Here is an excerpt on indoor allergens and triggers from my latest book, Mother Nature’s Baby: The Essential Baby Guide of Natural Cures & Chemical Free Living. It’s baby shower season, and this handy paperback (or ebook) is an affordable and helpful addition to any shower gift!
There are many possible allergens within the home, and eliminating them or controlling them can go a long way to staving off allergy and asthma attacks. Reduce your home’s allergens by vacuuming at least once a week. When you vacuum, make sure babies and children are not in the room. Cover all bedding and crack open doors or windows to help ventilate the area, and don’t allow any babies or children into the room until at least an hour after vacuuming. This allows the dust a chance to settle; because no matter how powerful the vacuum cleaner, no matter how great the filtration system, at least some dust will become airborne while you clean. Dust afterward by using a damp cloth and never use spray cleaners for the removal of dust. (You can check the Cleaning With Baby In Mind section of this book for natural DIY furniture polishes.)
Make a good assessment of what’s in your child’s room. Remove whatever dust catching items you can, or keep them impeccably dust free if you can’t remove them; carpets, ruffled bedding, and curtains all hang onto dust like magnets. Stuffed animals do too, and you can vacuum them off with the hose and an attachment to remove as much dust as possible. Avoid using wool blankets or synthetic pillows, and purchase allergy-free bedding. Wash bedding weekly in hot water (130° Fahrenheit) and don’t air the bedding outdoors if your child has allergies to pollens. You can also use allergy proof nylon or plastic coverings on mattresses and pillows to avoid dust mites; those little guys can cause all kinds of sneezing and wheezing. Keep doors and windows closed between 5 and 10 a.m. if pollens are an issue, too. That’s the time when pollens are heaviest and settling.
New carpets and furniture are usually prone to heavy outgassing. While there are some hard-to-find manufacturers that make formaldehyde free products, the average dresser, for instance, could outgas for several years after manufacture. And carpet can be pretty heavy on the VOCs. These chemicals are linked to numerous acute health conditions like asthma, nausea, even cancer and respiratory disease. This can make creating a baby’s room tricky and redecorating the house an asthma reducing nightmare. I’ve gone through it myself, both in creating a chemical free baby room and in eliminating asthma and allergy triggers for the sake of my own health. If my family does purchase new furniture, we try not to get anything with particleboard since the glue that bonds it together is where most of the formaldehyde is. Solid wood is always best when possible, and if you can finish it yourself with a non-VOC varnish or sealant like paint, all the better. Another great option is gently used furniture. Of course, be extra careful with cribs and make sure they’re sturdy, not more than a few years old, and within regulation. But buying used means it’s already outgassed, and as is my experience, you’ll often end up with a much higher quality for a fraction of the price of new. Spending time on a website like Craigslist is enough to turn one away from ever buying new again!
Not everyone can afford a solid wood crib made by the Amish and finished with beeswax. So if you’re completely stuck with a new piece of furniture containing particleboard, you can try using a product such as Safecoat Safe Seal, which is a synthetic product made to block formaldehyde emissions from particleboard. Zinsser Bull’s Eye Shellac is another alternative. It’s from a natural source (the lac bug’s secretions after eating a certain tree sap), and while there are alcohols added into the shellac, those will outgas rather quickly. Just make sure that if you use it, you apply it in a well-ventilated area and wait at least 10 days before bringing the furniture into the house.
If you’re in love with carpet, finding some that’s VOC free can be about as easy as teaching your baby to play Bach for the upcoming church concert. While the CRI (Carpet and Rug Institute) claims that carpet actually traps allergens and is therefore healthier for you than hardwood, I’d rather not have any allergens trapped on the floor at all. Call me fussy, but I’ve lived with new carpet, old carpet, and hardwood floor and tile. Hands down the easiest floors to keep clean and allergy free have been the hardwood and tile. We installed prefinished hardwood so we didn’t have to have varnish fumes indoors, and we asked the installer to nail it together so no glue was used. (That’s where a lot of the stink comes from with new carpet and hardwoods.) I vacuum the hardwood floors which does a great job of trapping dust and debris; much more thorough than just sweeping, and it’s faster, too.