Spring cleaning: 8 tips for a healthier home

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Certain cleaning products contain harsh chemicals and strong odors that can contribute to airborne irritants, so choose products carefully by reading the bottle label first.

Allergens lurk inside and outside your home, causing more than 40 million Americans with allergies to cough, sneeze and have itchy eyes all year long, especially in springtime. And, for 25 million Americans with asthma it can be even more problematic. You'd assume cleaning your home would help reduce these allergy triggers, but if you're not cleaning the right way, you could actually be making the problem worse.

If your cleaning routine doesn't specifically focus on allergen removal, you may be only moving dust around, sending allergens and irritating cleaning chemicals into the air. To maximize your cleaning efforts to reduce allergens, consider these simple tips from the asthma & allergy friendly Certification Program, the healthy home initiative of the nonprofit Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA):

1. You may think dusting your home will help reduce allergens, but if you use a feather duster that simply lifts the dust off surfaces and into the air, you will actually increase airborne dust particles. Instead, use moist cloths or special dry dusters designed to trap and lock dust from hard and soft surfaces.

2. Certain cleaning products can also contribute to airborne irritants, especially if they contain harsh chemicals, strong odors or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Choose products that contain none of these irritants, but also beware of "green" labels, as some of these solutions may be made with natural allergenic ingredients, such as lemon, coconut or tea-tree oils.

3. Use a vacuum that has a HEPA filter with tight seams and seals to prevent particles from leaking out while you vacuum. Also, choose a style that requires minimal exposure during canister emptying or bag changes.

4. Rodent dander and cockroach particles are common household asthma triggers. However, some pesticides may do more harm than good for people with asthma and allergies. If you have a pest problem, look for an exterminator with expertise in integrated pest management and experience treating homes of people with asthma.

5. Whether you have a cat or dog, pet dander is present in most U.S. homes. Your cleaning routine should include frequently washing linens in your bedroom, where cat or dog dander can settle. Place mite-proof bedding on your mattresses and pillows. Wash your bedding at least once a week in 130-degree hot water to kill mites and their eggs.

6. Mold, a common allergy trigger, can grow anywhere in your home where moisture is present. Look for cleaning products that help kill and prevent mold from returning. Also, keep household humidity below 50 percent and fix leaky pipes and cracks to reduce standing puddles of moisture where mold can prosper.

7. Gather stuffed toys, where dust mites, mold and pet dander can accumulate, and wash them in hot water and dry completely before using again. Place stuffed toys that can't be washed in the freezer for 24 hours, then rinse in cold water to remove dead mites, and dry completely. Do this monthly.

8. Lots of air passes through window areas, and airborne dust and allergens accumulate on all types of window treatments - which are rarely cleaned. In the family room and throughout the home, replace big, heavy linen drapes with more sensible window treatments such as wood blinds or flat screens that are easy to wipe and keep clean.

Keep in mind that while consumers spend nearly $18 billion annually on asthma and allergy medications, they also spend more than $20 billion on nonmedical consumer products marketed for people with asthma and allergies such as room air cleaners, bedding, vacuums and more, according to AAFA. While demand for such products continues to grow, there is little regulation governing product claims, the Foundation notes. AAFA's asthma & allergy friendly Certification Program helps consumers evaluate and verify the allergen-reducing effectiveness of a variety of products, from cleaning supplies, air cleaning devices and vacuums to toys, bedding, home improvement products, paints, clothes washers and more. You can learn more at www.AAFA.org/certified.

Courtesy of ARA content