When my oldest son Paul was in first grade, we moved to a new house.
It was fall, the time of year in Michigan when everyone flocks inside and shuts up the house. I began noticing that when he was sitting in silence, it seemed like he was constantly clearing his throat.
Just a little under the radar sound. Nothing too overt.
But definitely something that made me wonder if his throat was irritated. I asked him all the time, “Is your throat sore buddy? Are you having trouble breathing? Do you need to cough?”
It never seemed to bother him and he wouldn’t complain. But it definitely grated on my ears and worse, made me start worrying about what was going on inside.
About a month after we moved in, my husband woke up one day and just couldn’t stop sneezing. He must have sneezed 200 times! (That’s what first prompted me to look into air purification.)
I immediately started shopping for an air filter, but the combination of those two experiences got me questioning our new indoor air quality.
Sneezing and Throat Clearing: Allergies or Indoor Air Quality?
Paul’s throat clearing lasted at least until spring break the first week of April. I felt like it started to clear up at that point which made me wonder about the school’s indoor air. We didn’t travel for spring break, so he was just at home more and I thought, maybe it’s not our house, maybe it’s the school. I remember trying to ascertain if his throat clearing was less severe on the weekends.
The school he was in was certainly not a new building, and it seems like there’s always some weird smells in schools, doesn’t it?
When summer came, of course, there’s lots of outside time and outdoor air, and I didn’t really notice the throat clearing issue crop up again, so I didn’t pursue it further.
Even so, anytime someone in the Kimball family had an unexplained ailment, my head went to air quality and in particular mold.
Could Mold Impact our Indoor Air Quality and Our Health?
Our windowsills get pretty gross, and you can see visible mold growing where the glass meets the wood.
I even asked Renee from MadeOn Lotion to send me some beeswax that first year with the intention of resealing all the wood around the windows and the entire house. Now eight years later, technically that’s still on my list because I never tackled the project. 🙁
I just sat around worrying.
We even had our house tested for mold just before baby number four, Gabriel, was born.
It was a home test where I had to vacuum in a couple of rooms and collect the dust in containers then send it off by mail for testing. The results were a bit confusing because they showed a slightly elevated level of a couple of kinds of mold, but some quick research seemed to determine that those types of mold weren’t that dangerous.
Here in West Michigan because of the winds coming off Lake Michigan from the west, I understand that, in general, our air quality is pretty poor because of some sort of mold coming off the lake.
While the results showed some problems, they were so ambiguous and confusing. If the results had been all the way over into the red zone, clearly dangerous, I would have paid to have a professional come in and take a look. If the mold species had been clearly dangerous, I would have had a mold specialist come in to take a look.
Yet I did nothing. #momguilt
As it turns out, the EPA says that indoor air quality can be up to 100 times more toxic than outdoor air, which means my worry was not unwarranted. But what was I to do about it?
My kids are generally pretty healthy. We don’t get more colds than other people. Other than a few sniffles and weird throat clearing (which by the way also happened to Kimball kid number two, my daughter Leah, when she was in fourth and fifth grade), we didn’t have any other distressing symptoms.
The pediatrician would look in their noses and say, “Oh boy, I see some inflammation there. Do they seem to have a lot of sneezing or sniffling? Or sore throats very often?” That never seemed like a very big deal. But finally in the fall of 2018 we had two of my boys, Paul, age thirteen, and John, age seven, tested for allergies.
Environmental Allergy Testing Results Incredibly High for Dust
The results coming back were astounding. Not only did both of them have multiple environmental allergies, but when it came to dust, they were literally off the charts.
Dust allergies are measured as an IgE response in the blood on a scale of one to 100 points. If you’re over 100, that’s a class six dust allergy, the worst you can get.
Paul measured at a 93 and John was over 100 so they stopped even counting. John’s total allergenic load was over 600 which is basically the measurement of all of his allergies flaring up at once and adding together. This was huge!
D pteronyssinus and D farinae are two species of dust mites, if you’re wondering.
I had a pretty serious conversation on the phone with our pediatrician, and she talked me through some measures we could take to control the dust in our environment.
Note: that “total number” I talked about is “total IgE level” and our ped said about it: “This is basically an indicator that his immune system is quite activated reacting to allergens. One big mechanism is by mast cells releasing histamine that cause allergy symptoms, such as swollen nasal passageways and increased snot production.” Paul’s total is 428, John’s 645.
My Kids’ Dust Allergy Symptoms
The crazy part is it neither of my boys had very severe symptoms. They weren’t sneezing all the time. Their eyes weren’t itchy. Their noses weren’t constantly plugged enough to make them miserable, and they didn’t have sore throats.
What they did have was nasal inflammation that only the pediatrician could see, and they both breathe through their mouth at night.
It turns out that mouth breathing has a lot of health hazards that weren’t really acceptable to me. I knew we had to do something about this as well. Like anything in the human body, there are so many confounding factors that it was tricky.
Could we manage our environment enough to keep dust away from them? And if so, how could we tell?
Paul, my oldest has random sniffling mostly in the morning. He’ll do a big schnock! through his nose, but he can’t really blow his nose often. However, if you ask him to breathe through his nose, he can’t actually do it. (All all. It’s crazy.)
In fact, as we moved through this process of exploring the allergies, he confessed that he was shocked out of his mind to learn that people can actually get a full breath through their nose! He just thought everyone breathes through their mouth and the nose had this tiny little passageway to let some air in, or maybe out when blowing your nose. He had no idea the nose was made for breathing because he’s always so plugged up. I just couldn’t hear it, so I didn’t know how serious it was.
On the flip side, John is constantly sniffly, especially in the mornings. He’s always sniffling, and I will tell him to go blow his nose and he will and then he’ll sniffle some more. But he was never sneezing like crazy! His nose wasn’t running all over the place and looking disgusting, and it really didn’t impact his or my quality of life!
So again, even if we made a great impact by managing our environment, how would we know? Would they really be able to breathe better enough that we could even tell?
When the results came back, I made two initial decisions when it came to action.
One was that our first line of defense was not going to be Claritin, or any sort of prescription.
I know from all the interviews I do with experts that food allergies often go undiagnosed. So even before the blood test, I made Paul go a month dairy-free to see if that made any difference.
His sister came along with him because of her little throat clearing episodes. And lo and behold, we discovered that she does in fact have a dairy sensitivity. Paul, on the other hand, had a cold the entire month so we couldn’t learn anything from his external symptoms! (Go figure.)
We ended up going with the blood test because we hadn’t learned anything. And those dust allergies were lurking.
That brings me to decision number two: we were going to tackle the dust in our environment with a plan of destruction and go on a dust mite killing spree with all of our might and all our education and intellect behind us.
Your New Cleaning Routines to Kill and Remove Dust Mites
Your first focus needs to be on the bedroom.
And in case you haven’t dusted every nook and cranny weekly, as part of your regular routine, that’s going to change. Honestly, I knew about the hygiene theory of allergies, that perhaps because we live in such a clean society and kill all our germs, our kids are becoming more allergic. So ironically, I took it as a bit of a point of pride that I didn’t keep things too clean.
I felt that that was one area of housekeeping in my life that I could cut myself a little slack on in order to keep my sanity. Sorry Katie, no dice on that one. Going to have to spend seven hours a week cleaning now.
What You Need to Know About Killing Dust Mites
Dust mites aren’t exactly insects because they have eight legs, so they’re more like a cousin to a spider. But if you can think about killing them like you might kill insects, you’ll be on the right track.
- Spray poison (sort of)
- Create an environment unfriendly to dust mites (like we do when we pour out kids’ sand buckets of water to avoid mosquitoes in our backyard)
- Boil them to death
- Get rid of them
What’s most important to understand, however, is that a dust allergy is also an allergy to the dust mites, poop and carcasses, so you can’t just kill! You must also remove or quarantine anything that’s left behind.
4-Step Process to Keep Dust Mites Away to Reduce Allergy Symptoms Immediately
So what did we do about those dust mites?
Here’s our plan of attack organized into four phases of what you need to do, plus a list of what you may need to buy.
Step One: CLEANING
Weekly cleaning becomes a necessary evil! Here’s the shortlist:
- Wash all bedding at 130F
- Surface dusting with a damp cloth
- Weekly carpet and hard floor management
- Vacuuming furniture
- Contain or freeze the stuffed animals
- Stop making your bed
Step Two: AIR QUALITY
This is all about creating an unfriendly environment for the buggies:
- Keep the house below 70 degrees F
- Control the humidity to 55% or below
- Use an air filtration unit
Step Three: ORGANIZATION/DECORATING
Yes really! You want to make the environment easier to clean while keeping as many dusty surfaces expelled from your living spaces as possible.
- Ditch anything plush or that will hold a lot of dust
- Buy containers for your stuff
- No pets in the bedroom
Step Four: PERSONAL HYGIENE
- End-of-day showers
- Nasal rinses
You’ll find similar lists on every helpful site about dust allergies – but what I’m known for around here is making healthy habits DOable and practical. If that list seems obscure and/or overwhelming, you’re not alone!
Consider this your dust-allergy-mom support group — I’ll walk you through the nitty gritty of how to make your home as inhospitable to dust mites (and therefore as safe for your loved ones’ allergies) as possible while keeping your sanity intact. 😉
Step 1: Cleaning Routines After Dust Allergy Diagnosis
Weekly Washing of the Bedding
When I heard that I would have to wash all my kids’ bedding, from the mattress pad to the comforter, once a week with water over 130 Fahrenheit, I was quite dismayed.
I actually had “wash sheets” on my monthly cleaning list, and “wash blankets” on my seasonal cleaning list (meaning that it got done only two to four times a year). I’m pretty sure I only washed comforters either at that time or if somebody threw up or urinated on them. *cringe*
This sounded like a lot of work and a huge weight on my shoulders! Immediately after hanging up with the pediatrician, I rushed to my washing machine fully expecting there to be no “sanitize” cycle because we bought the most basic brand and unit we could so that there weren’t as many buttons to break.
I was right.
Not very many buttons means no sanitize cycle. What was I going to do?
I first set up a system with my friend down the street that at least once a month we could have an evening date, and I could wash all the bedding in her washing machine while we sipped wine and chatted. It sounded less like a chore this way, eh? 😉
Now that I think about it, this plan has an obvious hole in it because in the evening my children are in their beds! #facepalm At the time, it seemed like a pretty decent problem solving solution…
Luckily my husband and I realized that perhaps we could just make our water over 130 degrees Fahrenheit. We turned up our water heater, two clicks from where it was, waited about a half an hour, turned on the kitchen tap, burned our fingers, marveled at the steam rising toward the ceiling, and used our instant read meat thermometer to determine that yes, in fact, that was all it took to get over 130 Fahrenheit.
Note: Safety recommendations say to set water at no higher than 120F to prevent scalding burns at your sink. Dust mites only perish at over 130F, so you have to make your own wise decision. If you leave your water heater at 120F and don’t have a sanitize cycle, you should add a rinse cycle.
We built it into our routine that every Tuesday morning we would wake up, turn up the water heater, set the timer for 30 minutes and begin the long process of washing all the bedding. This takes at least four or five loads for just the two beds in question. Of course, comforters and blankets take up a lot of space and mattress pads, being so thick and heavy, often take two dryer cycles as well. #lotsoflaundry !!!
I’ve now shifted our routine a little bit so that instead of dusting and floors on one day and sheets on another, I do one room at a time. I feel like this is the best way to control the dust.
Best Laundry Practices for a Dust Mite Destruction (Learn from My Mistakes!)
There are some nuances to washing at 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
For example, I learned the hard way that although drying on the highest temperature sounds like a great idea, when it comes to a waterproof mattress pad; it’s not exactly best practice. They kind of start melted together and get holes in them, and then they’re not protecting your children’s noses from the dust mites.
Learn from me and wash your waterproof items on warm and dry on low. Drying is definitely going to take two cycles so be sure to set a timer if you’re someone who tends to ignore the dryer buzzer like I am.
You’ve got to really be disciplined to get everything through in one day. And if you work out of the home, this is going to have to be a weekend project almost certainly. Now that I’ve learned my lesson, I do the pillowcases and mattress pad together so I get the dryer cycle right. I think I will be brave and try to wash them on hot again, but always dry on low.
It can actually get kind of expensive to do all this extra laundry. So I highly recommend using soap nuts as your detergent.
They’re a completely natural product, literally right off the tree, and they do a great job of getting things clean. By the way, clean smells like nothing, it doesn’t smell like flowers or fabric softener. 🙂
If you have a child with environmental allergies (or adult family member for that matter), it’s really important to reduce their overall toxic body burden. More on this later, but suffice it to say that the more natural your laundry soap is, the better off everyone becomes.
What I love about soap nuts is that you put five of these little nuts into a muslin bag, and then you can reuse that same bag for four to five washes. For me, that’s perfect because that’s exactly how many washes I need to to to get through all this bedding. So I just use one batch of nuts and then dump them out at the end of the two day process. It’s much more frugal than other detergents!
Dust All Surfaces With a Wet Cloth
Dry dusting won’t cut it here folks! That’s just stirring up the problem and spreading it around. I recommend using a microfiber cloth to really pick up the dust as best you can.
I’ve taken to spraying with Greenbug, which uses natural cedar oil to kill insects. This is my “kill and remove” plan.
I dust everything from the tops of furniture, to the fan blades, to the shelves, to the tops of any toy boxes that are around, to the window coverings and blinds.
Now for some bad news: this takes a really long time!
In fact, the first time I decided to really tackle the blinds in Paul’s room, I timed myself.
Using a wet cloth and going back and forth back and forth pinching each little piece of blind between my fingers and the cloth took 15 minutes — and that was just a single window! He has two. 🙁
Plus I broke one or two of the pieces along the way! This is not sustainable, so a shade that is not vinyl and not fabric but is completely flat is high on my list to purchase. I know I could take the blinds down and put them in the bathtub…and maybe I’m just lazy, but that sounds like one of the circles of hell for me to do every week! Plus better to have a flat shade that can’t really collect dust all week, because you know the DAY after you dust, it’s really all starting to accumulate again anyway…
After that disheartening experience, I took to the 80/20 route. The blinds could not be my singular focus. I would spray them with Greenbug and quickly wipe them down all one direction or try to keep them open, at least in times of year where the sun is not waking up my children.
For now it’s the best I can do.
Side note: I just told you to buy microfiber cloth but I’m conflicted about that because they’re made of plastic and release micro plastics into the water every time you wash them. I think any old towel, rag or t-shirt cut in half will probably do fine as long as you make sure it’s nice and moist to really pick up all the dust mites and their junk.
Caring for the Floors in a Dust Allergic House
If you are fortunate enough to have hard flooring already in a bedroom or main living areas, use the same strategy. Wipe down with a moist cloth or mop at least once a week. Some sources say white vinegar may kill dust mites, or you could make a solution with some eucalyptus oil or tea tree oil. Please read this post on child safe oils first if you have kids under the age of 10.
If you have carpet, our pediatrician told me not to overdo it. Try to vacuum once or twice a week, but make sure that you have a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
Your family member who is allergic to dust should not do the vacuuming unless they have a mask. They definitely shouldn’t empty the vacuum cleaner if at all possible.
I asked Paul how they felt, and he very emphatically and quickly shared his review of the black mask versus the red one. He says the black is much nicer because the red doesn’t smell very good, makes his face feel hotter, and is somehow harder to breathe through.
Some recommendations say that you can sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the carpet, leave for a few hours and then vacuum it up. This is also possible to do on mattresses and furniture, although I would spot check first because even though DE is dry, it may leave a mark on some upholstery. This one comes with a “duster” tool for applying. Note: While laying down and vacuuming DE, all people should wear a mask. You don’t want to be breathing in this dust!
I have yet to try this, but I love the idea because it’s so natural and safe. You can even ingest it, food-grade only, as part of a parasite cleanse protocol! 😮 Diatomaceous earth is basically like sharp knives for any insect or arachnid walking over it, and it should really help to kill the dust mites so your vacuuming efforts can remove them. Off to the garage to get mine!
Time to Vacuum Your Furniture
In my sloppy housekeeping, vacuuming furniture was something that might get done every few years or so. Suddenly, because we do have upholstered furniture and aren’t ready to go buy a new couch and armchair quite yet, vacuuming every bit of the furniture is on the weekly chore list. Sigh…
My husband (bless his heart!) took that upon himself. I pretty much take care of the bedrooms and he vacuums and dusts our living room. (In case you’re wondering how much time this all may take, I’ve recorded our actual time expenditures below.)
One neat tool I found is a Housmile UV anti-dust mite cleaner that uses heat and UV rays to kill the dust mites. I thought it would be great for furniture in particular, then my weakness kicked in.
I have a strange phobia of new things and reading instructions, which is why, for example, my Instant Pot link stayed in its box for six months to a year before I opened it. This neat little tool is unfortunately still in its box…but now that I’m writing this post, I have at least put it in my way so maybe I have a chance of breaking it out and trying it! Oops…
If you are fortunate enough to already have furniture made of leather or plastic or wood, you can just wipe them down with a wet cloth just like you would dust anything else. If you do have that upholstery, steam cleaning is another recommendation, but for me it was just too much for the to-do list to handle.
Speaking of the to-do list, if it would help you at all to have a structure, here’s how we get the house (bedrooms especially) clean to get rid of what I feel is the maximum level of dust mites:
Our Weekly Routine to Attack Dust Mites in the Kids’ Bedrooms
- Optional: sprinkle diatomaceous earth over the carpet and/or spray eucalyptus or tea tree oil diluted in witch hazel and water and wait three to four hours.
- Dust everything with a spray that kills dust mites from top to bottom. Be sure to get the blinds, fan blades, then all the surfaces. You’re stirring up a lot of dust so it’s good that the dirty bedding is still on the bed.
- If you have any upholstered furniture in the bedroom, DE them and vacuum thoroughly. (You may want to ditch extra furniture in bedrooms!)
- Vacuum or wet mop the floor. You may want to wait an hour between dusting and vacuuming to really let all that dust settle back onto the floor so you have the best chance of getting the most out of there.
- Strip the bed and begin the process of doing laundry. We always wash from the bottom up. In other words, the mattress pad first, then the sheets, then the cozy top covers. That way if we get behind a load and something isn’t finished, at least kids can lay down and sleep and we can grab a blanket from another room to cover them for one night.
- Spray down the bare mattress with Greenbug or the Norwex mattress spray to kill whatever might be hanging around.
- Remake the bed and tuck in the clean children who have hopefully just had their baths.
On yet another day of the week, we tackle the main living area(s) of the house top to bottom as well.
Stuffed Animals and Other Things you Didn’t Even Know Were Hazards
When you look around your child’s bedroom, suddenly you will see all sorts of things (like millions and millions!) that can gather dust and are making your child sick. It’s an awful pit of the stomach sinking feeling.
The worst part for many families is that stuffed animals are perhaps the most hazardous of all because they’re nearly impossible to wash and they often sleep right in the bed with your child breathing in dust mites and poop right off their favorite stuffies.
Best practice is to simply remove them from the bedroom entirely, and better yet, from the whole house. If that’s just not going to happen, which is the decision I made, there is an alternative.
You can freeze the stuffed animals for 24 hours then take them outside and have a dance party (i.e., shake them vigorously to get all the dust mites and excrement off!).
Unfortunately, skin cells will continue to get on the stuffies, dust mites will continue to feed on the skin cells, and you will continue to have to do this practice on a somewhat regular basis. Have an “eat down the freezer week” so you can make space! I’ve also taken to spraying Greenbug on the stuffies as at least a very mild form of attack.
Finally the Good News — Don’t make your bed.
This one is so funny because our mothers all taught us to make our beds and it certainly makes the room look nicer and more put together.
But when it comes to dust mites, it’s actually better to leave the bed unmade.
This allows moisture to evaporate and it can be a little easier to just shake things out before you climb in bed in order to get the dust mites on the floor apparently. Which is why (see above) you are regularly cleaning that floor with a wet cloth!
What’s the deal with dust mites and moisture? Let’s dive into the next section.
Step 2: Managing the Air to Improve Dust Allergy Symptoms
Let’s talk a little about a dust mite’s two best friends (aside from human skin cells): heat and humidity.
Dust mites thrive in moist, warm conditions. So if you can control heat and humidity, you get a leg up.
Keep Your Thermostat Below 70 Degrees and Make Those Dust Mites Downright Uncomfortable
I love this tip for the winter, because of course it’s a budget saver as well. If you set your thermostat below 70F, you are creating an environment that is unstable for dust mites. Haha! Exactly what you want!
We keep ours at 68F anyway and just wear nice thick socks and sweaters. In the summer, this is not so exciting because it costs more to bring the temperature down. But again in the summer your windows can be open and the air circulating will help dissipate the dust mites anyway.
Humidity can be controlled by using a dehumidifier in the bedroom. Again in the summer, we just kind of let things roll with whatever is happening outside because I appreciate fresh air so much.
But in the winter, we bring our dehumidifier up from the basement and put it in Paul’s room where he has carpet. John, our eight year old who also has a dust allergy, actually has hardwood floors in his room because the previous homeowner had a child with serious indoor environmental allergies. (Go figure! This sort of brings me back to worrying about my household air…)
If your dehumidifier has a percentage sensor, you can set it to run below 55%. Ours does, so that’s easy. Here are two examples. If not, you can purchase a hygrometer to measure humidity and keep it below 55%.
If your child is old enough and strong enough, emptying his or her own dehumidifier bucket regularly can build responsibility.
Filter That Dust Right out of the Air
Once you’ve controlled temperature and humidity, you can still do more to clean the air and make it safer for your allergenic family member.
First, make sure that you have extra heavy duty filters in your heating and cooling unit. Everyone buys filters, and I always used to buy the $5 cheapest kind.
Now the ones we have to buy cost almost five times as much, but at least the whole house is being filtered much more effectively.
Look for a HEPA filter with an MERV rating of 11 or 12. You’ll notice that these are generally thicker than what you’re used to, about three or four inches thick. We bought these, and these are also good but most cost efficient.
Some filters will recommend changing every month; you MUST do this if that’s the instructions as the filter could get so clogged that it causes big problems. Even if your filter says it will last 3 months, you still may want to consider changing it every month for best filtration.
You can take air filtration up another level by installing portable air filter units, particularly in the bedrooms and in main living spaces. We have five air filters in our house, one in each bedroom and one in our office on the main floor.
AirDoctor is our preferred brand right now, and I love them because they have extremely powerful HEPA filters and beyond. And rather than having to set a calendar reminder to clean or change the filters, the unit tells me when the filter needs to be changed.
There’s even an extra feature to ionize the air which can add another layer of protection. You should see how the automatic fan speed kicks up when I’m dusting, spraying hairspray or cooking up a storm in the kitchen! It’s both scary and comforting to know that (1) my air quality is getting pretty bad, and (2) at least I’m doing something about it! (The boys like when it’s on high because it will float balloon forever!)
When I first purchased the air filters, I was really curious how I would know if they were working.
At night, I would close the boys’ door, then a few hours later come back and specifically pay very close attention to how the air felt. I would take a deep breath out in the hallway and focus on the smell, taste and feel of the air. Then I would open the door quickly, sneak into the room and take another breath.
I know this is incredibly subjective and a data set of n=1, but I’m telling you I could feel that the air was cleaner, I could smell it. I’m really happy that we have these going at all times in the bedrooms!
Step 3: Reorganizing a Room to Prevent Dust Mites From Being in Control
Obviously adding an air filtration unit in each room will “reorganize” things and redecorate a little bit.
I also propose that many of our habits as Americans with all of our stuff can be very detrimental to those with environmental allergies! The photo above is my little boys’ room before we learned about the dust allergies. No WAY could I control dust in that space!
Tomorrow’s post will share some of the strategies that we used right away to try to reduce the surfaces on which dust could gather, basically a “toy organization for dust allergies” tutorial.
The quick summary?
Pare down what’s in the room and then make everything dustable, flat, without extra grooves to waste your weekly cleaning time.
It was a tub extravaganza!
Step 4: Personal Hygiene that May Relieve Dust Allergy Symptoms
So far we’ve talked about some ways to kill the dust mites, how to remove them through cleaning routines, how to get rid of absorbent materials that can’t be washed, how to think about reorganizing the nooks and crannies of your bedroom.
Now we get to talk about actually getting the dust off of and out of the person.
Before Bed Showers May Help
This is quite laughable in my house because generally, my kids have no idea how many days it’s been since their last shower, but it’s a great idea nonetheless! 🙂
At the end of the day, when you’re covered with literally the dust and grime of the day, why not take a shower at that point? Now you’re clean just before you put on clean (or fairly clean) pajamas and climb into your bed, which of course has no more than six days of accumulation. Of course, a bath would suffice as well.
Rinse Out Your Nostrils to Expel the Dust Mites
It’s quite disgusting to think about all that gets caught in our nose hairs, isn’t it? But that’s what they’re there for their our own little personal air filter. Unfortunately, when you’re allergic to something, the dust and pollen that’s trapped in your nasal passages can be exacerbating your symptoms all night long. It’s a wise habit to use a nasal rinse daily or every other day and it can really alleviate your symptoms overnight.
Even if you can’t get into daily habit, you may particularly want to rinse out the nasal passages, if you have been dusting with or without a mask or have environmental allergies to animal dander or pollen and have been exposed because of some fun romps with pets or outside in the grass.
My kids will tell you that at first, the nasal rinse was absolutely awful, and some of them still have a distaste for it more than others. But after a while, you kind of get used to it, and it can just be part of the routine like, “Go potty, brush your teeth, squirt water through your nose.”
The way these things work is that you squeeze a soft plastic bottle full of a slightly saline solution into one nostril. And it goes up and over out the other nostril. Obviously you’re leaning over a sink. Have a tissue or handkerchief handy. 🙂
What You Need to Buy to Reduce Dust Mites
The first focus is always on the bedroom, because that’s where we humans spend the most time.
Here at Kitchen Stewardship our focus has always been on balancing the budget along with your health and time, so trust me when I say I’ll never recommend that you purchase something unnecessary.
These items are a first line of defense against dust mites and pretty much obligatory if you get a dust allergy diagnosis:
And to be honest? If you’re a human with nostrils who breathes air, you should probably start protecting your beds like this, because dust mites (and other nasties that live and grow in mattresses and pillows) aren’t really good for anyone!!! Links provided below and full waterproof/dust-mite-proof mattress cover and pillowcase review coming soon — they haven’t all lasted the year, and as usual, I bought MANY brands to test out for you!!!
- Get hypo-allergenic pillows with a dust-mite proof cover on them (no more than 10 micrometers space between the weave). See my review of which ones lasted and which ones melted, coming soon!
- Put hypo-allergenic covers on all mattresses in the room (zippered closure that completely encases the mattress is best). Note that not all hypo-allergenic covers are waterproof, but we DID go with waterproof in addition for our little boys who are still in the “mattress wrecking” phase of life as far as bodily fluids go. This one was recommended by our allergist or the Mission: Allergy brand.
- Comforters should have hypoallergenic fill, which usually means polyester but not always.
- Mission: Allergy even makes pillows that can’t be colonized by dust mites because they have a built in impermeable cover.
- You should also encase your box spring, which somehow I missed on our first round of learning so will have to buy now!
What You May Decide to Buy Later (Advanced Defense Against Dust Mites)
If you get really serious about reducing the dust in your home, there are some BIG changes you can make that signify a bigger investment.
If you’re remodeling or buying new furniture anyway, keep these thoughts in mind:
- Install hard flooring in bedrooms and the least amount of carpet over all in the house as you can. Cali Vinyl makes vinyl planking with NO off-gassing chemicals – you don’t want to compromise your indoor air quality in this effort against dust. We happen to be remodeling and are doing most of the house in Cali Vinyl from Green Design Center.
- Non-upholstered furniture is ideal, so keep that in mind if you refurnish a room.
- Buy flat shades instead of blinds and get rid of any upholstered curtains that you can’t wash regularly (or aren’t willing to) — especially in bedrooms for both.
- If you get tired of unzipping the mattress cover every week, you could go with a dust-mite proof mattress like this one from Naturepedic. (From one busy mom to another: I have one kid already on this mattress, and I don’t dread washing his sheets NEARLY as much as zippered-mattress-cover boys!)
How Expensive is it to Manage a Dust Allergy?
I’m a bit flabbergasted by how much all these little changes have added up financially, not counting any furniture or flooring decisions. In the interest of telling the full story, I kept careful track of how much we spent, and I’ll share it here.
Note: Even when I link to a product, the price is simply what I paid for in late 2018/early 2019. You may end up spending more or less on the same products, and I was often able to shop locally but will link you nationally.
- Dust masks for boys: $24.95 (4 of them). Here’s our red one and our black one.
- Nasal rinse and extra packets of saline solution: $40.34
- Pillow covers: $96.53 (for 7 of them). Queen sized 2-pack, king sized 2-pack, and standard size.
- Housmile Anti-dust mites UV vacuum: $59.99
- Tubs to store toys etc: $121.28
- New nightstand (because Paul had open shelving): not yet!
- New Mattresses… not yet! (the little boys will be getting bunk beds in about a year, so we’re waiting, but we’ll get these)
- Queen mattress cover: $38.99 at Meijer
- Hardwood flooring: Coming…many thousands of dollars!
- New blinds? Coming…
- Proper vacuum: Ours was already a HEPA but I would have bought this one or this one if it wasn’t. EDIT: Our allergist recommended this one or this one with a bag (because emptying bagless is so messy) or this one if you reeeeeally want bagless.
- Dehumidifier: We had one in the basement but should probably have 2.
- Air filters: Air Doctor with deal = $329 (3 for $1076.79 with shipping)
- Norwex spray + mitt with neighbor discount: $42.90
- Greenbug spray: $39.99
- Total one-time costs: $1514.76 (and truly so much more will be spent as we tackle the larger, one-time items…)
- 4-5 loads of HOT water laundry per week (electric $0.36/load, gas for dryer 27c/load, detergent Naturoli Soap Nuts (2 lbs $29.95 or 5 loads for 30c), heated water 40c/load): total $1.09/load $226.72/year or $194.02 higher than I used to spend washing sheets once a month and blankets 2-4x/year
- Norwex spray: (not sure I’d continue this though)
- Greenbug spray: I use this for dusting their rooms so probably 2 bottles/year: $80
- More expensive furnace filters: about $23 instead of $5, every 3 months, $72 more/year than normal, or if we change every month, $206 extra
- Energy to run Air Doctor: $40/year average
- I bought 4 years worth of filters – so that will run ours for 1 year and a bit b/c we have 4: $497.90
- Apparently I need to replace pillowcase covers rather regularly because we already shredded 2 of them in less than a year. I tried these this fall: standard size, queen size, another queen sized one.
- Nasal rinse and extra packets of saline solution: $40.34
- More spent per year: $924.26 (before even tackling any regular Homeopathics or allergy shots/drops to actually cure these allergies!)
Time spent per week:
In my book at this phase in my life, time is even more valuable than money. This has been exhausting, and I’m not always great at keeping up — and then the mom-guilt kicks in because I feel like I’m hurting my kids every time I walk past a surface that’s visibly dusty (every hour!) or think about whether I’m a few days overdue on the weekly cleaning.
When I assessed all I would have to do weekly, I guessed that it would be many hours, so I kept track. I was right:
- Washing bedding: 45-60 minutes
- Vacuuming room well: 15 minutes
- Sweeping and wet mopping: 45 minutes
- Vacuuming upholstered furniture (only 2 pieces): 45 minutes+
- Wet dusting entire house: 90 minutes
- Wet Dusting blinds well – 15 minutes per blind, plus I broke 1-2 each time
- Vacuuming common areas 2x/week: 1 hour more than we used to spend
- Emptying dehumidifier bucket: 10 mins.
- TOTAL WEEKLY TIME: approximately 5 1/2 to 6 hours per week!
Initial time spent:
- 45 minutes picking up Paul’s floor
- Paul organizing room…so much time!
- Tub shopping – 2 hours (measuring too)
- Reorganizing toys for the boys…3-4 hours?
- Research on pillowcases and mattress covers: 30 mins.
- Other research including calling about drops: 2-10 hours?
- Going to allergy appointment: 4 hours including travel time 25 minutes one direction, plus another 2 appointments to come for 3-4 more hours.
It’s been an interesting year to say the least, and I’ve had a pretty massive learning curve.
The worst (or best?) part is that when it comes to people buying my kids toys, I find myself saying, “They really can’t keep that in their room – dust allergies.” It’s a wee bit sad for them, but I’m not crying to have less clutter! I also would say that phrase over the summer on vacation about knick knacks and decorative items they wanted to buy for themselves.
Overall we’re getting into a routine, falling out of it, reminding ourselves that it’s important, trying again…and ultimately raising the white flag. (More on that in another post.)
Our Dirty Indoor Air Vs. Our Clean Living
Now I still find myself wondering about mold in our house, but the more pressing concern has become: do BOTH of my other children have environmental allergies, and WHY did they all overfill their histamine buckets at such a young age?!?
When I was first checking my kids’ breathing at night to see if they were mouth breathing a few years ago at the pediatrician’s request, little Gabriel slept peacefully with his lips sealed. Now that he’s nearly five, I have discovered with dismay that when I check on him and big brother John (they share a bed), his mouth is hanging open as well.
At first I was in denial. Maybe it’s not true! Maybe it’s a fluke, just tonight! Maybe he’s getting a cold!!
But at his last well child check-up this fall, the pediatrician identified nasal inflammation and explained to my husband and me about other signs of allergies she was seeing in Gabe.
We won’t be surprised if his allergy tests show a bunch of problems as well, but at least if we nab them early we’ll avoid some of the expensive dental work John’s mouth breathing has caused him! More to come on that…
And Leah is in a phase where being stuck with a needle is a hard no, so we don’t know what environmental allergies she has. Even though she is strictly off dairy, I still see those darker circles under her eyes.
The good news is what Dr. Christine Schafer of Grand Rapids Allergy said about their symptoms. With the boys’ IgE numbers being so exceptionally high, I’ve always been shocked that their symptoms aren’t more severe.
I asked her if it’s possible that our care with other areas of life: clean eating, less sugar, avoiding toxins – could perhaps have reduced their overall “bucket” of disease and made their bodies more likely to be able to handle those allergies.
She looked thoughtful and agreed that yes, she would expect to see more severe symptoms with numbers like that. She said she liked my theory and that she would absolutely believe that it could be a cause and effect relationship.
At least we’re doing something right!
- American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology
- Doctor’s Health Press
- The Allergy Store
- Dust Mite Solutions