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Cleaning Up After Pets and Critters: The Guide to Animal and Insect Allergen-Free Homes

 

Table of Contents

Overview

Signs and Symptoms of Common Pet and Insect Allergies

Path to a Pet and Insect Allergen-Free Home – Mini Checklists for Getting Clean

Moving In: How to Rid Your New Home of Animal and Insect Allergens 

Staying Clean: How to Keep Pet and Insect Allergens Out of Your Home

Overview

Itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, trouble breathing, these and other allergy symptoms are extremely unpleasant, and worse yet, they’re often caused by allergens that can be difficult to avoid. That’s because they’re the product of four-legged and feathered friends--past and present--and other critters that reside in your home.

Anyone who suffers from animal or insect allergies knows how difficult it can be to rid your home of the dander and other animal byproducts that wreak havoc on your health. But if you take certain precautions and become a dedicated cleaner, it is possible.

You don’t have to suffer any longer. This resource guide provides articles, tips, and other advice to help you rid your home of allergens so that you can feel healthy and thrive in your home.

Signs and Symptoms of Common Pet and Insect Allergies

According to LiveScience.com, approximately 10 percent of people are allergic to household pets. Many others are allergic to critters such as cockroaches and dust mites. If you’re experiencing ongoing health problems, they may be the result of an animal or insect allergy. Find out more about the common signs and symptoms.

Check out the causes of animal allergies. The first step to treating your allergies is understanding what causes them. PetEducation.com explains that most pet allergens are found in dander (skin cells), saliva, urine, and sweat. These substances attach to furniture, flooring, walls, etc., and easily irritate people who are allergic.

Take the symptom test. If you suspect you might be allergic to your furry or feathered friend or to certain insects, the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology offers a symptom test. It asks you to answer several “Yes” or “No” questions and then assess your likelihood for having asthma or allergies.

Recognize common nasal symptoms. Pet allergies commonly irritate the nasal passages. Mayo Clinic provides a list of these symptoms, which include frequent sneezing, runny nose, itchy nose, facial pressure, and more. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you may need to visit your physician.

Via Flickr - by sneeze pho

Know about skin symptoms. Nasal inflammation isn’t the only sign of an allergic reaction to an animal. According to the AAAAI, someone who has an animal allergy might also experience skin reactions, such as hives and itchiness.

Learn more about signs of a cockroach allergy. Many of the signs of a cockroach allergy are similar to those connected to dog, cat, and bird allergies. However, as WebMD.com notes, cockroach allergies might also present as ear and sinus infections and even asthma.

Understand the asthma connection. Mayo Clinic explains that dust mites, which are “tiny bugs that commonly live in house dust,” can also aggravate asthma and make it difficult to treat symptoms.

Talk to your doctor about biological pollutants. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission explains that biological pollutants include substances such as dander, insect parts, bacteria, and pollen. The organization provides a list of questions to consider before you talk with your doctor about your concerns regarding biological pollutants. For example, “Do you have pets?” “Does anyone in the family have frequent headaches, fevers, itchy watery eyes, a stuffy nose, dry throat, or a cough?” and “Does your home have cockroaches or rodents?”

Path to a Pet and Insect Allergen-Free Home – Mini Checklists for Getting Clean

Whether you can’t bear to part with your furry, allergy-causing friend or you’re trying to free your home of pests, you’ll need to do a significant amount of cleaning in order to live comfortably. To get you started, AnimalPlanet.com provides an overview of the cleaning supplies you’ll need to reduce dander. Then, use the mini checklists below to address your specific needs.

Pets

Cats

The Basics. LiveScience.com notes that cat allergies are two times as common as dog allergies and one out of seven children between 6 and 19 are allergic to cats. The article also explains that it’s not your cat’s fur that’s making you sick. It’s actually a protein found on your furry friend’s skin. As Healthline.com explains, neutered tom cats give off fewer of these allergens and exposing babies to cats during their first year can actually help reduce their chances of developing a cat allergy.

Scour all nooks and crannies. Cat dander can find its way into very small spaces. That’s why, as SFGate.com notes, it’s important to scour all “cracks and crevices.” The article advises that you use lint rollers to carefully clean furniture and wash curtains, rugs, and slipcovers using very hot water.

Make your bedroom a “cat-free” zone. If you suffer from a cat allergy but plan to continue to live with the cat, Petfinder.com recommends that you make your bedroom off limits to your cat. It also advises that you start the cleaning process there, taking the necessary steps to remove cat dander from your sheets and pillows.

Give your cat regular baths. VetStreet.com advises that weekly baths will help minimize cat dander. Be careful to choose a shampoo that won’t “dry out his skin and hair.” The article also suggests that you use fragrance-free, hypoallergenic baby wipes on your cat’s coat between baths.

Use a special detergent on clothing. Both cat and dog dander will stick to clothing. NatlAllergy.com explains that there are special allergen-reducing detergents that can help you reduce the amount of dander on your clothing.

Minimize contact. To reduce your interaction with irritants, Health.com notes that it’s best you have as little contact as possible with the cat. It also provides other helpful tips:

      Keep the cat off the couch.

      Clean frequently.

      Close air registers.

Dogs

The Basics. The AAFA explains that while not as common as cat allergies, dog allergies can be a little more nuanced. For example, a person with a dog allergy may only be allergic to certain breeds. According to the ASPCA, it’s important to note that allergies result “from the total cumulative allergen load” so if you find that you are allergic to your dog (or another pet) you can manage your symptoms by taking steps to decrease the allergen load in your home.

Clean, clean, clean. Many of the above methods for reducing cat dander will work for dog dander as well. So, be sure to wipe down walls and ceilings and pay special attention to small spaces where dander might have a chance to build up. If you plan to continue living with the animal to which you’re allergic, you’ll need to clean frequently to minimize the severity of allergic reactions.

Use a HEPA filter or dust mask when vacuuming. To keep as much dander as possible out of your home, you’ll need to vacuum frequently. TheNest.com suggests that you use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Doing so will prevent dander from swirling around as you vacuum. If you don’t have a HEPA vacuum, the article advises that you wear a dust mask when you do so.

Via Flickr - by Dan Hughes

Bathe the dog frequently. Baths are also an effective way of managing dog dander. Mayo Clinic explains that bathing your dog weekly will help “minimize the allergens.” However, if you’re allergic, it’s best that you have someone else bathe the dog.

Birds

The Basics. As AnimalPlanet.com notes, in the U.S., 6 million birds are being kept as pets. Unfortunately, these feathered friends can sometimes cause allergy problems for their owners. In addition to dander, you may also be allergic to the dust birds produce to keep their feathers healthy.

Run a HEPA filter. Some birds produce a dust used on their feathers as well as dander. If you’re allergic, PetAssure.com recommends regularly running a HEPA filter so that you can get those irritants out of the air in your home.

Mist your bird. Another way to help keep bird dust and dander under control is to mist your bird. TheNest.com notes that a little warm water on your bird’s feathers can help minimize the amount of dust and dander they shed.

Clean your bird’s preferred spots. If your bird is free to roam around your house, he probably has certain areas he likes to visit. As Animals.Mom.Me notes, you should be sure to clean these areas regularly. Use a damp cloth to wipe down any surfaces he uses and be sure droppings are cleaned up immediately.

Insects

Cockroaches

The Basics. If you don’t have pets but are experiencing allergy symptoms and you also live in an urban area or multifamily dwelling, your issues may be caused by cockroaches. And in fact, 23 to 60 percent of people living in cities who suffer from asthma may be “sensitive to cockroach allergen,” according to AchooAllergy.com. The site goes on to provide an informative FAQ that explains the prevalence of roaches in homes, symptoms to look for, how to avoid the allergen, and more.

Look for signs of an infestation. There are many common signs that you have a significant cockroach problem. For example, as Orkin.com notes, because roaches are nocturnal, seeing one during the day may mean you have high number of roaches in your home. It also explains that roach feces will be visible during an infestation.

Get rid of as many cockroaches as you can. Housewifehowtos.com provides several different methods of DIY roach control. Make your home unappealing for roaches by getting rid of newspapers and other paper products and keeping food out of their reach. The article also offers a DIY recipe for “Roach Killer Balls,” which uses common household products to create a pesticide to kill the roaches.

If you’d like to try other pesticides in your home, PesticideResearch.com provides an overview of pesticides and their potential consequences.

Clean regularly under large kitchen furniture and appliances. Cockroach allergens can cause significant health problems. One way to keep them to a minimum is to make sure cockroaches don’t have a reason to come into your home. One way you can do this, as the American Lung Association points out, is to make sure to clean regularly under your refrigerator and oven, areas where food particles might build up. When there is no food available for them, cockroaches will be less inclined to be in your home.

Place tight lids on food containers and trash cans. There are other ways to minimize cockroaches’ access to food. The ACAAI recommends putting food in lidded containers. It also suggests getting a trash can with a lid. Never leave any food out in the open.

Cover drains. Another great way to keep roaches out of your home is to block their entry points. Roaches like warm, moist areas so they’ll frequently come into a home through its drains. When you cover drains, as AllergyandAir.com notes, you can prevent an infestation.

 

Dust mites

The Basics. Dust mites can’t be seen by the human eye and are nearly impossible to completely eliminate from your home, especially if you live in a humid area. While keeping a clean home can help reduce these allergens, be careful when cleaning because tasks such as vacuuming and dusting can actually stir up the allergens and make allergy symptoms worse.

Recognize the symptoms. Many of the symptoms of a dust mite allergy are similar to those you would experience with an animal allergy. This article provides an overview of symptoms, which might include nasal congestion, watery and itchy eyes, and lung irritation.

Use special covers on mattresses and pillows. Unfortunately, as Medicine.Net explains, you can’t completely eliminate dust mites from your home. But you can take steps to minimize the amount of irritation they cause. One such step is to place “dust-proof or allergen impermeable covers” on your mattress and pillows. Essentially, as noted by the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, these covers are made “with pores too small to let dust mites and their waste products get through.” If you’re on a budget, the Foundation notes that plastic and vinyl covers are inexpensive, impermeable covers.

Create a “healthy room” for your child. If your child suffers from a dust mite allergy, you can help reduce their symptoms by focusing your efforts on their room. For example, this fact sheet from the Mississippi Department of Health suggests that you wash all sheets and stuffed animals in very hot water to kill dust mites. If a toy can’t be washed, place it in the freezer for a full day, then rinse it off in cold water.

Via Flickr - by Gabriel Andrés Trujillo Escobedo

Use synthetic bedding. What your bedding is made of can affect how much dust mite buildup occurs. The CDC recommends using synthetic bedding. So, rather than have feather or down pillows, choose synthetic options and instead of wool blankets use blankets made of nylon or cotton cellulose.

Properly store clothing. Washing clothing in hot water can help reduce the number of dust mites that reside there. As this video explains, smart storage methods can also help you keep dust mites off your clothing. It suggests storing clothing in lidded containers or boxes lined with tissue paper. It also notes that lavender can be a dust mite deterrent and that using a product that absorbs moisture can help reduce the humidity that dust mites love in places like closets and drawers.

Moths

The Basics. Livestrong.com explains that moth allergies are more common than one might think and are caused by exposure to wing scales and body parts of moths. It notes that the best way to prevent allergic reactions is to “limit exposure.” One way to do this is to keep them away from the materials they love, such as your clothing.

Know the signs of moth infestation. There are a few telltale signs of a moth infestation. As this brochure on moths notes, your clothes and carpet may be damaged, piles of dust might be found near wardrobes. The brochure includes photos to show what damage to clothes and carpet will look like.

Moth-proof your closet. It is possible to moth-proof your home. MarthaStewart.com provides several methods for keeping moths out of your closet.

Use moth balls. If you’re having trouble with clothes moths, moth balls are another option for eliminating them from your closet. However, the National Pesticide Information Center stresses the importance of proper use. Otherwise, you risk releasing toxins into the air.

There are also non-toxic, all-natural alternatives to mothballs. This article from Care2.com provides instructions on making sachets of rosemary, mint, and other ingredients that repell moths. You might also use a neem oil spray on wool.

Protect food. Moths aren’t only attracted to your clothing. There are other kinds of moths that love what’s in your pantry. TodaysHomeowner.com provides tips on how to get these pests out of your food. For example, if you find moths or larvae in your pantry, remove all the food from the area and then thoroughly clean the pantry. Use sticky traps to catch some of the moths but avoid using spray pesticides around your food.

Moving In: How to Rid Your New Home of Animal and Insect Allergens 

You’ve found the perfect new home or rental, trouble is you’re concerned that existing animal and insect allergens will make it difficult for you to stay there. Follow the advice below to eradicate as many irritants as possible before you move in.

Ask whether an animal lived in the home previously. The first step is to know what you’re dealing with. If you’ve found a new place to live, in its tips on how to get rid of animal dander, HowStuffWorks.com suggests that you first find out if the previous occupants had animals.

Have the ducts cleaned thoroughly. One of the best ways to manage your allergies to is to make sure you’re breathing clean air. That’s why the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors advises that you have the ducts professionally cleaned before moving into any home where cats, dogs, or birds have lived.

Hire a reliable pest control company to examine your new home. If cockroaches or other pests are a concern, have a pest control company evaluate your home. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln provides tips on how to select a pest control company. For example, it advises that you get the company’s record from the Better Business Bureau and find out if it has liability insurance.

Via Flickr - by Wonderlane

Remove rugs and carpeting. Rugs and carpeting trap dust mites and dander. If possible, WebMD.com suggests that you have all carpeting and rugs removed from the home before you move in. If you can’t remove the carpet throughout the house, consider removing it from just your bedroom.

If you’re renting or otherwise unable to remove the carpeting from the potential new residence, the National Center for Healthy Housing presents a couple of possible options. One, you could ask the landlord to replace old carpet with new, lower pile carpet. Two, if that isn’t possible, be sure to vacuum carpets weekly using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. And the NCHH recommends taking your time doing so. You should spend “one minute per square yard of carpet” when vacuuming.

Wash the walls and ceilings. Animal dander, especially from cats, will stick to and build up on walls and ceilings. Before you move into a new home, whether you’re a renter or a homeowner, give the walls a scrub. According to LoveToKnow.com, using hot, soapy water to clean your walls and ceiling will do the trick.

Paint the walls. Dander will stick to walls. As TheNest.com notes, one way to reduce dander before you move in is to paint your walls. The article says to first clean the walls (as instructed above) to remove as much dander as possible.

Fix any leaky faucets or plumbing. In its “How to Control Pests Safely” the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene advises that you give the plumbing a once over. Many pests like moist areas. If there are any leaky faucets or pipes in your new space, have them fixed before you move in. And of course you can make some basic repairs on your own. DIYAdvice.com provides instructions on how to do so:

      Repair copper pipe.

      Repair plastic pipe.

      Fix leaky pipes.

Seal cracks in walls. Of course, one of the best ways to keep pests out of your house is to make sure they can’t get in. In its infographic, the National Pest Management Association recommends that you seal any cracks to protect your home from a pest invasion.

Some cracks will be easier to spot than others. Many wall cracks can be found by carefully examining each of your walls. You can repair cracked walls yourself by following this how to. Foundation wall cracks can be more difficult to locate. Seepage.com explains how to find foundation cracks by surveying the outside of your home. If the cracks are minor, you may be able to repair them yourself using this guide from Dummies.com.

Staying Clean: How to Keep Pet and Insect Allergens Out of Your Home

In order to minimize the amount of irritants in your home, ongoing maintenance is a must. Below are a few tips that will help you keep your home as close to allergen-free as possible.

Use a tape roller on clothing after visiting someone with a pet. If you visit someone who has a furry or feathered friend, be careful not to track that dander into your own home. Before entering your house, MarthaStewart.com suggests that you use a lint roller to remove as much hair and dander from your clothing as possible.

Via Flickr - by Sean Freese

Leave your shoes at the door. Your shoes can also bring dander into your home. The Daily Tonic recommends taking your shoes off before you come into your home. That way you aren’t walking dander throughout your house.

Provide doormats. Of course, you aren’t the only one entering your home. Chances are you have guests who come over and those guests may have animals of their own. Houzz.com advises that you provide a doormat for them to use before they enter. You may also want to ask them to remove their shoes before entering.

Keep humidity low. Dust mites love humidity. As the University of Nebraska-Lincoln explains, one way you can make your home less habitable for dust mites is to keep humidity levels below 50 percent.

 
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