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Asthma seems to be a lot more common these days compared to back when I was a child, which, admittedly, is quite a few years ago now! There are numerous hypotheses out there as to why it’s more prevalent these days but no matter what the cause is, it’s frightening and it’s a nuisance to deal with if you’re a parent or if you’ve got the condition.
Carpets get a bit of a bad rap when it comes to asthma, with some people seriously considering getting rid of all the carpets in their home because of asthma and just having hard floors everywhere. But why would they consider this? And is this drastic option really necessary?
I don’t pretend to be a doctor or anything like that – I just read carefully what carpet cleaning experts have to say instead. This means that ultimately, if your doctor says that getting rid of all the carpets is the only way to keep yourself or your child safe, then you’d better do what he or she says. However, that is an unlikely scenario, so with the necessary disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look at the story with carpets and asthma.
The Cause of The Problem
For a lot of people (but not all of them), the big trigger for an asthma attack is the presence of dust mite faeces. In fact, this is what makes up most of the dust that gets under the beds, on the windowsill and all the other places that dust goes. Sounds disgusting but when it all comes down to it, it’s just dust and it’s not as inherently bacteria-laden as, say, cat poop. This isn’t the only trigger, of course. Some people get their immune systems going into overdrive and reacting to things like pet hair and skin flakes (commonly referred to as “dander” to avoid talking about anything that sounds icky) and pollen. These also make up a lot of dust.
Now, dust goes everywhere, of course, but carpets act as a dust magnet. I remember a few people who had previously had hard floors but then put down carpets noticing that they didn’t have to dust quite as much after the carpet went down because the carpet was trapping it. This tells you one thing straight away: not having carpets in your home won’t in itself reduce the amount of dust in your home so if things like pollen are a problem, they’re still going to be a problem, and you might be better off talking to a garden expert about removing the plants that shed the pollen that trigger you or your child (this is assuming that said plants are in your garden, of course…).
However, it’s the dust mites that are the really irritating things. Dust mites are so small that you can’t see them without the help of a microscope or at least a very good magnifying glass, as they’re about 0.2 mm across. Dust mites have an enzyme in their gut that people can react to quite strongly and with good reason. The favourite food of dust mites is particles of human skin – although, fortunately, these very common little beasties only eat human skin when it’s been shed rather than trying to eat you alive. Let’s be grateful for that!
Dust mites love to live anywhere that humans live, and they like nice, soft cosy places to hide in. Carpets are only one of the places that they like to live, breed and dine… and excrete those horrible asthma triggers. They also like to live in upholstery, mattresses, pillows, clothing and blankets. In fact, if you wanted to rid your home of every single thing that dust mites could be living in, you’d be running around nude in a house full of hard wooden furniture with no mattresses or sheets on the beds. Then you’d have a lot of other problems instead!
Your Secret Weapons Against Dust Mites
Before you give up in despair and start wondering if it would really be that bad to be naked in a house of wooden furniture, the good news is that there are two main enemies of dust mites: heat and sunshine (kind of like vampires). This means that washing bedding and clothes in hot or warm water and/or hanging them to dry in the sunlight will do the trick. So will tumble-drying things that can handle the heat of a high setting. Dust mites also drown easily, although they also like humidity. This should tell you straight up that washing things regularly and keeping the home well ventilated will keep the little blighters at bay.
Obviously, you can’t throw the carpet in the washing machine the way you can throw your woolly jumpers and blankets. (Actually, you’d be best not to throw the woolly jumper in the washing machine unless you’ve got it on the gentle cycle – woollens prefer hand washing, which isn’t as hard as you think). You can’t machine-wash mattresses either, and it’s not the best idea to try it with pillows.
The answer is steam cleaning. The majority of carpets (but not all) can handle this very common carpet cleaning technique. The same goes for mattresses, pillows and upholstered furniture. This is because the high temperatures involved in steam cleaning will deal to those horrible little dust mites. There is a company called PrecisionCarpetCleaning.co.uk that although unable to guarantee that they will kill 100% of the dust mites in a house, they will certainly blitz most of the population when their technicians steam clean the carpets. They also provide mattress cleaning and upholstery cleaning services, so it can all be done for you if you need your home treated to help reduce exposure to allergens and asthma triggers. So, you can cancel your plans to join the local nudist club, sleep on wooden slats and rip out your carpets!
Some Ideas to Help Reduce Exposure to Triggers
Here’s some ideas that can help you enjoy the simple home comforts of warmth and softness while reducing the likelihood and severity of asthma attacks that you might like to try:
- Put a dust-mite proof cover over mattresses.
- Cut down on humidity in the home – get a dehumidifier if you have to.
- Change bed linen once a week. It’s not that hard, especially with fitted sheets! Nobody really cares if you do hospital corners or not.
- Vacuum, sweep and dust your home regularly to get rid of loose dust on hard surfaces and on the surface and upper layers of carpets (every little bit helps reduce what dust mites have to feed on).
- Get mattresses, pillows, upholstery and carpets professionally steam cleaned more than once a year. Yearly carpet cleaning is recommended by carpet manufacturers for keeping carpets in good order. However, if you need to do it to keep yourself in good order instead, then more frequent sessions are necessary – talk to us about setting up a regular schedule so you don’t have to worry about it if you like.
- If someone in your house is really sensitive to dust mites, then this is a case for having a few more hard floors in your home. However, have a few nice mats in strategic places so you get some softness and warmth underfoot when you need it.
- Dust mites prefer cloth upholstery on furniture, and they hate leather and vinyl. Humans hate vinyl upholstery (mostly!) so this gives you the perfect excuse to have proper leather-upholstered furniture.
- Throws and throw pillows may be right on trend but they do provide an additional home for dust mites. If you have to have them just to look up to date, keep them to a minimum and ensure that throws are washed and pillows are steam cleaned regularly. Or just go for the equally on trend minimalist look!