If you have hay fever, summer can be miserable. And staying indoors won’t necessarily help. In fact, poor home air quality and dusty surfaces can exacerbate symptoms.
But there are practical steps you can take to help that will help reduce hay fever symptoms and improve your home air quality. Here’s what to do.
1. Get a HEPA-grade filter vacuum cleaner or robot vacuum
If you have hay fever, you should get a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter, as that will be effective enough to vacuum up and retain any pollen that has made its way onto your floors.
HEPA filters must trap 99.95-99.97% of particulates that are 3 micrometres or larger. Not only is that a really high level of dust removal, and one that’ll get the dust mites out of your mattress, but a HEPA filter will retain the dust it gathers and prevent it from being blown back into the air of your home.
To see which vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters we recommend, have a look at our round-up of the best vacuum cleaners we’ve tested.
Bear in mind, however, that if you choose a bagless vacuum cleaner, you’ll be releasing some of the dirt and dust you just captured back into your living space. Ideally, if you’re using a bagless cleaner you should empty it into an outside bin, but for most people, that’s just not realistic.
Emma Rowley / Foundry
If you have hay fever or are a dust allergy sufferer, bagged vacuum cleaners are the better option. They make a big difference in trapping dust and keeping it locked away once it’s collected.
A budget-friendly bagged option is the Halo Capsule, which we reviewed and rate as one of the best we’ve tested. If you can spend more, there’s another option in the form of the Samsung Bespoke Jet (read our review).
The Bespoke Jet is a bagless vacuum but it rests and charges in a bagged auto-empty dock, which empties the vacuum via suction – and thus transforms it into a bagged system. You only need to change the bag in the dock once a month (roughly) and it means not having to deal with dust at all.
Running a robot vacuum cleaner daily is another good way to minimise the amount of dust in the air. Ideally, schedule it to do its rounds when you’re not at home, so you’re not affected by any pollen and debris that’s raised. By the time you’re home, any remaining dust will have literally settled.
Like vacuum cleaners, many robot vacuums have HEPA filters, so look out for that on the list of features when you buy.
You can now also buy auto-empty robot vacuums, which will also empty themselves into a dock. You see a number of these in our recommended robot vacuums round-up.
2. Vacuum your soft furnishings
Fabrics, carpets, sofas, pillows and mattresses can become repositories of pet hair, pollen, dust and dander. It’s time to clean them.
Bear in mind that any cleaning you do will make hay fever symptoms worse initially. Wear a mask or – even better – get help from someone else to take over any tasks that involve dealing with dust.
People who are very sensitive to dust can buy anti-dust mite mattress covers. If you don’t think you need to cover your entire mattress, you can buy hypoallergenic pillow protectors which guard against mildew, dust mites and more.
For everyone else, a deep-clean of all of your soft furnishings should make a big difference to your home air quality. Your bed is where you spend the most time, so start there. Strip your bed and vacuum your mattress and pillows.
Curtains should be taken down and put in the washing machine. Then move on to your sitting room and vacuum the cushions on your sofa and chairs. That brings us to our next piece of advice.
3. Clean the filters in your appliances
Most of your appliances have filters to trap dust and lint. Once they get gummed up, they’ll also be less effective in pulling dust and dirt out of the air and off surfaces around your home.
Start with your vacuum cleaner. Empty the bag if it has one, and clean the filter. Newer vacuum cleaners may have dust bins that can be removed completely and washed out under the tap.
Next, check the filters in your clothes dryer, any heaters, fans, air conditioners or existing air purifiers. All of these appliances can help to clean the air in your home.
And while you’re at it, you could clean the fans on your PC. You know you need to.
We’ve saved the worst but most important job for last: cleaning your extractor fan. Your kitchen is the source of many of the air pollutants at home and you’ll be surprised at how much cooking affects the air quality of your home. A clean extractor fan can make a big difference.
(If you didn’t know that extractor fans needed regular cleaning, then you are in for a special time of it.)
4. Find out about your air quality
Make it a habit to check the pollen count and outside air quality when you first wake up. This will give you an idea of whether or not it’s a good day to open windows.
But that’s only half the story. Finding out about your home air quality is even more important. To find more about what sort of pollutants are in your air at home, have a look at our dedicated explainer.
Once you have a good sense of your home air quality, you can take steps to improve it.
You can buy a dedicated monitor but if you suffer from hay fever, you might as well get an appliance that will clean your air at the same time.
5. Invest in an air purifier
An air purifier will pull air through a filter and then circulate the cleaned air back out into your living space. It’s not the cheapest option, as not only should you run the purifier regularly – and definitely throughout days when you have bad hay fever symptoms – which will cost you in terms of electricity, but you’ll also be on the hook for replacement filters.
Typically, these need to be replaced every six months. Some types of filter are washable, but carbon filters, which capture odours and gases from cleaning products, cosmetics and more, will become saturated over time and ineffective. There’s no option but to replace them.
When you buy an air purifier, make sure it’s the right size for the room you want to use it in. Air purifiers have different clean air delivery rates (CADR), so if you use one that’s too small in a large room, it won’t have any effect on your air quality.
We have all the information you need to buy an air purifier, plus all of the products we recommend, in our round-up of the best air purifiers we’ve tested.
6. Start good air habits
The final stage in lessening your hay fever symptoms is to keep the air in your home clean. This means being more aware of air quality and changing your habits to protect it.
We discussed the reasons you should do this above but the bottom line is: the extractor fan is there for a reason. Switch it on, not only when you’re cooking but also when you’re using cleaning products.
Cleaning: don’t combine products and don’t use sprays
Cleaning products that are safe on their own can become dangerous when combined. Most people know that if you mix bleach and ammonia (for example, bleach and toilet cleaner), you can create toxic chloramine gas. But did you know that bleach and vinegar is another combination to avoid? Blend the two and you’ll get poisonous chlorine gas.
Even products that are safe to use can have a negative effect if you breathe them in. This is why it’s recommended to avoid cleaning sprays and use liquids instead. Long-term use of spray cleaners is associated with an increased incidence of new-onset asthma and other respiratory problems; breathing in bleach regularly is associated with lung disease.
Don’t OD on scented stuff
Plug-in air fresheners and scented candles – especially those made from paraffin – release chemicals into the air as they heat up, which can affect your breathing.
It’s not just the ingredients that go into them that are the problem. For example, limonene, which is used to create citrus scents, can produce formaldehyde when burned.
Are there enough of these pollutants to cause actual harm? The British Lung Foundation says that candles, when used occasionally, “are unlikely to prove much of a health risk”, but the general advice is not to burn them every day and only in well-ventilated rooms. Incense should be used even more sparingly, as there is strong evidence that links its use to lung disease.
Thinking of buying an air purifier? Here are the best air purifiers we’ve tested.