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Controlling Dust, Dust Mites, and Other Allergens in Your Home

Topic Overview

Dust builds up throughout your home. The dust may contain substances that trigger asthma symptoms, such as wheezing or coughing, or another allergic reaction, such as the rash of atopic dermatitis or stuffy nose of allergic rhinitis. These substances are called allergens. Dust mites are another example of an allergen.

Although there is no strong evidence that reducing dust and dust mites in your home will reduce symptoms of asthma or allergic reactions, the following steps may be helpful.

Air

  • Do not use window or attic fans, which bring air containing pollen, mold spores, and other allergens into your home.
  • Use air conditioning so you do not have to open windows. This will help reduce the amount of pollen and mold spores that enter your home.
  • Use an air cleaner with a special high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. This can help remove some allergens (such as pollen or animal dander) and tobacco smoke from the air in your home.

Furniture, carpets, drapes, and bedding

  • Avoid carpet, upholstered furniture, and heavy drapes that collect dust. Avoid furniture covered with fabrics. Use pillow and mattress covers made from a tight-weave fabric that keeps out dust and mites.
  • Use furniture made of wood, plastic, leather, or vinyl (including vinyl mattress covers) that you can wipe clean. Note: Vinyl mattress covers can be uncomfortable to sleep on.
  • Remove rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting. Talk with your family about this and about how this will affect family life. If you cannot or do not want to remove carpeting throughout the home, consider removing it only in the bedroom.
  • Use smaller rugs (throw rugs, area rugs) that you can wash.
  • Replace drapes and blinds with roll-down shades or washable curtains.
  • Remove "dust collectors" from bedrooms, such as stuffed toys, wall hangings, books, knickknacks, and artificial flowers.
  • Avoid wool blankets and down quilts.

Cleaning

  • Damp-mop hard floors (tile or hardwood, for example) once a day.
  • Dust and vacuum once or twice a week to remove the buildup of allergens. Use a dry cloth to wipe hard surfaces such as countertops, tables, and other furniture.
  • Vacuum the carpets and cloth-covered furniture to get rid of as much dust as you can.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter or a special double-thickness bag, which collects dust-mite particles and pollen. Standard paper bag filters may allow the stirred-up allergens to escape back into the room.
  • Dusting and vacuuming stir up dust, making the air worse until the dust settles. Wear a mask if you do the cleaning yourself. If possible, try to have someone without allergies do the cleaning.
  • Consider wet-vacuum cleaning when possible. This can help remove allergens from carpeting because it actually washes the carpet. Also, consider steam cleaning carpets when possible. In addition to cleaning the carpet, the heat of the steam kills dust mites.

Controlling dust mites

Dust mites are visible only through a microscope. People are allergic to dust mite droppings, not the dust mites themselves. Allergy to dust mites is a year-round problem.

  • Keep the house aired out and dry. Dust mites do well where humidity is greater than 50% but do not do well in dry conditions. Try to keep the moisture level (humidity) below 50%. This may be difficult in some seasons and some climates. Plants and fish tanks add to humidity, so keep these out of the bedroom.
  • Dry vacuuming doesn't pick up dust mites. Consider steam cleaning carpets when possible. In addition to cleaning the carpet, the heat of the steam kills dust mites.
  • You can buy chemicals (ascaricides) that kill dust mites and that you can use on carpeting and furniture. But many experts do not consider them effective enough to be worth the trouble and expense of using them.
  • Wash bedding, including pillowcases and mattress covers, in hot water [130°F (54.4°C)] every 1 to 2 weeks. You can also dry bedding at high temperatures.
  • You can limit your contact with dust mites by using allergen-proof covers on your mattress, box spring, and pillows, and washing them regularly. This works well as part of an overall plan to reduce allergens in your home. It is not enough to use mattress and pillow covers without some of the other methods mentioned above.

Adults spend one-third of their time and children spend half of their time in their bedrooms, so it is important that you take steps to prevent allergens in this room.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
Last Revised June 17, 2013

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