Interior design takes on a whole new level of importance when you’ve got someone at home who suffers allergies. Though the number of possible triggers is endless, the fiendish four most likely behind everything from runny noses to asthma attacks are pollen, mould, dander and dust. The good news is that there is much you can do on the decor front to minimise their risk.
1 The first rule of thumb is to go hard on allergies. Soft furnishings are a no no, acting as a trap for dust.
Dust, despite what kids love to tell each other, isn’t dead skin cells. Or rather, it isn’t just that. It’s also a potent potpourri of plant pollen, animal dander and of course the dust mites that feed on them.
Indeed, it’s not even the dust mites that can cause the allergic reaction, it’s their faeces. Once you know that you’ll all breathe easier choosing sofas you can wipe down with a damp cloth, such as leather, faux leather or vinyl.
If you do go the fabric sofa route, choose a tight weave that doesn’t allow dust to sink in. Opt for covers you can take off for cleaning and vacuum regularly between washes.
2 For windows choose blinds rather than curtains and easily cleaned Venetian style blinds rather than roller blinds. If curtains are a must, go for those in a fabric light enough to take down and wash regularly. Keep window frames clean of dust and mould.
Hard floors are better too, so avoid carpets and rugs. If you must have either, go for as short a pile as possible.
3 Where wool itself is a trigger, opt for more easily cleaned cotton dhurries – Indian throw rugs – instead. If you plan on having any form of carpeting, invest in carpet shampoo. At the time of writing Argos (argos.ie) has Vax V89 carpet cleaners for €160, a saving of €144 on the regular price.
4 The safest option is to stamp out carpets altogether and go for wood, lino or tiles instead. For a little more comfort cork is a good option, especially in a house with young children, not just because its warmer and less noisy, but because there's a bit of give in it too if they fall.
Naturo Cork Flooring (naturocorkflooring.ie) has a range of flooring solutions that use only water based, solvent-free pigments, varnishes and adhesives, with no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) – chemicals that can trigger asthma and allergies. The cork is completely sealed too, so there’s nowhere for dust to lurk. Prices range from €55 to €75 per square metre, laid, including VAT.
If the mere idea of cork triggers allergic reactions to 1970s-style decor – what’s next, woodchip and cheesecloth? – rest assured, cork flooring has come a long way since then. Naturo offers a complete colouring and customising service, which means they can basically dress a cork floor to look like anything you want, including marble or tiles, in any colour.
5 For furniture, stick to hard surfaces such as wood and stainless steel, and wipe them down regularly with a damp cloth. To keep wood good, check out the specialist cleaning products from Malones. Not only does its all-natural range smell gorgeous, it is corporate partner of the Asthma Society, which reckons about 470,000 people in Ireland suffer asthma. Many more suffer allergies, and cleaning products with harsh chemicals and solvents can trigger both.
6 Because we spend a third of our life in bed – unless you're a teenager, in which case it's closer to twice that – allergy proofing the bedroom pays particular dividends.
For bedding go for hypoallergenic foam filled duvets and pillows rather than feather or down ones. Dunnes has anti-allergy duvets from €15 for a single to €40 for a ‘super king’. Though recent research questions their efficacy, it’s no harm to encase box springs, mattress and pillows in an allergy protector too. M&S has cotton mattress protectors for allergy sufferers from around €35 which can take repeated washing.
7 Take a leaf out of the hotelier's book by giving beds a deep clean on a regular basis. The Irish Bed Hygiene Company (irishbedhygiene.com) provides such a service to hotels, boarding schools and private homes. It includes a heavy duty vacuuming with an industrial machine followed by a process that uses UV light to kill bacteria on the mattress surface and blasts ozone through the mattress to get it deep down clean.
The service costs €45 for a double bed and €30 for a single, plus a call out fee. It doesn’t remove stains but it does take away any mould or bacteria in them, as well as removing dust mites.
8 One of the hardest parts of having young children diagnosed with allergies is that all of a sudden their stuffed toys become the enemy. Rather than ditch them simply explain to your little one how excited teddy will be to move into his new home – a box with a lid.
Give him a room with a view in a plastic storage boxes on castors with lid from Ikea (ikea.com) for €7. Or make his new home something truly special with a handmade, hand painted toy box with their name on it from Kustom Kidz (kustomkidz.biz) from €149. Keep all toys, board games and books similarly stowed.
9 Allergies to pets are even more heartbreaking and unfortunately can develop at any time. Before you go forking out for a Portuguese Water Dog (the Obama's dog) or a Russian Blue cat, be aware that no pet is guaranteed to be entirely hypoallergenic.
The trigger is actually a protein found in the animals’ saliva and urine, and which is transferred to their fur or dander when they lick themselves. If you already have a pet, at the very least keep it out of sufferers’ bedrooms.
10 The same goes for plants, the soil of which can contain mould, another trigger. Plants contained in damp wickerwork type plant pots are the worst offenders. If you are keen to have house plants, reduce the likelihood of mould spores travelling by topping off the soil with gravel.
11 Clean windows and especially window frames regularly to keep them free of mould and ditto for taps, sinks and baths. Bathrooms are a particular trap for mould or mildew – much the same thing – and should be kept well ventilated to reduce moisture. If opening a window to alleviate mould simply opens the door to pollen, install an extractor fan instead.
12 Clean or replace shower curtains regularly and be aware that those containing PVC are thought to emit harmful VOCs. Hemp shower curtains are advertised as being naturally antibacterial and resistant to mildew but the best way to ensure a mould free shower curtain of any sort is to open it out after showering to ensure it dries off as quickly as possible.
On bathroom walls use tiles or coat with a mould-resistant paint. Ronseal has an anti-mould paint for €26 a tin available through WoodiesDIY.
13 Don't be tempted to blast the bathroom with bleach – it can be a trigger itself. For a good range of natural alternatives check out 'cleaning products' on the Clare County Council Website (clarecoco.ie). Unfortunately the primary ingredient in each is elbow grease.
To keep mould at bay don’t hang clothes over radiators in winter. If possible sideline the tumble dryer too and hang your washing outside on the line instead.
14 Consider investing in a dehumidifier. Power City (powercity.ie) has a Homedics anti allergy air purifier for €120 and a Dyson currently on sale at a reduced price, down from €700 to €500.
15 Of course there's an app for allergies too. Cair is an Irish made smart air quality sensor that tracks the air in your home, and learns what your asthma and allergy triggers are.
It then informs you when air quality is starting to reach a level likely to trigger an attack so you can take action – opening a window or taking your allergy medication. Invented by NuWave Sensors it is on sale through the Asthma Society website (asthma.ie) for €159.
It’s only available in white, but if you’re an allergy sufferer, it’s probably the smartest interiors decision you’ll make this year.