Home is supposed to be a refuge where you can escape all external irritants, like people who play music on their phones without using earbuds. But if you have a dust allergy, being at home can irritate you, too, resulting in sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, runny or stuffy nose, and general misery.
Not-so-fun fact: If you have a dust allergy, that means you’re actually allergic to dust mites, which are microscopic organisms that feed off of house dust and moisture in the air, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Dust mites are one of the most common indoor allergens, the organization says, so if you struggle with a dust allergy that has made your home your nemesis, you’re not alone.
It seems like the solution is simple—just clean your place—but how you clean really matters, Maeve O’Connor, M.D., founder and medical director of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Relief in Charlotte, North Carolina, tells SELF. And this is especially important if you have asthma and your allergies can trigger an asthma attack.
Instead of phoning it in, try these cleaning tips if you struggle with a dust allergy.
- Sorry, but you should really clean your place at least once a week.
At least, that’s what the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends for people with indoor allergies. If you can do it more often, that’s even better, Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist/immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network, tells SELF. “It’s best to try to clean at least two times per week if possible,” she says. Don’t look at us like that! We know, it’s easier said than done. Just do what you can.
- Dampen your dust rag rather than using one that’s dry as a bone.
Using a dry rag isn’t going to do much. “You’re just moving dust around,” Dr. O’Connor says. That’s why she recommends using a moist cloth to help capture dust and the mites that feed on it. There are plenty of dusting sprays out there that you can use, or you can simply sprinkle some water on a cloth, Dr. O’Connor says.
- Vacuum, too, but use the right kind.
Any vacuuming is better than none at all. But if you really want to take out dust mites, it’s a good idea to get a vacuum with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, the AAAAI says, since it’s good at capturing tiny particles like dust mites. You’ll also want to change your vacuum’s filter regularly, Dr. O’Connor says. Each vacuum is different, so be sure to read the instructions on yours to see how often you should do this.
Carpets can easily house dust mites, so if you have one, you should try to run a vacuum over it weekly if not more often, Dr. Parikh says. If you can help it, it’s best to avoid carpeting altogether, she says. Instead, you can use rugs, which are much easier to wash (more on exactly how to do that in a bit).
- Wear a mask, gloves, and long clothing when you clean.
The ACAAI recommends wearing an N95 filter mask while you dust, sweep, and vacuum. This face mask creates a physical barrier between your mouth, nose, and contaminants in the environment, the Food and Drug Administration says. It’s also excellent at filtering out minute particles.
If you tend to get itchy skin from dust mites, you might want to take things a step further and wear a shirt with long sleeves, pants, and disposable gloves when you clean, Dr. O’Connor says. Make sure to wash those clothes ASAP afterward, since they can contain dust mites, and toss your gloves after, she says.
- Leave the house for a few hours after a deep clean, or at least continue to wear your mask for a bit.
Dust and dust mites tend to get airborne when you clean, and it can take more than two hours for them to settle again, the ACAAI says. Translation: Don’t do a deep clean of your bedroom right before you go to sleep unless you like restless nights.
- Get rid of unnecessary clutter.
While everything in your house collects dust, try to minimize the extra stuff sitting around that’s basically just waiting to be a dust trap. The AAAAI recommends removing things that are sitting out like knickknacks and books, and storing toys, games, and stuffed animals in plastic bins.
- Wash your bedding weekly.
Washing your sheets probably falls pretty low on your to-do list, but it’s super important to do it regularly. “The bedroom is the most important room to keep allergen-free as we all spend most of the night here,” Dr. Parikh says. Dust mites can live, poop, and die in your bedding, leaving behind their gross little carcasses. This trifecta can aggravate your allergies, Dr. O’Connor says.
The AAAAI specifically recommends washing your sheets weekly in hot water (130 degrees and up is best to kill dust mites) and drying them in a hot dryer. This goes for anything else you’re washing to get rid of dust mites, too. It’s best to buy rugs and bedding that can stand up to this kind of cleaning—cold water and air drying aren’t going to cut it. Make sure the clothes you’ll be cleaning in can get washed this way, too.
If you know you won’t be able to wash your comforter and pillows this often, the AAAAI recommends getting allergen-proof covers to help keep dust mites off your bed linens.
- Clean your couch cushions, too.
If you’re allergic to dust mites, it’s important to tackle upholstery, Dr. O’Connor says, as it can also contain live, dead, and actively pooping dust mites.
You have a few options here. If your cushion covers are cloth and removable, it’s a good idea to wash them just like you do your sheets. If not, use the nozzle attachment on your vacuum to go over the cushions and between the cracks.
- Don’t forget to change your AC and heating filters.
Your air conditioning and heating vents regularly filter air throughout your place and capture a bunch of dust and dust mites in the process. If you don’t change them out, they can blow the dust and dust mites right back into the air circulating around your home, Dr. Parikh says.
That’s why the ACAAI recommends changing your filters at least every three months. You can time it with the change in seasons. It’s also a good idea to have your heating and air conditioning units inspected and serviced every six months to make sure they’re doing a good job of filtering your air, the organization says.
You might even be able to upgrade your systems to include what’s known as “high-efficiency media filters,” which can strain out small particles. Talk with an HVAC specialist to see if this is an option.
- Have someone else do this kind of cleaning if you’re really allergic.
“If you are extremely sensitive, you may need someone to help you,” Dr. Parikh says. If your budget allows for it, you might benefit from hiring someone to do a solid cleaning of your place monthly, then having a partner or roommate fill in the gaps between. This isn’t license to have them do all the cleaning, but if they can take on the dustiest spots while you do things like stay on dishwasher duty, that could work.
If you don’t want to put that on your partner or roommate, or you live alone, you’re probably going to need to clean the place yourself.
Doing all of this might sound like a total PIA, but it can make a massive difference in your life if you have a dust allergy. “Unfortunately, it’s impossible to completely get rid of dust mites, no matter how hard you try, but you can absolutely have fewer symptoms,” Dr. O’Connor says.