velvety fabrics if possible, and opt for smoother, thinner materials instead. "Leather is probably the least allergenic material," Dr. Canfield said. Plus, "you can vacuum it and be sure that much of the dust will be removed."

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Your Humidifier/Dehumidifier

Consider storing your humidifier during allergy season. Since dust mites absorb fluids from the air around them, they tend thrive in humidity levels that range from about 70% to 80%, Dr. Canfield said. Using a humidifier can help dust mites survive longer.

Unfortunately, however, humidity can be important in helping you stay comfortable and healthy. The American Lung Association recommends keeping humidity levels in your home below 50%. This should render the bugs dormant.

If you live in a dry environment, you can use a humidifier until your home reaches 50% humidity. If you live in a moist environment, try using air conditioning and a dehumidifier to minimize the growth of dust mites.

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Old Papers

Cleaning out clutter is the number one thing that people can do to reduce the dust that mites live in, Dr. Canfield said. He recommends storing knick-knacks and old files in sealable boxes that you can wipe down easily. We like the boxes from the Container Store.

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Flea Market Items

Unfortunately, flea-market items can harbor allergens like dust and mold. Over time, our skin cells can work themselves into furniture, where they can sustain a community of dust mites. Plus, even after the critters die, their dead shells and leftover waste can continue to trigger allergic reactions in some people.

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Your Vacuum Cleaner

Though all vacuums can clean your floors, the dust particles can re-enter the air if you do not have a HEPA filter.

According to Dr. Canfield, since these filters can be expensive, vacuums with HEPA filters might work best for people who notice an uptick in their allergy symptoms while they're vacuuming the house. If you do not notice a change in symptoms, you may not need to invest in one of the vacuums yet—though you can try this extra precaution if you want.

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Many items in your home, ranging from fabrics to plants, can trigger your allergies. If you have allergies to dust mites, spores, or pollen, it can be helpful to reduce how much you are exposed to allergens through these items.

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