Is Your House Making You Sick?

Written by Kasey M. Fuqua

Where you live can have a big impact on your health. From triggering allergies or asthma to increasing your risk for infections, your home can turn on you if you don’t keep it clean.

Luckily, there are simple solutions for almost every way your home can make you sick. You can tackle issues room by room to improve your health and the health of your house.


While bedrooms tend to stay cleaner than bathrooms, they can still spell trouble for people with dust, pollen or pet dander allergies.

“About 10 to 30 percent of people have nasal allergies,” says Dr. Eric Karlin, an allergist at Allergy Partners of Hampton Roads. “Typically, dust allergies are worse in bedrooms.”

To keep bedrooms allergen-free, you should:

  • Clean bed linens once a week with very hot water.
  • Change out pillows every year or so.
  • Keep pets out of bedrooms.
  • Close windows to prevent pollen from entering.
  • Use dust mite protectors on both mattresses and pillows.
  • Vacuum once a week with a HEPA filter vacuum — and clean the filter every month.
  • Place stuffed animals in the freezer once per month to fight dust mites.
  • Use a dehumidifier to reduce dust.

Before you make any major changes to your bedroom, Karlin suggests seeing an allergist to determine exactly what allergies you have. “A lot of these things really cost a lot of money,” he says. “I would always recommend if you have chronic symptoms to see an allergist first and get tested, so you don’t do a lot of unnecessary work.”


Bathrooms can be hotspots for germs and mold if not cleaned properly. The humid, wet environment is ideal for fungi like mold to grow, raising your risk for infections. Melissa Glave, a nurse practitioner at Sentara Family Medicine Physicians in Hampton, Va., says the humidity in Hampton Roads can increase the risk of mold in your home. Previous water leaks or damage can also raise the risk.

“Fungal infections aren’t as common as bacterial and viruses, but there is always that possibility of them occurring, especially if you are in a home with mold in the walls,” Glave says. “If you are in a home and it’s had water damage, make sure walls are checked.”

Improving the ventilation in your bathroom can also help reduce mold. If your bathroom is poorly ventilated, consider buying a dehumidifier.

For a mold-free, less-germy bathroom, try these techniques:

  • Wash bath towels after three uses.
  • Clean (or replace) your shower curtain at least once per month, more often if you see mold.
  • Scrub your shower and bathtub once per week.
  • Dry up any puddles that form in the bathroom.
  • Close your toilet lid before flushing to prevent particles from entering the air.
  • Replace hand towels every few days.
  • Mop the bathroom floor every week.
  • Clean the toilet every week.
  • Use bleach to get rid of mold.
  • Clean bath mats every month.

While this may seem like a lot of cleaning, it’s worth it to reduce the risk of spreading diseases among family members and guests.

“Bathrooms are a high-touch area where you can spread viruses,” says Glave. “Not everyone is great at washing hands, especially kids. It can cause issues in the bathroom if it is not kept clean.”

Living Areas

Like bedrooms, living areas can be full of allergens. Carpets can hold a lot of dust particles, pollen and pet dander, so it’s important to keep those clean. Karlin suggests limiting carpet and replacing it with wood or tile floors instead. Rugs, drapes and upholstered furniture should be kept to a minimum.

Similar to bedrooms, you can use these strategies to reduce allergens in living areas:

  • Vacuum carpet or damp mop floors every week.
  • Keep windows shut in high-pollen seasons
  • Use a HEPA air filter to catch allergens — and clean it monthly.
  • Purchase leather furniture instead of upholstered furniture.
  • Use dust mite protectors on cushions.
  • Keep shoes out of the house during high-pollen seasons.
  • Wipe down television remotes every week or after a family member gets sick.

Again, it’s a good idea to determine what allergies you have before making significant changes. If you don’t have pollen allergies, for instance, you can keep the windows open and not worry.


It should come as no surprise that your kitchen is also a hotspot for germs and allergens. An unclean kitchen full of crumbs, plates in the sink or half-eaten food can attract bugs and mice.

“People can become allergic to mouse and rat urine, as well as cockroaches,” Karlin says. “You’ll need to get rid of them and keep your home clean.”

Working with raw meats can also increase your risk for infection. Any surface that raw meat has touched should be cleaned, or you’ll run the risk of transmitting diseases such as salmonella. Suggests Glave: “Use a good cleaning product, with 10 percent bleach, especially on cutting boards.”

For a cleaner (and healthier) kitchen, you should:

  • Clean off all food from plates before placing them in the dishwasher or sink.
  • Clean dishes every day.
  • Take out trash every few days.
  • Throw away spoiled or expired food regularly.
  • Clean out your fridge every two weeks or so.
  • Scrub out the kitchen sink each week and keep drains clean.
  • Remove any food particles from the stovetop regularly.
  • Frequently switch out kitchen towels after use.
  • Don’t use the same towel for drying hands, cleaning off countertops and drying dishes.
  • Wash your hands after using the restroom and before handling food.

Keeping your house clean is an ongoing battle. Though it’s a lot of work, it’s vital to improve the quality of life for people with allergies and to keep your whole family healthy.

Try These Green Cleaners

For an all-purpose cleanser:

Mix ¾ cup of water with ¼ cup rubbing alcohol and one squirt of natural dish soup, then add 5-10 drops peppermint, lemon or orange essential oil. Pour into a 16-ounce spray bottle and shake well. To clean, spray on surfaces and wipe with a microfiber cloth.

For an easy glass cleaner:

Mix two cups water, two tablespoons white vinegar and two tablespoons rubbing alcohol. Pour into a 24-ounce spray bottle. Add five drops of peppermint essential oil if desired.

For an all-purpose disinfectant:

Mix ½ cup white vinegar, ½ cup vodka, 1½ cups water, 10 drops lemon essential oil and 10 drops lavender essential oil. Pour into 24-ounce spray bottle and shake well. To use, spray on surface, let sit for 10 minutes, then wipe with a microfiber cloth.


About the author

Kasey M. Fuqua

Kasey Fuqua has been writing for hospitals and healthcare publications for over five years. Her writing often inspires her to explore new habits at home, from baking healthier to trying different workout routines. She’s a firm believer in lifting heavy weights, enjoying the food you eat and getting eight hours of sleep.

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