Reduce irritants in your home

Jun 11, 2011 at 10:25 a.m. ET

Irritants are particles in the air that can trigger asthma and allergy symptoms. Some of the most common irritants in the home include tobacco smoke, fireplace smoke, wood dust and asbestos. VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are also extremely common, and often harmful, irritants found throughout the home. VOCs include a variety of chemicals that you may not expect to find in your personal space. To limit your exposure to allergy and asthma triggers and get relief from allergy symptoms, start at the source and reduce irritants in your home, room by room.

Woman painting with low voc paint

1Keep the living room clean.

The living room is a place for play and relaxation. Allergens and irritants, however, shouldn't be on the guest list for Friday night game night with the family. To reduce the amount of irritants in the living room, replace heavy drapes and curtains that tend to trap dirt and are often treated with chemicals that include VOCs with blinds that are easy to wipe down and keep clean. Keep your couch covered in washable slip covers, and wash in 130-degree hot water weekly, using a detergent free of chemicals such as benzene. If you have a fireplace, have a certified chimney sweep check your chimney annually.

2Update the kitchen.

Not only will it help improve the value of your home, but updating the kitchen will provide immediate relief by improving your air quality. Many cabinets and furniture are made from particleboard and pressed wood. Though common in homes, this type of material often releases high levels of VOCs, such as formaldehyde. Reduce kitchen irritants by replacing the cabinets with a low-VOC option. Also, make sure that your stove and other large appliances are properly vented.

3Brighten up the bathroom.

Update the color in the bathroom and clean up the air by using a certified asthma- and allergy-friendly paint. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation now certifies that certain paints such as Valspar+ will dry to an antimicrobial mold- and mildew-resistant finish. These paints are also VOC free, which makes them a good choice for the whole home.

4Look for better bedding.

The mattress, pillows and bed linens in your bedroom may be potent sources of irritants in your home. To reduce your exposure, wash sheets weekly in hot water. Use special mite-proof pillow and mattress covers. Replace your mattress every 10 years, and look for a mattress with a low VOC content. Also, remove scented candles from your space; these emit carbon monoxide and other chemical particles. If you do burn a scented candle, keep a window open to limit your exposure to the irritants in the fumes.

5Make Smart choices for the whole house.

To reduce your exposure to irritants throughout the home and keep your air clean, make sure you have a good central heating, venting and air conditioning system with a replaceable or washable filter. Use natural cleaners that are chemical free. Make sure all of the windows in your home are sealed tightly and are not allowing moisture to enter the home. Choose hard-surface flooring and materials that are not treated with high-VOC finishes.

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