What effective actions can I take to minimize cat allergens in my house?
February 29, 2016 7:47 AM   Subscribe

My new partner is deadly allergic to cats, and after rehoming my cat I want to make sure she can be in my home without, you know, dying. What do I need to make sure I do and how effective will it be?

I have upholstered furniture, carpet, and a normal bed + duvet setup. I'm already expecting to be putting a hypoallergenic mattress cover on the bed and replacing the duvet and pillows. The cat has lived there for six months, if that makes a difference.

I'm not (deeply -- I can't afford to replace furniture easily) worried about spending a bit of money, so I'm interested in cleaning services, tools, techniques and anything, really, that can, given nearly a month, make it so the house will be welcoming.
posted by ChrisR to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hoover everything -- floors, corners, underneaths, pillows, couch, book cases etc -- with a filter vacuum. If you have carpets, hoover, shampoo, hoover. Consider a HEP air purifier for the house in general.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:11 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would shampoo the carpets for sure. Generally for allergic people it's the dander that's the problem, which means you maybe don't need to wash your walls floor-to-ceiling (though you could and it wouldn't be a terrible idea) but you want to use a bright light and a vacuum to remove any cobwebs (traps airborne particles) and then a damp mop or sponge or bleach wipe (probably ideal) to clean the area where the cobwebs are, including upper corners of the walls.

Definitely clean baseboards - if you're going to hire a cleaning crew, I'd have them come and do a hard-surface clean, move all your furniture to the middle of the room so they can fully clean the walls. You can probably Rug Doctor yourself as well as anyone will, though you can also get someone like Blackmon Mooring/Stanley Steemer mobile carpet cleaning.

If you can take down and sink-clean any air vent/register covers, that will help some, but if you have central heat/air you're not going to be able to clean the ducts yourself. You could hire a duct cleaning company, though.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:19 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't forget about curtains, when you do your general clean.

Change the filters in your furnace/air-conditioning system. Get the hypoallergenic ones and expect to replace them on or before schedule for the first few months (things should get better over time).

Can you consider ripping out the carpet in just the bedroom? The bedroom is the most important.

Also is your partner allergic to anything besides kitties? If so do what you can to reduce those allergens too (e.g. if it's dust, make sure the new duvet can be washed 1/week at high temp). Overall allergen reduction will help.

Oh and lastly, obviously you should be the one doing any allergen-related cleaning, not your partner; probably this needn't last forever but for a while, dust and etc. in the house will still be catified.
posted by nat at 8:19 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cat allergies vary from person to person in terms of the allergen vector. Is your GF allergic to cat dander, cat saliva, and/or cat fur? Knowing which vector can help guide some of your choices as you start this process of removing allergens from your home, but be prepared: it's not as easy as you think, especially if your cat was a shedder.

The biggest thing you'll need to do is have professional carpet cleaners come and do an allergy compliant carpet cleaning. They may also be able to provide you with referrals for your furniture -- I would probably get new bedding and new towels if your cat ever came into contact with either because I know from experience that it is really, really difficult to get rid of cat fur and dander from both no matter how many times you wash them. Allergy pillowcase covers and mattress covers can also help a lot. You can get those fairly cheap at Bed Bath and Beyond as well as Target.

You'll also need to take some time to wipe down all blinds, fans, baseboards, and dust as much as you can. You'll also need to replace whatever air filters you have in your home and for the first few months having a separate standalone air filter that can be moved from room to room will help reduce contamination if any dander lingers. (I would humbly suggest that the purchase of said air filter should fall on your GF, not on you -- you've already rehomed your cat, she needs to share some of the burden here too.) Wherever litterboxes used to be, use bleach to clean the area thoroughly.

Basically, cat dander and fur relentlessly embed themselves into everything and to make a home with carpet, cloth covered furniture, and... Well... Stuff in it... "Cat free" is actually a lot harder than people think. My best friends went through this process when they got married since the groom is likewise deathly allergic to cats and despite all their efforts they still had problems, so they ended up needing to do a double wash of their carpets and get their mattress cleaned too. Hopefully it's not as complicated for you, but be prepared to have your GF stay in stages to test how affected she might be long term should she become a permanent part of your life.
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:22 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

don't forget your own clothes. I used to own cats until some 8 years ago. I reckon it took about a year until I no longer came across eg a scarf or jacket that had a little cat hair on it (you know these kind of garments you wear only in deep winter and store in the back of the closet where cats like to sleep?).
posted by 15L06 at 8:42 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Six months is not long, so I wouldn't be too worried yet. I'd say get a cleaning service to come in and deep clean, cover the mattress with a hypoallergenic cover, wash or launder all your clothes, replace any air filters in your HVAC system, and clean in and around the vents as much as is feasible. I'd also leave the windows open and encourage as much air flow as possible until your partner arrives, and I strongly suggest following scrittore's staged exposure protocol, if at all possible. Deathly allergic means potential literal death, so don't fuck around - take things very gradually to make sure she is OK.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:05 AM on February 29, 2016

I'm allergic to dust mites, not cats, but an air purifier in the bedroom has worked wonders for me. A friend who is allergic to her cats said it helped her as well.

Here's The Sweet Home's guide to air purifiers. I actually didn't buy their pick but their advice was helpful. She also keeps the cat out of the bedroom using one of those shock mats.
posted by radioamy at 10:40 AM on February 29, 2016

You need to vacuum everything with a HEPA filtered vacuum every day for several weeks at least. For a while -definitely days, possibly weeks- you're going to be making everything worse because you're stirring up more than you're cleaning. Then after a while you'll get ahead and actually be removing more than you're stirring up. Using an air purifier at the same time will also help, but again it will take some time to get on top of things. There is some research to back this up (although it's a while since I read any of it), I'm not just giving random advice.

So, with that in mind, I'd do any professional cleaning thing at least twice with a bunch of regular normal cleaning in between (including the daily vacuuming). Definitely change any soft furnishings you can and take a hard look at your clothes to see what needs to go. Don't just clean it once and think you're good, because sometimes it's better to not clean at all in those circumstances.
posted by shelleycat at 11:44 AM on February 29, 2016

Drugs - flonase and nasacort are now OTC and relatively inexpensive, and for many allergy sufferers are a lot easier to tolerate than antihistamines.

Bathing: I am allergic to cat saliva, and if we give our two cats a bath, I am much less allergic to them for a period of about a week. We've been giving them occasional baths since they were kittens and one seems to like it, the other is mildly annoyed but puts up with it.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 4:55 PM on February 29, 2016

Response by poster: Can anyone recommend a national, or Seattle-local cleaning outfit that might be trustworthy to do the cleaning well? Including furniture work.
posted by ChrisR at 8:22 PM on February 29, 2016

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