Spring Cleaning: Refresh Your Home and Your Health

Put a spring in your step with these seasonal tips.

Put a spring in your step with these seasonal tips
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T.G.I.S., friends. Peel away the curtains, the layers of clothes, maybe even a few pounds, and let yourself bloom! But wait, all that dusting off sure does show a lot of ... Ah-choo!

If you're going to enjoy this season, you better prepare for it, especially if you have allergies. You can't control the pollen count outside, but there's plenty you can do to clear your home from allergens and other toxins.

[See Top Recommended Health Products: Cough, Cold and Allergy.]

"Many of us forget that where we live and where we sleep and what we eat is our ecosystem, and we need to protect that," says interior designer Robin Wilson, who specializes in what she calls "eco-healthy design"—living environments that promote wellness. (Wilson transformed Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s home in New York's Westchester County after a summer flood left it infested with mold—an experience documented in her book "Kennedy Green House.")

Wilson and other experts shared some advice with U.S. News on the kind of spring cleaning that can refresh your home and your health.

A key focus of your mission? Manage the dust, says Angela Waldron, a spokesperson for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Opt for bare floors over carpet and encase all pillows, mattresses and box springs in "allergen impermeable" covers, she says. Safeguard the bedroom, where we spend one-third of our lives, by washing linens and stuffed animals in hot water on a weekly basis.

[See Treating Eczema.]

Laura Turner Seydel, the daughter of media mogul and environmenalist Ted Turner and an environmental health champion in her own right—her home, "Eco-Manor," is literally a model of environmental living—does her laundry with ionized or electrolyzed water, which has undergone a chemical process that renders it a disinfectant. Seydel says she skips the soap and the dryer sheets, calling the latter "an extra expenditure of money, which is kind of silly." Ionized water alone kills bacteria and staph infection, and, for her part, she can't tell a difference in her clothes. "If it smells clean and looks clean, I'm good with it."

Alternatively, she suggests "making your own cleaning products like your grandmother did." Ingredients like lemon, baking soda and vinegar not only do the job, but "cost you pennies on the dollar," she says.

Seydel also advises avoiding any synthetic fragrances, which have been associated with hormone-distrupting chemicals. The fragrant candles in her home use essential oils and are made of soy or beeswax, she says.

[See How Safe Are Your Cosmetics?]

Similarly, you know that new-shower-curtain smell? That's not a good thing, Wilson says. Opt for shower curtains made of nylon, rather than vinyl, which gives off chemical gasses. She also recommends using nontoxic furniture stains and paints, and formaldehyde-free adhesives.

Finally, it's key to clear your house of mold, which can trigger allergies and asthma attacks, Wilson says, Use a dehumidifier to air out basements and keep dishwashers and washing machines clean and dry, she says. Leave open the door to front-load washing machines, and run a light wash of your dishwasher with a small tablespoon of white vinegar, which kills mold.

[See How to Have an Allergy-Free Hotel Stay.]

And don't forget about the products you use outside. "We don't use any chemicals whatsoever in our yard," Seydel says. "I don't want my kids out there rolling around in it or tracking it in."

To that point, take a cue from Asian culture, and ditch the shoes at the door, experts advise. It makes sense, of course. You keep the house clean, the whatnot out, and you're more comfy. Everyone wins.

What else? Keep garbage covered. You don't want cockroaches for obvious reasons, but they also can trigger asthma attacks. Plus, keep the pollen out by closing your doors and windows, and remember to change the filters in your windows, says Waldron.

Finally, those with allergies should always have injectable epinephrine, like an EpiPen, on hand, she says. And always seek medical care immediately after use, even if you feel OK, since symptoms may return.