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family with dog 500x300Dander is made up of the minute scales from fur, hair, feathers or skin of animals. Every animal’s dander is different, which is why some people can tolerate dogs but not cats and vice versa. Most people with allergic reactions to animal dander are responding to dog or cat dander, but dander from birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, horses and many other animals can also cause problems, depending on the individual’s sensitivity. Sneezing, itchy and/or watery eyes, sinus congestion and even difficulty breathing can be caused by dander allergy. Dander is sticky and can survive for months in an environment. It attaches itself to dust.

There is no such thing as a true hypoallergenic animal, but some breeds of dogs do seem to cause fewer allergic problems than others. People with dander allergies can safely keep pets without fur or feathers, such as turtles, snakes or fish. But if you have someone in the home with a dander allergy who simply cannot give up their beloved creature, there are strategies you can follow to keep symptoms at a minimum.

  • Keep animals out of the bedroom at all times, and create other pet-free zones in the home.
  • Change the filters in your furnace and air conditioning frequently.
  • Consider removing carpets and replacing them with tile, wood, or vinyl flooring. Wash throw rugs in hot water frequently.
  • Use blinds instead of drapes, especially in bedrooms.
  • Wash hands after handling animals, and never hold the animal close to the face.
  • Launder bedding in hot water to remove dander that may travel into the bedroom on clothes or shoes.
  • Use portable air purifiers in the home.
  • Feed pets high quality pet food and consider a coat supplement. Both efforts will reduce shedding and increased flaking of dander from the pet.
  • Vacuum frequently with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter. For best results, invest in a central vacuum system. Unlike traditional vacuum cleaners, which re-circulate some of the dander and irritants back into the home environment, a central vacuum system will remove virtually all contaminants through the hose and into behind-the-wall tubes which lead to a sealed container away from living space, such as the basement, garage, or even a closet. This unit can then be easily emptied by a non-allergic member of the household.


480742343 shower doorI find getting soiled grout to look good again is a chore that confounds many homeowners, especially if stains have been left untreated for a long time. But with the right product, grout can be cleaned well enough to sparkle like new.

Start with the mildest solution and then work your way up to stronger stuff if stains are stubborn. For example, some people swear by plain old vinegar or baking soda to clean grout. If using vinegar, dilute with an equal part of water. Baking soda can be mixed with a small amount of water to make a paste. Then spray or dab on a short length of grout and scrub with a stiff brush. Avoid metal brushes, as they can erode grout. An old toothbrush is generally not stiff enough. Use a small circular motion for best results. Rinse well with water and mop or sponge dry.

If after testing a small section, the grime remains, consider the following options, always remembering to use good ventilation and keep all cleaning products well labeled and out of the reach of children. Never mix cleaning products, as the combined chemicals can give off harmful gases.

  • Everyday household cleaners like Mr. Clean, Lysol or Spic ‘n’ Span can work well on grout, using the above technique.
  • Powdered oxygen bleach is nontoxic, doesn’t give off harmful fumes, and is safe on colored fabrics and grout alike. Stain molecules are literally broken into pieces by the oxygen ions, which makes them easy to rinse away. Mix oxygen bleach with water as directed and apply to dry grout so it soaks in deeply. Let sit for at 15-30 minutes, then scrub with a stiff brush, applying more solution to each section as you scrub. Wipe clean with fresh water. To keep grout looking good after the initial deep cleaning, use oxygen bleach in the cleaning water each time you wipe or mop the tile, and let sit for 30 minutes without rinsing. Then rinse with fresh water.
  • Hydrogen peroxide sprayed, mopped or sponged on grout can be an effective stain remover. For stubborn stains make a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and rub with a sponge or brush. Wear gloves and avoid getting on clothes.
  • A solution of half bleach and half water can be sprayed on shower grout at night after everyone is in bed and all items have been removed from the shower. Rinse off in the morning. Again, use adequate ventilation when applying bleach, and never mix bleach with other cleaners.
  • Some homeowners get great results on grout by using scrubbers that are powered by rechargeable batteries and come with different attachments. Available for around $30 retail, they can be a small but worthwhile investment.
  • Steam cleaners can also be effective on grout.


111779891If you’re seeking relief from the constant cycle of housekeeping chores, there are many options to choose from in housecleaning services. Here are some considerations to help you make a good choice for your personal needs:

How often? If you can’t afford weekly cleaning service, other options are usually available. You can get bi-weekly service, monthly cleaning, or even one-time assistance for a special occasion. If the latter is the case, don’t wait till the last minute to arrange for it. Cleaners have set schedules and they will need to work you in around their regular customers.

Do they provide their own cleaning supplies? If so, that will affect the price. If you have particular products you prefer, ask if you can supply them, and how it will affect the fee structure.

Are they bonded or insured? Residential cleaning services with offices and overhead cost more, but their employees are usually bonded and insured. On the other hand, if an independent cleaning person is referred to you from a friend or professional you trust, that might be satisfactory, and their rates will probably be more reasonable. At any rate, always ask for more than one reference, and follow up on them.

What services will be rendered for the fee? There is a difference between a maid service and a housecleaning service. A maid will often do light housework, including changing sheets and making beds, tidy up and do some laundry. Most cleaning services will not do laundry, make beds, or do windows. Some will take out the garbage and load the dishwasher—ask. The standard housecleaning package includes cleaning and sanitizing kitchen and bathrooms, vacuuming, and thorough dusting. For an extra fee, the package can accommodate laundry, polishing woodwork, cleaning light fixtures, windows and/or floor waxing.

How does payment work? Typically, prices are based on square footage of your home. Ask people around your community about going rates. Arrange payment systems up front. Will you pay each visit? Monthly? What form of payment is accepted?

Last, consider a house cleaning gift certificate for new parents or someone undergoing extensive treatment for an illness. It is a thoughtful gesture that will be greatly appreciated.


Beautiful yellow goldenrod flowers blooming

It’s a shame that a plant as pretty as ragweed causes so much misery. But come midsummer, with its proliferation in the Midwest and Eastern states, along with each plant’s ability to produce up to a billion grains of windborne pollen, ragweed is a scourge to thousands of allergy sufferers.

Though the plant itself is not harmful, the oversensitive immune systems of the allergy-prone convince the body to treat it like an invader, causing the runny nose, puffy eyes, itchy ears and general respiratory discomfort that are the hallmark symptoms of pollen allergy. Asthma sufferers may also find that ragweed season triggers or intensifies asthma symptoms.

(A side note: While similar in appearance, ragweed is often confused with goldenrod, a valuable native plant also used increasingly in garden design. Goldenrod generally does not cause allergic reactions. Research photos of both plants so you can tell the difference).

While there is no cure for ragweed allergy, several strategies I have found can help sufferers breathe easier when the plant reaches its peak season. While you should consult your doctor with serious allergy concerns, these common sense tips will augment any medications or treatments offered by your medical practitioner.

Keep tabs on pollen counts in newspapers, or on the web. The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology on the Internet publishes pollen counts by region. Avoid the outdoors when pollen counts are high. If possible, stay in an air conditioned environment equipped with a HEPA filter, especially when you sleep. At the very least, keep windows closed during peak pollen hours.

Predawn hours are peak time for ragweed pollen in rural areas, but depending on weather, urban areas will peak between 10 am and 3 pm. Damp, rainy and cool temperatures below 50 degrees F will slow pollen release.

I have everyone remove their shoes when they enter my home. A great deal of pollen and irritants are tracked in the house on footwear.
Pollen is carried on clothing, too. Remove clothing to a laundry area when you undress, and wash promptly.

You can leave ragweed-dense areas and go to other parts of the country during midsummer for relief, but don’t feel you have to move away from where you live. Research has shown that people with pollen-related allergies often will develop allergies to different plants in different locales.

A worthwhile investment for comfort, health and cleaner living is a central vacuum system. Traditional vacuum cleaners, even if they are equipped with HEPA filters, can suck up and then re-circulate dirt and fine pollutants back into your indoor air. A central vacuum system, by contrast, collects and contains even the tiniest particles of dust and pollen, virtually all of them, then transports it through the hose and interconnected plastic tubing behind your walls to a sealed container. When the container is filled, it can be emptied and the contents disposed of. Many allergy sufferers maintain that their central vacuum systems are the most important allergy-fighting tool at their disposal.


Portrait of Siberian cat outdoorThere’s little that’s rational about loving a pet (or another human being, for that matter). But what if your fine, furry feline makes you sneeze and wheeze? Are you forced to give him up?
In many cases, the answer is no. Whether it’s you or a housemate that’s attached to a beloved cat, here are several strategies I have found for coexisting in harmony even when someone suffers from a cat allergy.

If possible, invest in a central vacuum system and use it at least twice weekly. Why? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not cat fur or hair that are the allergy culprits. People with cat allergies are actually reacting to proteins in cat saliva, urine and dander (dried flakes of skin). Traditional vacuum cleaners may be able to capture shedding fur, but they also often re-circulate the fine particles of dander that cause the most problems right back into the indoor air. A central vacuum system, by contrast, pulls nearly 100% of all particulate matter into a hose that transports it to a sealed container away from living spaces. If you can’t get a central vacuum system, at the very least use a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter.

Regularly wipe down flat surfaces and walls with a dampened cloth.

Try to contain the cat’s living areas to certain areas of the house. At minimum, the cat should not be allowed in bedrooms. An alternative is to allow the cat to go outside, which eliminates a good deal of the hair and dander that would otherwise end up in the house. Just make sure the animal is neutered or spayed.

Eliminate overstuffed furniture as much as possible.

Replace drapes and curtains with slatted blinds.

Always wash your hands after petting a cat, and avoid touching your face, especially the eyes. If you are very allergic, avoid touching the cat at all.

I asked my vet about a special spray you can apply to your cat’s coat to minimize dander.

  • A non-allergenic housemate should clean the litter boxes regularly and brush the cat, preferably outside (use a leash in case the cat hates being brushed and tries to run away!)
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines can be effective, but check with your doctor first.
  • Believe it or not, some cats will actually tolerate being vacuumed gently, and a few even consider it a treat! It might be worth a try. There are special pet vacuuming attachments available for central vacuum systems. Pets seem to tolerate these because the noise level of a central vacuum system is substantially lower than that of a traditional vacuum cleaner, so the sound is much less alarming to an animal’s sensitive ears.


Summertime meadow under blue sky

If you’re sniffling, sneezing and rubbing your eyes while everyone else is celebrating what a beautiful day it is, you may be suffering from pollen allergy.

Commonly known as hay fever, pollen allergy affects about 1 in 10 Americans, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). It’s caused when pollen grains from trees, grasses and weeds float through the air in spring, summer or fall and end up in our noses, ears, eyes and mouths. Ragweed, the most common perpetrator, can release up to a million grains of pollen a day from a single plant. For most people, this isn’t bothersome and the body flushes those substances away naturally, but for those allergic to pollen, it can cause misery.

Relief from pollen allergy symptoms can be achieved by several methods. First, if you are experiencing symptoms for the first time, see your doctor to confirm a diagnosis. In addition to over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines your doctor may recommend, try the following strategies I have found to minimize suffering when pollen counts are high:

  • Be alert for high pollen count days, which can vary by season, location, time of day and weather. Dry, windy days tend to cause the most trouble with pollen allergies. Some sufferers claim pollen counts are highest at 5 AM and 5 PM. Local newspapers often report the pollen count, or go to and enter your zip code or city and state to learn pollen counts.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible on high pollen count days.
  • When you do go out, avoid other allergy triggers: exhaust fumes and other air pollution, perfumes, animal dander, high stress situations, spicy food, smoke.
  • Some experts believe icy drinks aggravate allergy symptoms, and that drinking a cup of hot tea before getting out of bed can help relieve fluctuations in body temperature that throw off the body’s natural defenses during high pollen counts.
  • When you return home from being outside, change clothes and wash the ones you were wearing. Take off shoes before entering the house. Shoes and clothes bring in lots of pollen.
  • Pets can carry a high amount of pollen. At the very least, keep your pets out of the bedroom, and use a permanent, washable HEPA air filter on your furnace.
  • Keep windows shut. Use air conditioning if possible.
  • Damp wipe nonporous surfaces to capture pollen that has entered the house.
  • A central vacuum system can most effectively remove pollen from carpets and drapes and transport it to a source away from living spaces, such as a garage, attic, closet or basement. Traditional vacuum cleaners tend to re-circulate allergens back into the air and can actually aggravate symptoms.


Unhappy young woman catched a cold and using paper handkerchief

I have learned that symptoms of a mold allergy are very similar to other allergic symptoms. Sneezing, coughing and itchy, watery eyes are common. There are many types of molds both indoors and outdoors, and not all of them cause allergic symptoms. And while mold allergy symptoms aren’t dangerous unless you also have asthma, they can certainly cause misery and reduce quality of life. While medications can help with serious cases, here are simple ways to keep mold at bay and symptoms away:

  • Mold flourishes in humid conditions. Keep the humidity levels in your home at 50% or below. An inexpensive hygrometer, available at hardware stores, can monitor home humidity levels.
  • Check basements and all pipes for leaks and dampness, and make necessary repairs. Clean areas of damage with a mild bleach solution.
  • Keep bathrooms well ventilated with windows or fans. Ideally, run a bathroom fan for 30 minutes after showering to dry the indoor air.
  • Sleep with windows closed. Night air is damp air and mold count is highest during those hours.
  • If you are particularly troubled by mold allergy symptoms, avoid going outdoors right after it rains or on particularly humid days.
  • If possible, install central air conditioning, and use a high-efficiency air particulate attachment (HEPA) filter. At the very least, use a window unit in the bedroom during warm months.
  • Change filters regularly in air conditioning units and furnaces.
  • If you have plants, avoid overwatering, and keep all woven liners such as baskets very dry.

If you work outside, mowing lawns, raking leaves, or planting a garden, wear a dust mask to prevent inhaling mold spores.


Ugh. Who wants to face a massive cleanup after a delicious meal? Even if you’re lucky enough to have someone on dish duty when you do the cooking, you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor more and make life easier for everyone by following these clean-as-you-go tips: man cooking at home preparing salad in kitchen

  1. Assemble all of your ingredients, bowls, utensils and measuring devices before you begin your food prep and keep things grouped roughly by category. That is, spices and herbs in one grouping, refrigerated items together, staples side by side, etc. Your food prep will be much smoother if you don’t have to constantly stop what you are doing to find the next item on your list.
  2. As soon as you are finished with a group of ingredients, PUT THEM AWAY.
  3. Fill up one side of your sink with warm soapy water. As you dirty dishes and utensils, rinse them and drop them to soak in the water. If you can’t afford the sink space during food prep, use a big bowl or pan. This way, food won’t dry and crust, which makes for tougher cleanup. It also keeps most of the mess consolidated into one space.
  4. Keep a sheet of waxed paper, a colander or some other receptacle for peelings, stems, and other discards on your counter or in your sink. If you compost, keep meat trimmings, packaging and other waste separate, and throw it away at intervals as you cook. You can also rest spoons, knives and measuring cups on this area to keep surfaces cleaner.
  5. Use down time to keep up with the mess. While the pasta is cooking, you might wash the pan you used to sauté the onions, for example. Also, good knives are best washed, dried and put away immediately after use.
  6. Wipe up spills on countertops and stove surfaces when they happen so they don’t harden. Ditto for floors.

Cleaning Dishwashers

DishwasherI can tell you right now, that I have no idea what I would do without a dishwasher. I have refused to live without one ever since that fateful year in college when I had to hand wash every utensil in our crowded dirty apartment. Although the dishwasher works miracles for us, we tend to forget it needs some TLC every now and then. Like I thought with the washing machine, “Its primary function is to clean, so it will always be clean.” Again, I was wrong. All that food Chet and the kids refuse to rinse off before throwing their dishes in gets stuck and can build up around the washer. Now that’s something you don’t want to see. Eventually it can make your dishwasher look and smell bad, and even worse, make it less effective. A broken or weak dishwasher would be a tragedy! Thank goodness it’s not so hard to clean your favorite machine.

Place a dishwasher-safe cup filled with plain white vinegar on the top rack of the dishwasher. Run a cycle through using the hottest water available with the dishwasher completely empty except for the cup of vinegar. The vinegar will sanitize the interior of the dishwasher. When that cycle is complete, sprinkle a cupful of baking soda around the bottom of the tub and run a complete short cycle through again using the hottest water available. The baking soda will create a fresh smell as well as help to remove any stains. Easy as pie!

Clean the rubber gasket in the door and around the soap door as well. You can just give them a once over with a damp towel to keep the grime away. Also, don’t forget the trap found under the lower sprayer. Usually it is removable so it can be cleaned in the sink, if not use a damp towel to remove any build up.

Your last step before rewarding yourself with a good book is cleaning the accessories. Go ahead and take out the racks and utensil holders. Wipe off any stuck-on food particles or other debris, I know this sounds yucky but it really wasn’t so bad! Scrub the spray arm with a soft brush or toothbrush to remove clogs.

No worries, you don’t have to make this part of your weekly cleaning routine! Cleaning it out about once a month works just fine. Never take your dishwasher for granted again!

The Best Brooms are the Cleanest Brooms

475060235 broomsAh, the broom: humble, simple and essential. It also happens to be one of my weapons of choice during my daily combat with the evil dust bunny army that has sworn to invade and take over my house. My broom gets used all the time, just not always for cleaning. If Noah is not using it as a sword or Ashley’s not riding it around the backyard pretending she’s in the ‘Quidditch’ match of her life, our broom usually sits in the corner of our closet.

When it does come time to take up arms against the dust bunny army, there’s few things that make me crave a full glass of wine more than a dirty broom that does more harm than good once those bristles hit the floor.  Know that awkward dance you do with your broom where you try to remove the insane combination of dust, pet hair, and crumbs with your feet because you don’t want to bend over and remove them by hand? Yeah, I invented that tango.

If your broom is dirtier than the floor you’re trying to clean, it might be time to give your beloved broom a bath. Both vinyl and straw brooms can be (and should be!) cleaned using the following method:

1. Clean out any lint, dust, and hair trapped between the broom’s bristles.
2. Fill a bucket with warm water.
3. Add household cleaner for the vinyl broom. Add dish soap for the straw broom.
4. Soak the broom for about 2 hours.
5. Hang the broom and let dry overnight.

Extend the life of your broom by soaking it in hot salt water for 20 minutes and let it dry before using it the first time.