UNMC LiveGreen: Be afraid, be very afraid - of your house

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I've heard stories about good housekeepers, whose homes were always immaculate and ready for company. I heard about moving the stove and refrigerator to clean behind and underneath them, about taking the rugs outside to beat the dust out of them, about washing the feathers and re-stuffing the featherbeds and pillows. I know no one who actually did these things -- but there's a reason for the stories.

Dust mites, dander and mold -- these all live in our houses, along with bacteria and viruses, and can make us sick. We, the occupants, are most often the source of infectious diseases. The more stagnant the air is inside our homes, the more likely it is that these viruses and bacteria will spread.

The thousands upon thousands of dust mites that can live in bedding, mattresses and upholstered furniture generate some of the most common substances that can trigger allergic reactions and asthma. There are no indoor spaces without mold spores. Problems arise when materials remain wet long enough for mold to grow.

Pet dander is composed of tiny flecks of skin shed by cats, dogs, rodents and birds -- in short, by everything that has fur or feathers. Pet dander is very light and small, and remains suspended in the air for a long time. It sticks to furniture, fabrics and items carried into and out of the home. It is easily spread and can be found in homes and buildings without pets.

Above are the reasons for those tales of heroic housekeepers. The American Lung Association offers the following recommendations for keeping our homes healthy:

  • Having adequate ventilation to combat viruses, bacteria and mold.
  • Keeping humidity levels in our homes under 50 percent creates a less hospitable environment for mold and dust mites.
  • Using exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Taking care of leaks and spills quickly.
  • Keeping refrigerator drip pans clean.
  • Using a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter, or a central whole-house vacuum system.
  • Damp mopping hard floors and dusting with a damp cloth.
  • Using rugs that can be taken outside and cleaned instead of carpeting, which collects and holds onto dust (containing dust mites and pet dander).
  • Removing shoes when entering the house.

With hazards like these, plus radon and carbon monoxide, are you almost afraid to go home? I am!


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