October 30, 2009 7:07 AM   Subscribe

How can I reduce the allergens in my home? Extended explanation inside.

One of my dearest friends is allergic to many things, including dogs and cats. I have a German Shepherd, plus 3 cats. It does get hairy in here, and vacuuming once a week just keeps it clean - by the end of the week it is looking pretty hairy again.

Anyway, whenever my friend comes to visit (often multiple times per week) she has terrible allergy attacks: sneezing fits, runny eyes, the whole nine. I personally have no allergies so it's hard to understand, but I feel very bad for her. It sucks that whenever we hang out here she has to suffer, and I don't want to start serving Claritin to my guests.

So, what can I do to reduce the allergens in my home to make my friend's life better? I already try to do a quick vacuum whenever she's coming over (only minorly helps), but I'm willing to invest in routine changes/habits/appliances for a long term and effective solution to the problem.
posted by sickinthehead to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have a cat. I also have many friends who are allergic to cats. Here's what I've done.

* A "quick vacuum" doesn't do it. I vacuum thoroughly, and make sure I tackle the furniture too -- they make gizmos that get pet hair off your furniture REALLY easily. Swiffer has one, I know; they're easy to find, easy to use, and work miracles. (They use the same principle as lint brushes.)

* I also de-allergize my cat himself -- I've gotten up the hair on the floor, but he's still walking around with hair on HIM, after all. They make a lotion that neutralizes the allergens in pet dander; you can find it in most pet stores. All you do is soak a sponge or something and rub your pet down; they may give you a dirty look while you're doing it, but that's the extent of their trama.

* I also once hit on the idea of then mopping my floor after vacuuming, but putting a squirt of the anti-allergen lotion in the mop water. That also worked great.

* My most-allergic friend also has air filters in his place (he's allergic to, oh, everything) and that works great.

* Finally, I have Claratin on hand just in case. Even though my allergic friends carry it with them usually -- never a bad idea to have it on hand.

Using the vacuum/mop my cat down/mop the floor down attack, I was able to sanitize things to the point that my most-allergic friend was once able to sit in the same room as my cat for about 90 minutes without starting to get stuffy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:19 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

This may not be practical for you, but getting rid of the carpeting helps more than anything else, in my experience. Carpets hold onto allergens even after thorough cleaning. (Even thoroughly cleaned carpets are full of dirt, if you just look at the final rinse water.) When we got rid of the last wall-to-wall carpet in our house, our son quit having allergies, and our cat's chronic sinusitis went away. (Maybe she was allergic to us.) Now we have hypoallergic flooring, all tile or wood. Pergo and vinyl sheet flooring are fine, too. Throw rugs that you can toss in the washer are good.
posted by Ery at 8:48 AM on October 30, 2009

A few notes:

- I do a very thorough vacuuming once a week. I just do the quick vacuum as maintenance right before she comes over. I'm going to do that more thoroughly too now, though.

- I have no carpets at all in the house, save for a bath mat upstairs.

- I have a leather sofa.

Great suggestions so far - hope I get more!
posted by sickinthehead at 8:56 AM on October 30, 2009

Mere vacuuming is not sufficient to rid a house of allergens, especially if they are of the animal variety. The allergens float in the air. To really get rid of allergens you would need to continuously filter all of the air in your house.

The only legitimate (partial) solution to your problem is to have your friend take whatever allergy medicine he/she uses prior to going to your house. Even then, depending upon the severity of the allergies, your friend may have symptoms.

The only complete solution would be to get rid of the cat and filter the air. It doesn't sound like you want to go down this route.

All that said, is it reasonable to expect that you will filter all the air in your house as well as vacuum? I don't think so.

It sounds like you are doing all that you reasonably can to accommodate your friend already.
posted by dfriedman at 9:05 AM on October 30, 2009

I do a very thorough vacuuming once a week. I just do the quick vacuum as maintenance right before she comes over.

Ah, my bad, then. The amount of vacuuming you're doing sounds fine, then -- adding the allergen-neutralizer and maybe my mop trick is all you need to add. At least, that's what kept my uber-allergic friend fine for 90 minutes (I think my cat even came over and sat in his lap at some point).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:10 AM on October 30, 2009

dfriedman, I appreciate your taking the time to respond, but I am looking for more reasonable solutions to filtering all of the air in my house and getting rid of my pets. I don't think the situation is black and white as in I need to either remove every allergen present in my home or just say fuck it. I don't think there's a threshold that translates to someone either having allergies or not: I think it's likely a gradient wherein the more allergen that is present the worse someone suffers. As such, reducing allergens should have some effect.

Unfortunately, my friend does not respond well to allergy medications, so environmental modifications are going to have to be the answer.
posted by sickinthehead at 9:11 AM on October 30, 2009

Empress: I am definitely going to try the allergen-neutralizer! That's a great suggestion. I didn't even know they made such things, so it never occurred to me to investigate (like I said I have no allergies, so what do I know?).
posted by sickinthehead at 9:14 AM on October 30, 2009

Note that if your vacuum doesn't have a HEPA filter, by vacuuming right before your friend comes over you could actually be making things worse; a vacuum without a HEPA filter will just spray allergens into the air along with the exhaust, and if you vacuum right before your friend comes over the allergens don't have time to settle again. When I'm visiting my parents (who own a cat and don't own a HEPA vacuum), my allergies are always worst right after they vacuum.
posted by pluckemin at 9:20 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

They actually make a couple kinds of allergen neutralizers, I think. The brand I've used is called "Allerpet" and I selected it by virtue of the fact that it was the only one they had when I went into my pet store about eight years ago (I'm not allergic either). I only use it in advance of an allergic guest, so that bottle's lasted me quite a while...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:31 AM on October 30, 2009

Unless you have a vacuum with a hepa filter that filters the air coming out vacuuming right before she comes over could actually make all the allergens from the cat become airborne.
posted by majortom1981 at 12:57 PM on October 30, 2009

Use a dry Swiffer on the walls and ceiling. I did when I had a cat, and was amazed by how much fur it picked up.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:15 PM on October 30, 2009

At the risk of being pedantic, all these solutions surrounding vacuuming up animal fur are rather missing the point. Pet allergies are caused by the immune system's overreaction to proteins found in pet's saliva, dander, and urine, which proteins become airborne.

This is why I said above that vacuuming will have only a minor effect, assuming the filter is a HEPA one, whereas filtering the air (which is essentially impractical) will have a much better effect.

See here for more info.
posted by dfriedman at 2:06 PM on October 30, 2009

dfriedman, your article seems to refer more to how someone who is exposed to allergens 24/7 can cope. The OP is seeking to temporarily reduce allergens on an occasional basis, as opposed to permanently reduce allergens for her own self.

The OP is herself not allergic at all, so while you're correct in your assessment in the general, it's advice for the wrong person.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:17 PM on October 30, 2009

I have an ex who's allergic to cats. His worst trigger is the couch at a friend's house because the cats get on it. If your cats get on your couch, maybe you could you give it a light wipe down (not sure how bad that is for the leather) and put a clean blanket to sit on down. He finally gave up and brings his own camp chair when there's a big party. He said that was the biggest help.

You can get an air cleaner that will do one room for maybe $50. The brand we have is Hunter which works fairly well. The filters are around $20 but you can vacuum them off to make them last longer. If you only use it when you're friend is over, It should last quite a while.

Your friend sounds like allergy shots would really help. I know they're expensive and for the first couple months, you're thinking "did I just waste all that money" but once they start kicking in, it's great. She might also look into supplements for allergies. Quercitin is what works best for me. It's a flavornoid found in apples, orange pith, onions... so it doesn't have any bad side effects that I know of. It works better than Claritin for me. My sister and Dr. Weil go for stinging nettle extract and swear by it but it didn't do much for me. I think you just have to try a few different things until you find something that helps.
posted by stray thoughts at 10:20 PM on October 30, 2009

As one who's had allergies and looking at this from your friend's point of view, to be honest, I'd suggest meeting in a more "neutral" place. It would allow your friend to feel good (and perhaps not guilty that you have to do all that work before s/he comes over) and it would easy your pre-visit workload.

I suggest this because you may go to great lengths to rid your home of allergens and it still may not be enough.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 5:13 AM on October 31, 2009

dfriedman: As I stated above, the immune system has a gradient of responses to a perceived antigen. One does not have a fully mounted long-lasting immune response to a single molecule of antigen.

When an antigen - in this case the protein from the animal - enters the body two things are going to happen: any activated T cells floating by it that have the capability of recognizing it are going to and when this happens they will send out a signal that induces an immune response. The other thing that will happen is the gobbling up of the antigen by dendritic cells, which will go on to "present" a piece of the antigen on their membrane which will recruit naive T cells to learn how to recognize said antigen. Both of these fates will result in rapid clonal expansion of the activated T cells which will result in the release of inflammatory cytokines (causing an inflammation response in the nasal passage, for instance), growth factors, and other signaling molecules to encourage immune attack.

So it is logical to assume that if you decrease the amount of allergen/antigen that is entering the body, you decrease the chance of the correct T cell or dendritic cell floating by to recognize it and in the midst of these decreased opportunities you thereby increase the amount of time it will take to mount an immune response (which will happen eventually, but timing and magnitude count for a lot).

Which is to say that this is, indeed, a relevant and practical question for me to ask metafilter and the good advice that I've received from a good handful of responders to this question just so happened to allow my friend to spend 4 hours here last night without a single achoo.
posted by sickinthehead at 6:26 AM on October 31, 2009

Going to my parents house is like this for me. My number one improvement has been to never ever sit on their stuffed furniture but to always sit on a wooden kitchen chair, even if I have to carry it into the living room. Also, I take extra care not to touch furniture and also not to touch my face or eyes. This routine, which is very simple but nonetheless took a long time to figure out, has reduced my symptoms (mainly watery and itchy eyes but occasionally asthma and skin rash) by about 50% I'd say.
posted by Rumple at 9:59 AM on October 31, 2009

As someone who suffers from cat allergies pretty badly (even when taking Claritin, quercitin and nettles daily -- I really hate when a cat owner tells me I just need to go take a claritin, like I had never thought of that), I'd say the thing that makes by far the biggest impact, aside from generally keeping a tidy place without carpeting, is fresh air.

While an air filter is good, even better is completely cycling through a fresh household of air regularly. If it's not too cold outside, then leaving some doors or windows open on each side of the house so there's a steady cross-flow of air can work wonders. There's no time for the cat dander to build up. If it is cold outside, perhaps you can do this for 15 minutes before your guest arrives, then shut things back up. Make sure you have HEPA filter on your central heating system. Vacuum a couple hours ahead, not immediately before they arrive. As others have said, vacuuming can shoot dander right back into the air.

The availability of fresh air, in my experience, can make the difference between having to leave in 30 minutes vs being able to stay 6+ hours.
posted by laughingcow at 1:37 AM on January 10, 2010

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