More than 40 million Americans suffer from allergy problems, and 25 million have asthma. If your cleaning routine doesn't specifically focus on allergen control and removal, you may be only moving dust around, sending allergens and irritating cleaning chemicals into the air which can affect allergy and asthma symptoms. To maximize your cleaning efforts and reduce allergens, consider these simple tips from the asthma and allergy friendly Certification Program, the healthy home initiative of the nonprofit Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA):
* Use a certified vacuum that has a high efficiency 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.
*Dusting improperly can actually increase airborne dust particles in your home. Use moist cloths or special dry dusters designed to trap and lock dust from hard surfaces. Use vacuum attachments to remove dust from soft and upholstered surfaces.
* 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.
* 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.
* Whether you have a cat or dog, pet dander is present in most U.S. homes. If it is possible, keep pets out of the bedroom. Your cleaning routine should include frequently washing linens in your bedroom, where cat or dog dander can settle.
* Place certified allergen barrier covers on your mattresses and pillows. Wash your bedding at least once a week in 130 degree or higher hot water to kill dust mites and their eggs.
* 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.
* If children live in your home, look for certified plush toys. Dust mites, mold and pet dander can accumulate on plush toys over time. Certified toys can be placed in the freezer for 24 hours, then rinsed in cold water to remove dead mites. Dry completely. Do this monthly.
* 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.
* If your home uses central air conditioning or heat, replace the filter in the machine regularly, typically every 30 to 90 days. Choose an HVAC filter that has been certified to effectively capture fine airborne particles like pollen, dust and dander.
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 and 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.