Spring cleaning season is in full swing, which can only mean one thing -- digging through your cluttered cupboards and drawers, and the dreaded attic that you've been pretending didn't exist for the past 12 months. But shaking out all that old junk can disturb all kinds of spores, not to mention dust, leaving you a snivelling, sneezy wreck.
It's Allergy Awareness Week right now, with health professionals, microbiologists and cleaning firms all out to inform the nation of the causes of allergies, and the best ways to prevent yourself from falling foul to the invisible particles that hide around your home, ready to ruin your day.
Gizmodo caught up with the Brit cleaning kings at Dyson, which has its own team of microbiologists and a microbiology lab to help make its products better equipped to combat the causes of allergies. Growing nasty cultures in order to study the best ways to eliminate them, Dyson has shared some top tips on how to rid your home of the most common allergy triggers.
What are they?
There's nothing worse for allergy sufferers around the home than dust mites (pictured above) and dust particles. The average cubic metre of air in a home houses 500,000 dust particles, half of which is comprised of dead human skin cells. Ew. In fact, humans shed around 40,000 skin cells every minute, enough to fill a bag of crisps by the end of a week. Dust mites feed off this, and get into your clothes, carpets, bedsheets and any other fabrics around the house -- your child's cuddly toy is likely infested with them. Around three MILLION dust mites live in the average bed, pooping 30 times a day. And you're breathing them and their waste in all the time, with dust mites light enough to be kicked up and airborne just by walking around your house. Allergic reactions are caused by the proteins found in dust mite feces. Seriously, seriously gross.
How to get rid of them
Dust mites can't stand extreme temperatures, and while it's not practical to take a flamethrower to your house, you can attempt to freeze some of the places most likely to harbour colonies. Pop kids' cuddly toys, cushions, curtains or bed sheets into a plastic bag and put them into the freezer for a couple of days. Let them thaw out naturally and all the dust mites hiding within them will be killed off.
If your freezer is full of
dead bodies food, you can pop sheets and pillow cases into the washing machine on 60°C wash, too. Though you may look lazy, it's worth leaving a bed unmade every once in a while to air it and reduce its temperature too, which the mites don't like, while it's always worth taking a vacuum cleaner to your mattress as well.
What is it?
Pollen is the main cause of hay fever, and is produced by all kinds of plants, trees and grasses. It's tiny in size and is carried on the wind in order to help the fertilisation and cross-pollination of plants, with some pollen particles known to travel several hundred miles before settling. Plants produce huge quantities of pollen as the weather heats up, a time conducive to the growth of healthy new plants for many species, which is why hay fever is often linked to the spring and summer seasons. Different kinds of pollen from different breeds of plants have varying chemical make-ups, which leads to a number of allergic reactions in humans, often leading to watery eyes, sneezing and respiratory problems.
How to get rid of it
Pollen is a tough one to get rid of, but there are ways to minimise your contact with it. When picking house plants, try to pick those that self-pollinate, like roses. Their pollen doesn't need to travel, and so is less likely to spark allergies. Grasses are one of the leading producers of allergenic pollens, as are fern trees, so keep lawns mowed short and, if possible, avoid areas where fern trees grow, however pretty they may be.
When it comes to chores, avoid drying your washing when the pollen count is high -- your clothes and sheets will be covered in the stuff otherwise. You can find the pollen count on the Met Office website, and use its readings to stock up on anti-allergens appropriately. Also, though airborne out in the wild, pollen in the home tends to settle on the floor and is brushed under surfaces. A sweep and a vacuum regularly during hay fever season will help if your symptoms remain frustrating when indoors.
What are they?
Before you get totally grossed out, remember that not all moulds and fungi are bad. Like some mushrooms with your fried breakfast? Mmmm, tasty fungi. How about a slice of blue cheese with that cracker? Yep, tasty, tasty mould. But there are also plenty of moulds and fungi that you wouldn't want around your home. Like the hay fever response to pollen, moulds can lead to watery eyes, runny noses and respiratory problems -- they're particularly nasty if you suffer from asthma. More commonly found in the warmer, wetter months around the autumn, moulds and fungi reproduce by emitting microscopic spores, which can be harmful when breathed in.
How to deal with them
Moulds and fungi thrive in areas with high humidity, so investing in a dehumidifier that keeps humidity levels below 45 per cent can help stop their spread. Steamy kitchens and bathrooms are the main culprits responsible for encouraging the spread of moulds and fungi, so leaving a window open while cooking or showering can help keep the air light and free of too much moisture (though you may want to balance leaving a window open against the pollen count if you suffer from hay fever too).
Also make an effort to mop up spillages and points of condensation that build up around your home -- crevices and the backs of cabinets in bathrooms and kitchens can harbour mould spores, so a quick vacuum behind them if possible can help reduce the amount of potentially-allergenic particles around the house, where a lack of ventilation suits the needs of the allergy-inducing substances. And don't ignore damp patches in the walls too -- while it's not great structurally for your property anyway, where there is damp there's also a good chance that mouldy colonies are growing too, which will eventually seep into your home.
What are they?
Man's best friend and its feline counterpart often get labelled as being the cause of the majority of pet allergies, but that's only half true. While people point the finger at the hair shed by pets as the root of their tickly noses, it's actually the proteins in cat and dog saliva that cause allergies. As the animals lick and clean themselves, oil glands and sebaceous glands produce proteins that help remove dirt and bugs from the animal's coat. However, these proteins stay on the shed hair, and can cause allergies in humans -- particularly as pets moult their summer coats in the autumn ahead of the arrival of a thicker winter coat.
How to deal with it
Shy of avoiding owning pets altogether, make sure that you don't allow your pets to climb over furniture or beds. Here they'll settle, as well as the protein-covered furs that affect humans. Washing a dog or cat bed at a high temperature of 60°C will wipe out allergens where they collect en masse, while you can now also buy dog and cat grooming tools that vacuum shed hair off of your pets and filter out the allergy triggers carried upon them. As you'd expect, vacuuming up hairs left by your pets can help reduce the unwanted symptoms the allergy produces, too.