If your child has allergic rhinitis (also called hay fever or nasal allergies), you were probably told to keep your homes free from allergy triggers. I think you will agree with me when I say that this process of making your home allergy-proof can be very hard.
You are not alone! I explain this information to parents on a daily basis in my office and the reaction is always the same: But where do I start
Note: For some recommendations below, I will link to some awesome allergy-fighting products for your convenience. These are Amazon affiliate links and if you go ahead and purchase, they earn this website a tiny commission, at no cost to you (read more).
Why are allergies worse, or only happen in the bedroom?
I chose to focus on the bedroom for this article because it is an area of the house where children spend many hours in a row sleeping (I hope 8+ hours!) and it is often overlooked.
Furthermore, I hear TONS of complaints from frustrated parents saying that their kid’s allergies are worse or only happen at night in their bedrooms. That said, these tips can and should be applied to the entire home for best results!
What is allergic rhinitis?
A quick rundown on allergic rhinitis for those who might be new to the diagnosis. Allergic rhinitis is an allergic condition often manifested as swollen nasal passages, clear nasal discharge, and sneezing.
These nasal allergies can be seasonal or all year long. It is caused by an allergy to one or more allergens. Allergen is the name given to the substances that trigger allergies. Examples of common allergens are:
• pet dander
• pollen from plants
• dust mites
Children are more likely to develop allergies if a parent also has allergies. The likelihood of developing allergies is even greater if both parents have allergies.
1. Minimize pet allergens in ways you probably didn’t know about.
Our furry friends are commonly a cause of allergies in children. Many people quickly think of fur as the only culprit and even sometimes buy “hypoallergenic dog” for exorbitant amounts of money. I hope you have not fallen a victim of this scam. There are no hypoallergenic dogs.
Are there any hypoallergenic pets?
Truth is, fur is not the only animal allergen. Pet dander and pet saliva are also very common allergens.
Cats tend to be more allergenic than dogs, but both can cause allergies. Among dogs, some can be more allergenic than others, but there is a wide variation of allergenicity within dogs of the same breed.
Unfortunately, studies comparing how allergenic some dog breeds are as compared to other dog breeds did not support the “hypoallergenic dog” claim. Pets that are not generally associated with allergies are amphibians (like frogs), fish and reptiles (like lizards).
Rehoming a pet due to allergies
That said, even children with really bad allergies may not be allergic to dogs and cats! Don’t automatically get rid of a pet if your child has not been allergy-tested for dog and cat allergies.
Rehoming a pet can be terribly difficult, and I have personally never been in a position where I have to recommend this as the only option to a family. Families that make the decision to rehome a dog or a cat must know that, after removing a pet from the family home, the associated allergens will linger to some extent for about four to six additional months.
Keeping a pet despite allergies
For a family that decides to keep the pet, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the exposure to pet-related allergens. First, try to keep dogs and cats off of the bed and upholstered furniture. Preferably, pets should not sleep in the same bedroom as the allergic child.
Bathing a pet frequently also helps with allergies by reducing dander, and by removing the pollen and mold that pets may bring from the outside. You should vacuum the bedroom at least weekly to remove any dander that does make its way to the bedroom.
2. Replace carpet flooring if possible.
The floor is one very large surface that can trap allergens, especially if it has carpeting. Carpeting traps a lot of allergens. Remove all carpeting from a child’s bedroom and if possible, remove rugs as well. If you must keep rugs, try very low-pile rugs and clean it weekly.
Hardwood, tile, and vinyl are safer flooring alternatives. If replacing the bedroom carpet is not feasible, consider vacuum cleaning it at least once a week. Also, consider having a no-shoes policy in the house or in the bedroom. Shoes can trap outdoor allergens and bring them into the home with you.
3. Accept that your home has dust mites. Understand how they live and kill them.
Dust mites are the main reason why house dust causes allergies. These tiny creatures can live in very large numbers, even in homes that have been thoroughly cleaned. For some parents, this is very hard to believe, and they swear that it is impossible for mites to survive their neatness.
People who are allergic to dust mites (a very common allergy) react not only to the mite but also to their dead carcasses and most importantly, to their droppings (mite poop)!
Where does the does mite live?
Dust mites are too small to be seen with the naked eye, but they can be seen under a microscope. They feed off of our dead skin cells, so they live anywhere that humans live. They thrive in a moist environment (65% humidity and above) and in warm areas (65 degrees Fahrenheit or higher).
These little bugs love to live in bedding, pillows, clothing, carpet, and soft toys. The fabric surface of these items makes it perfect for them to cling to. Also, these have plenty of warmth, humidity, and human dead skin cells for them to eat.
That is why regular cleaning and being very neat alone is not enough to help a dust mite problem. Without warmth and moisture, dust mites shrivel up and die. Their dead carcasses eventually join dust and can add pounds to the weight of mattresses over the years!
The extra steps that will get rid of dust mites
Additional, mite-containing methods have to be employed to decrease dust mite problem. If we use what we know about mites it can help us reduce the dust mite numbers. Keep bedding, sleeping pillows, and decorative pillows to a minimum.
Encase the mattress, box spring, and pillows (including decorative one) in a zippered dust-mite-proof cover. What makes a cover dust mite-proof is the pores in the weaving are too small to let mites and their poop through, and they are safe to wash at the very high temperatures needed to kill dust mites.
Proof that allergy-proof mattress covers don’t have to be crinkly!
Many parents fear that they will have to switch to crinkly plastic mattress covers but I assure you that is not the case! Look at this Plush Deluxe cover made of 100% cotton terry. It has a 10-year warranty, and it is super soft, plush and will cover the mattress on all 6 sides encased in a zipper. Do not get a cover that doesn’t cover the bottom of the mattress!
Remove the things that dust mites need to live
Wash all bedding, comforters, and blankets at least weekly in hot water (at least the very least 130 degrees Fahrenheit). Also, a dehumidifier will be useful to keep the bedroom humidity under 50%, in which mites soon dry up and die.
4. Make these adjustments to your cleaning routine for the best results.
Most families have already developed great cleaning routines, but when you have a child with allergies, the routine may need to be tweaked. Clean everything at least once a week. This will be especially important in your child’s bedroom.
Stop dusting today
Use a damp cloth to clean surfaces such as windowsills, picture frames, and the top of doors. Damp cloths will trap allergens instead of stirring them into the air. For that reason, dusting is not a good idea.
Keep you’re the outside of your home entrances clean. Don’t just sweep dirt and dust to right outside your door. This will be blown inside again as soon as someone opens the door, or, it will be tracked in by the shoes of the next few people that walk in. The same goes for natural dirt that accumulates outside of your home’s entrances.
Avoid irritant smells
Only use cleaning products that are fragrance-free to avoid adding indoor airborne irritants. Many fragranced cleaning products will not only smell close to the time you used them, but the smell will also linger for hours. Avoid mothballs because these can also be an indoor irritant.
How make floor an allergy-free zone
Use a damp mop for wood, tile or vinyl floors. Use a vacuum cleaner with a small-particle or high-efficiency air (HEPA) filter to clean any carpets or rugs that you may have. If you have small-machine washable rugs, consider machine-washing them instead.
Why you need a HEPA filter vacuum
The particles that cause allergies are so small that many of them bypass regular vacuum cleaner filters and are blown into the air by the vacuum exhaust. These particles will then be there floating around in the air for your family to breath right in for up to 6 hours! If you don’t have a HEPA filter vacuum yet, consider vacuuming when your child is not home, such as when they are at school, until the allergen particles settle again.
If you decide to invest in a good HEPA vacuum, consider the Dyson V8 Absolute. This line of Dyson cordless lightweight vacuums blows me away every time, but only their V8 models have the whole machine HEPA filtration system that traps the smallest particles. You can get the vacuum alone or in a neat bundle that includes as well: mattress tool, fluffy soft roller cleaner head, direct drive cleaner head, electric wand set, mini motorized tool, docking station, combination accessory tool, and crevice tool.
5. Give your window treatments a makeover.
During high-pollen season, keep the bedroom windows closed and use air conditioning. Don’t use fans because these stir up dust.
Window treatments can collect a lot of dust and allergens. If you can live without any type of window treatment that would be great – I must admit, I am trying this right now. But the reality is that this will be almost impossible for a lot of people, especially if you need them for climate control and privacy.
Consider replacing any window blinds and long drapes with simple washable curtains. Curtains made of natural fibers like cotton, linen or silk. This is because many synthetic fabrics can contain chemicals that may be irritating to the nose of allergy-sufferers.
If you have horizontal blinds, you can also consider roller-type shades. Any window treatment you choose will collect dust and other allergens, so you must clean it at least weekly!
6. Remove clutter – or put it somewhere else.
You don’t have to go full minimalist on your kid’s bedroom, but the less stuff there is around to collect dust, the less dust there will be for him to breathe in at night! Knickknacks, ornaments, books can trap a lot of dust. Inevitably, a child’s bedroom will have toys, books, and stuffed animals.
A good alternative is to have a toy box with a lid where they can store all their toys in an environment that is protected from dust settling on them over time. In general, think about reducing all possible horizontal surfaces where dust and debris can accumulate. For example, having a lot of picture frames in your kid’s room will increase the amount of dust collected on top of the frames. These are rarely moved and if you have them hanging tall, they are very tedious to clean.
If you can still commit to cleaning those once a week as well, that’s great! For those who are not so sure about it, consider having fewer or no picture frames, and maybe adding a colorful mural painted on the wall, or wall decals for decoration instead.
7. Exterminate these pests that are a common cause of allergies.
If your child has allergies to home pests, you will need to eliminate them. Cockroaches and mice and common allergenic pests. Go to work fast to end the infestation, you can start today with traps from the hardware store. You will also need to seal any entry points and cleaning up all food remains daily to eliminate the pests.
If this is not effective, you will need to hire a professional exterminator. After getting rid of the pest, make sure to vacuum really well with a HEPA filter vacuum (like explained above) to get rid of any remaining particles associated with the pests.
A common-sense tip: to get rid of pests in the kid’s bedroom you will need to get rid of pests in the entire home or risk re-infestation within hours…
8. Do not use home fragrance products.
Many children with allergic rhinitis are sensitive to fragrances. As an example, a lot of allergy-suffers cannot even be around scented candles. For safety reasons, you should not have any candles at all in your kid’s bedroom. For other areas of the home, you may use unscented candles or even safer: flameless candles.
There are plenty of other products meant to give rooms a neat smell. That includes room spray, pillow spray, wax melts, and plug-in aroma diffusers. For a child with allergies, it is safer to avoid these altogether. Clean homes will smell clean without the need of these fragrances. If something smells bad, it needs to be cleaned, not odor-masked!
An additional note along the line of irritating smells: do not allow anyone to smoke near your home or in your car.
9. Change the way you do laundry.
Keep kids clothes off the floor. This prevents clothes from being covered in any dust or debris from the floor, that your kid will later wear and breathe in all day.
Since your kid’s clean laundry will either go on their bodies or kept in their bedroom (closet, drawers), consider using fragrance-free laundry detergent. This also goes for their linens. The fragrances in laundry detergents can trigger allergy symptoms in children who are sensitive to it. Look for the words “fragrance-free”, not just “unscented” (unscented products can have odor-masking fragrances).
Unfortunately, air drying laundry can also be a problem because clothes left outside will pick up pollen and mold. Use a clothes dryer instead. If you have an indoor drying rack, that can be an alternative.
10. Use furnishings that can be easily cleaned by wiping them down.
Upholstered furniture can be really hard to clean, and it traps a lot of allergens. It is best to you can avoid these in your home but even more importantly, in your kid’s bedroom. Prefer furniture that can easily be wiped clean like wood, leather, etc. Also, try to avoid using down pillows or comforters.
11. Give stuffed toys a new bed, or a new bedroom.
Many parents panic when I say that the stuffed toys are probably a culprit of their child’s allergy. Many kids have a favorite plushy that they can’t sleep without. Ideally, stuffed toys should be kept completely off the kid’s bed.
Preferably, they should “sleep” on their own bed, which is the stuffed toy box with a lid. In my experience, many kids get excited about their stuffed toys getting their own “bedroom” or “bed” close to them. You can also try to replace the sleeping toy with one that is not made of fabrics (like a plastic toy).
If this task is still (nearly) impossible, washing stuffed toys with very hot water every other day should help. If the toy cannot be washed, put it in a plastic bag and freeze it for at least 5 hours (you can leave it in the freezer for longer if you want). Then, remove the toy from the bag and if it’s dryer safe, put it through a dryer cycle. Do the freezing method at least once a week. It won’t completely remove the mites, but it will help.
12. Get rid of
mold using these proven techniques.
Outdoor and indoor mold is a significant cause of allergic rhinitis as well. Mold thrives in humid areas. To reduce indoor mold, remember that it will need a moist environment to survive, and try to keep the room as dry as possible.
Mold will quickly grow in wet clothes left on the washing machine, and even on other forgotten very wet or sweaty clothes in a pile in the bedroom. If your child’s bedroom has a bathroom, clean the shower curtain and the bathroom tiles with mold-killing products. Use an exhaust fan in the bathroom to vent out the humid bathroom air.
Any leaky faucets or ceilings must be fixed. Also, any flooring (wood, carpet, etc) with water damage must be thoroughly fixed to avoid recurrent mold growth in it. Another place where mold can grow is in plant soil, so try not to have plants in a child’s bedroom.
A word on humidifiers
Avoid humidifiers and vaporizers, and in fact, use a dehumidifier if possible. Dehumidifying very humid areas of the home like the basement will keep the entire home mold level very low and therefore will be easier to keep the child’s bedroom mold free. If you use a dehumidifier, make sure to clean it well every week.
13. Consider getting a dehumidifier to solve two problems at once.
If you have read this far, you are probably already understanding why it makes sense to dehumidify your home, or at least, your child’s bedroom to reduce allergies. At the very least, you should not be adding a humidifier.
To recap, two of the biggest indoor allergens are dust mites and mold. These both thrive in humid environments. Humid environments can come naturally (eg. You live in a humid area) or, you may have humidity that is trapped artificially by household problems (eg. Ceiling leaks) or even in normal household circumstances (taking a warm bath).
Use one tool, tackle two problems
One of the main measures to remove both mold and dust mites is to decrease your home/room humidity to under 50%. And while doing this step alone will not save you from the other preventive steps, it reduces mold and dust mite burden significantly.
A really high-quality dehumidifier like this Frigidaire dehumidifier that allows you to set exactly the percentage of humidity you want to keep away mold, mildew and dust mites. They also have miniature ones, but I recommend investing in a medium capacity one if you can because it will cover more room area in case you need to use it in a bigger room like the living room.
14. Reduce pollen exposure from these common and so not obvious sources.
Pollen from plants is a significant allergen in allergic rhinitis both outdoors and indoors. Even though most pollen is outdoors, it makes its way inside the home. A great way to keep pollen outside is by keeping your doors and windows closed.
At the very least, keep your child’s bedroom door and windows closed to keep the pollen out. Pollen that comes in not only floats around in the air to be breathed in but also deposits on surfaces of the bedroom where it can be later stirred up and breathed in. This will be especially useful when the pollen level is high. Local weather reporting services usually emit notices to alert people with allergies to take extra preventive measures.
Leave pollen outside the bedroom
Other ways to avoid pollen indoors is to change clothes as soon as you get home. Leaving the shoes outside also helps. In these pollen-reducing efforts, it is important to include the entire family. Even if the only person with an allergy is a child, they will often be approached by other family members who come into the home covered in pollen. Or they will sit on the same sofa as the pollen-covered person sat minutes earlier. So, it is better to involve the whole family in your efforts.
Showering as soon as you or your child get home (including washing hair) can also help, but some people still prefer to do it at the end of the day. Definitely, don’t let your kid go to bed without at least a shower and hair wash after he has been outside in high pollen season.
Indoor plants and child allergies
Indoor plants can also be a source of pollen that causes allergies. Some plants that are allergy friendly are geraniums and hydrangeas. Even so, the safest alternative is to avoid using natural flowers for decoration in homes of children who have major allergies to pollen.
Some families opt for quality silk flowers that look like real blooms to decorate the bedrooms and other parts of the home. I personally don’t like the look of these flowers, in my experience, they also collect a lot of dust unless you are washing them at least once a week.
15. Add a HEPA air filtration device as a final touch to reduce airborne allergens.
An air purifier is a great way to boost your home air quality. It will NOT substitute great care in the other areas that I mentioned above but will help wonders with the effort required to decrease a lot of airborne allergens.
HEPA filter air purifiers will clean the air better because they will be able to trap smaller particles than traditional air cleaners. For those who want home-wide air purification, a central air purification unit can be installed in a home’s central air ventilation system.
There are simpler and more affordable alternatives to locally purify the air in one room. For example, a portable HEPA air cleaner like the Winix HEPA air purifier can easily clean the air in any room up to 360 square feet. It can be left on at night in your child’s bedroom and it will auto shut-off if the water reservoir is full. Make sure that when you are using one of these units, the bedroom door is closed, and the windows are shut.
I want to remind you that no matter where you are in the allergy journey, this will be a step by step process. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to go through all 15 steps in one day. I encourage you to bookmark this post so that you can come back to it, and let it guide you along the way.
Also, take a second to share this article with any friends or family who might be going through similar struggles.