Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Breathe easier in a healthy home

Warning: The contents of the following column may cause runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes. Just thinking about the dust mites, mold and toxins likely lurking in your home is enough to cause gasping and wheezing even if you don’t have asthma.

In fact, ever since I talked to healthy space designer Robin Wilson, CEO of Robin Wilson Home, I have been itching in my sleep thinking about all the dust particles and dead skin cells burrowing in my bedding.

I need to start sleeping in hazmat gear.

“They’re invisible, but they’re everywhere,” she says of the allergens in our home.

“Sounds like the opening of a Hitchcock movie,” I say, creeped out.

“Just because a house looks clean, doesn’t mean it is,” she adds.

“Anymore than going to church every Sunday makes a person honest.”

Wilson’s immaculate home conception started in childhood: “I grew up wheezing and sneezing in Austin, Texas, the pollen capital of the world,” said Wilson, also an ambassador for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Fortunately, her parents consulted a specialist who persuaded the family to get rid of all the wall-to-wall shag carpet and replace it with hardwood floors, and to go on a cleaning spree to rid the home of pet dander, pollen and dust.

“Once my environment changed, I started breathing a lot easier,” said Wilson, who applies the advice in her New York home, and makes clean living a priority for the homes she designs for clients.

“You realize,” I tell her, “by saying it’s not enough to have a beautiful space, but we also need a clean space, you are raising the bar for all of us.” I am mildly perturbed by this standard of hygiene.

“Having an ecofriendly home implies that you have a wellness lifestyle, and that you’re aware of hidden dangers from invisible toxins that come from chemicals, mold, dust mites, pets, and the outdoors.”

“Heck, I can barely get the dishes put away and the beds, now I have to worry about what I can’t see, too?

“Once you know, there’s no going back.”

Told you to read with caution. Here are household hazards on Wilson’s hit list, and how to bust their dust so you and your family can breathe easier:

  • Start with a fresh bed. Bedding is a huge allergen trap, says Wilson, who has a new line of hypoallergenic bedding available now online through Bed Bath & Beyond, and in stores this September. Cover your pillow with a pillowcase and a pillow protector for two layers of protection. Wash pillowcases once a week, protectors once a month and your pillow twice a year. When was the last time you replaced that pillow, anyway? Likewise, wash your duvet cover and mattress pad regularly (more often if you have pets, which Wilson says to keep off the bed — as if that’s going to happen). Donate old pillows and comforters to the animal shelter.
  • Clean under the bed, too. “You often see these beautiful bedrooms, with all this attention put into the bedding, but you look under the bed and yikes!” says Wilson. “You just walk in and start wheezing from all the dust.” Noted.
  • Lose the carpet. Replace wall-to-wall carpet with tile or wood floors. They are much easier to clean, and don’t trap dirt and dust like carpet. If you want a soft surface on the floor — as Wilson does since her 9-month-old is crawling — use floor carpet tiles. They have a water-resistant backing and repel moisture. Tiles can be removed and washed in the sink with mild detergent.
  • Replace vinyl shower curtains. They are mold traps. Replace them with nylon ones. They are inexpensive and breathe.
  • Vacuum and dust often. This is especially important if you have pets, or if someone in the house has allergies or asthma. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, which doesn’t recirculate dust. Likewise dust with a product, like a disposable Swiffer, that collects dust and doesn’t just move it around. Don’t ignore drapes, which are significant dust magnets. Shake, clean or vacuum them, too. As for those dusty silk flower arrangements? Wilson has one word: “Ick.”
  • Leave your shoes at the door. “They track in all kinds of dirt pollen and, uhh, dog stuff,” Wilson said.
  • Practice pet control. Bathe pets often, clean their paws and try to keep them out of bedrooms.
  • Close the lid when you flush. This is especially important in a small bathroom, where tiny droplets can mist your toothbrush and face towel, says Wilson. “Oh, sick!” I say. “Seriously?” “Don’t trust me?” she says. “Put a piece of clear plastic wrap over the seat when you flush and see how wet it gets.” I’ll take her word for it.
  • Bust mold. While you’re thinking about it, drop a Clorox toilet tablet in your tank. A little bleach dispenses with each flush and helps keep the bowl mold free and cleaner. Use a bleach cleaning product in showers where mold likes to grow and anywhere it’s damp.
  • Clean with the basics. Fresh air, bleach, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide were all your grandma needed to clean house. Open windows once a week for 15 minutes, and skip costlier chemical cleaners by making your own ecofriendly ones.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through


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