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How Can Cleaning the Air Help Allergy-Proof Your Home?

Updated on September 12, 2022 by Joseph D. Nielson

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Woman in a polka-dot shirt sneezes from an allergic reaction with dust.

Perhaps it’s because spring is in the air (and with it, a whole host of pollen and other aerosols), but we here at Fresh Home Guide have taken a renewed interest in allergies lately.  

For many, allergic reactions are a fact of life, an inconvenient part of enjoying the blossoming spring weather outside. But it doesn’t have to be a “fact of life” indoors. Your home should be a refuge from the bothers and irritations of daily life – not a contributing factor!

In that vein, we’re looking more closely at the concept of allergy-proofing your home. While it’s impossible to rid your home of allergens completely, you can take significant steps toward clearing the air of irritants so that you – or any of your home’s allergy-prone inhabitants – breathe a little easier.

In this article, we’ll explore what allergies are, how air purification acts to counter allergens, and, finally, how to allergy-proof your home with air purifiers and other natural interventions. Before we begin, check out our research on the best air purifier for large rooms and the best air purifier and humidifier combos for your home.

What Are Allergies, Exactly?

Before we delve into allergy-proofing strategies, perhaps it’s wise to size up the enemy. What are allergies, exactly?

Put plainly, allergies are a bodily reaction to a typically harmless substance. For instance, everyone reacts poorly to poison – so we don’t classify reactions to poison as an “allergy.” By contrast, reactions to pollen or mold, dander or peanuts, are non-universal phenomena, indicating an abnormal immune response.

Essentially, an allergic reaction occurs when your immune system recognizes these normally harmless substances as foreign invaders. Your immune system kicks into high gear, trying whatever is necessary to expel the invaders – sneezing, tearing up, swelling and coughing. (In some cases, the body overreacts by releasing a flood of chemicals that cause anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal reaction).

There’s no reasoning with the body. There’s no way to convince your immune system otherwise. So, the only option left on the table is to ensure your body doesn’t cross paths with these “perceived enemies” too often. Thus, we have what’s called “allergy-proofing.”

How Does Air Purification Work?

The commonest method of domestic allergy-proofing is air purification. Before we explore how air purification neutralizes allergens, let’s briefly explain the types of air purification.

There are three common types of air purifiers, each cleaning the air differently. They are:

  • HEPA Filter Air Purifiers: High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) purifiers pass air through an ultra-fine folded material that catches large and small ambient particulates. (They catch roughly 99.97% of particulates larger than 0.3 microns). We love our HEPA purifiers here. And as long as you know how to clean HEPA filters, these purifiers will be a powerfully protective presence in your home.
  • UV Purifiers: These purifiers harness the power of light to get the job done! UV purifiers use ultraviolet light to inactivate airborne pathogens like bacteria and viruses, essentially zapping the microorganisms that pass through the purifier.
  • Carbon Filter Air Purifiers: The oldest form of air purifier, these devices feature activated carbon filters that absorb molecules and bind to chemicals. They are particularly adept at capturing chemical irritants like cigarette smoke and industrial pollution.

In our roundup of the best air purifiers, we recommend products in each category. For our money, we typically prefer HEPA-filter purifiers, but we understand that since individual needs vary, you may opt for one of the other options.

Regardless of what type you choose, research where to put an air purifier in the home for maximal allergy-proofing potential.

How Can Purification Help Allergy-Proof Your Home?

Now that you know a) what allergies are, and b) what air purifiers do, we can marry that information to explore how air purification helps allergy-proof your home.

In this section, we will walk through the various ways that air purification mitigates indoor allergic reactions.

Don’t plan on buying an air purifier any time soon? Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. Skip to the next section for alternative air-cleaning methods for residential allergy-proofing.

A happy woman looks out the window and takes a fresh breath of air

It Controls Your Contact with Indoor Airborne Allergens

Let’s begin with the most basic – perhaps most obvious – way that air purifiers help with allergies. They control your contact with indoor airborne allergens.

Airborne allergens come in several forms: pet dander, smoke, mold, dust, pollen, chemicals, etc. (We’ll be touching on some of the specifics in more detail below). Air purifiers essentially form a first-line-of-defence between you and these molecules by filtering them before your body has a chance to react.

Pro tip: Run your air purifier for a minimum of 45 minutes for maximal allergy-controlling effect. You can learn more about how long it takes for an air purifier to work in different scenarios at the link.

It Decreases Dust Mites and Mold Growth

Two of the more common allergens in homes are dust mites and mold.

Dust mites are microscopic, insect-like creatures (a close relative of the tick) that live in our homes and feed on dead skin cells (yes, it’s pretty gross when you think about it). By contrast, mold is a multicellular fungus that colonizes the damp, warm environments in a house. They are both incredibly common. They are both mostly harmless (in limited exposures). But they have both been known to elicit uncomfortable allergic reactions.

If one or more residents in your home experience chronic allergic reactions, there’s a good chance that one of these two nuisances is to blame. Fighting dust mite and mold growth requires a multi-prong effort – including dehumidification, regular vacuuming and fabric cleaning, and occasional whole-home sanitization. But a crucial part of your efforts should be air purification.

Air purifiers – especially HEPA-filter purifiers – are adept at capturing and neutralizing dust mites, as well as removing ambient mold spores from the air.  

It Prevents Pests and Pest-Related Allergies

Sadly, dust mites aren’t the only common household pests. Other pests, like cockroaches, are an all-too-frequent presence in homes, especially residences in dense urban areas.

Air purifiers can’t neutralize cockroaches entirely, but they can make your home a less hospitable environment for these pervasive critters. Air purifiers clean the air of stuff like dead skin and dust, which cockroaches rely on for sustenance. Moreover, air purifiers clean the air of cockroach “by-products” (like cockroach feces and shedding) that can cause allergic reactions.

If you suspect that your home has a cockroach infestation, we highly recommend reaching out to infestation experts as well. Air purification alone will not solve the problem. You need pest control to fully tackle these industrious little pests.

Air Purifiers for Pollen

‘Tis the season for worrying about pollen. All those lovely flowers and spring grasses may look beautiful – but to people who suffer from allergies, they signal runny noses and watery eyes.

Pollen is one of the most common seasonal allergy triggers. Many people’s immune systems don’t recognize this powdery plant substance as harmless – and kick into overdrive trying to expel the foreign intruder.

Pollen triggers are more common outdoors, where pollen floats around freely. But pollen can make its way indoors through HVAC ducts, open windows and screen doors. When spring rolls around, fire up a HEPA-filter air purifier, which studies show can cleanse indoor air of allergy-triggering pollen.

Other Air-Cleaning Tactics

An air purifier is the most effective air-cleaning tactic for allergy triggers. However, if you don’t have an air purifier (or are currently waiting on an air purifier delivery), you can still do some things to get the upper hand.

Here are a couple more ways to clean the air in your home.

An array of air-purifying houseplants on a modern coffee table

Plants

Plants are nature’s air purifiers. They absorb harmful toxins present in the air and release good old-fashioned oxygen. There have been several studies on the relative air-purifying merits of different house plants, but some generally agreed-upon superstars are:

  • Bamboo palms
  • Rubber plants
  • Spider plants
  • Peace lilies
  • And Dracaena

Plants are not as good at removing allergens as commercially sold air purifiers, but they can still have an appreciable impact on environmental triggers. In NASA’s seminal 1989 “Clean Air Study,” researchers recommend having at least one of these plants for every 9.2 square meters of indoor space.

Cross-Ventilation

Cross-ventilation is an air-purifying tactic that humans have used ever since we started living indoors. Essentially, it involves leveraging air currents to ensure a constant flow of directional air inside the home. You achieve this flow by opening two windows at opposite points in a room, allowing cool outdoor air to displace warm indoor air.

A note of caution: cross-ventilation works against common allergens like dust mites and mold, but it may allow other allergens (namely, pollen) into your home. If you (or someone in your home) suffers from pollen allergies, steer clear of the cross-ventilation method.

Humidification

Humidification doesn’t technically clean the air – but it can help with allergies.

Humidification eases your body’s respiratory system, opening your sinuses and respiratory tract, making it easier to breathe. In this way, humidification enables an allergies-sufferer to cope more easily with existing allergens.

We recommend pairing your air purifiers with small room humidifiers. The combination of allergen-busting air purification and respiratory-easing humidification should be enough to keep allergic reactions at bay.

If you or someone you care about suffers from allergies, it’s time to get serious about cleaning the air. To recap, we recommend a HEPA-filter air purifier (or UV or carbon filter air purifier) alongside a humidifier to create an allergy-friendly home environment. Decorate your home with plants and cross-ventilate rooms with multiple operable windows for added air cleaning.

From everyone here at Fresh Home Guide, here’s to a happy, healthy, runny-nose-free spring!

Joseph and Family
About Joseph D. Nielson

Former journalist and editor for various press groups, I now dedicate my time to reviewing products for the home and family life. When I get time to myself, I enjoy rock climbing, taking my dirt bike for a rip, and most importantly providing my family with the best home possible!