(04/02/20) NEW ORLEANS — With many people spending more time in their homes, it’s important to make sure to keep indoor air quality at a high level.
It’s easy to forget the importance of breathing air with minimal contaminants while at home, said LSU AgCenter agent Beth Gambel. Biological contaminants in the home — including dust mites, mold, pet dander and pests — can cause numerous health concerns.
“Let’s look at how each can impact your health and then consider some action steps to avoid these hazards in your indoor environment,” Gambel said.
The first culprit is dust mites. They are too small to be seen, but they are found everywhere in the home. They live on dead skin cells in mattresses, pillows, bedcovers and stuffed toys. They also thrive in damp areas and in high humidity.
“The best way to control dust mites is to remove clutter and clean bedding, floors and window coverings regularly,” Gambel said. “Controlling pests such as roaches and rodents also lessens the dust mite population.”
Dust can be lessened by keeping the humidity level below 50%. This can be done by running the air conditioner in warm weather and a dehumidifier in cooler weather.
Eliminate carpet because hard floors are easier to clean, she said. Use a damp mop instead of dusting; dry mopping just spreads the dust, she said. And use microfiber cloths instead of sponges to clean because sponges can mildew and are hard to clean and dry.
Mold and mildew are best prevented by keeping the air dry. Mold is a fungus that produces spores that float in the air, she said.
Mold needs moisture to grow. It can grow in dirty air conditioners, bathrooms without vents or windows, laundry rooms with an unvented dryer, unventilated attics, closets on the outside wall of the home, clutter and carpeting, and any water damage around windows or roof.
To clean mold, use rubber gloves, goggles and a respirator mask, Gambel said. It is not necessary to use chlorine bleach. Although bleach kills mold, even dead mold can cause allergies. Use warm, soapy water with a scrub brush, clean with clear water and dry thoroughly.If you do use bleach, dilute the bleach with 10 parts of water to 1 part of bleach.
Pet dander is old skin layers that dogs and cats constantly shed. Tiny and lightweight, these particles enter the air like dust.
“Pet dander is sticky, so it attaches to furniture, draperies, bedding and walls,” Gambel said. “These particles can remain airborne for a long period of time, and pets who scratch more frequently stir up even more pet dander. Pet saliva and urine are also potential allergens.”
The best prevention of pet dander is to not have pets inside or allowed on bedding and furniture.
Ways to control pet dander are by washing pet bedding frequently in hot water and drying using a high heat setting on the dryer. Also, use pleated air filters to capture pet fur, and wash pets frequently and brush them outdoors.
Keeping litter boxes and pet beds clean and away from sleeping areas also helps.
Pests, especially cockroaches and rodents, also can trigger allergy symptoms. Their droppings, decomposed body parts and shells are allergy triggers.
Dusty environments make pests more of a problem, Gambel said. If you have pests, use integrated pest management to help control them.
“Spraying toxic pesticides into the air is a hazard to air quality,” Gambel said. “Instead of using pesticides, try to prevent pests from being a problem in the first place.”
She suggests trying these control methods:
— Find out what kind of pests you have and where they are coming from. Each pest has different habits, so it’s important to know your enemy. For rodents and roaches, sticky traps can tell you what and where they are.
— Control what pests look for: food, water and shelter. If you understand with they want, you can take it away. This is the most important step in integrated pest management and prevention.
— Use traps and baits first, then consider using a less-toxic dust such as boric acid.
Gambel’s tips for keeping your home pest free include:
— Identify the pests.
— Clean or vacuum floors of dust, food particles and pest droppings. Clean under refrigerators and other appliances.
— Store food in tightly sealed containers.
— Clean up dishes and food scraps after eating and eliminate standing water and moisture sources inside the home.
— Regularly check under sinks in the kitchen and bathrooms for leaks and moisture.
For additional information, visit the LSU AgCenter website at www.lsuagcenter.com.