8 commonly neglected items that need a good cleaning before allergy season

Allergies acting up? These oft-overlooked items in your home can be a breeding ground for bacteria and allergens.
Let's load the washing machine first...
Though the laundry within the hamper gets routinely cleaned, the hamper itself is often left wanting a good wipe down.LumiNola / Getty Images
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By Wendy Rose Gould

A light dusting is dandy and going Marie Kondo on your closet makes you feel good, but the hidden grime in our homes deserves a little attention, too. These neglected areas become veritable breeding grounds for bacteria and dust bunnies that can impact your allergies and general wellbeing.

“Keeping a clean home is very important as allergies and asthma are directly impacted by your external environment,” says Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network. “Besides improving allergy and asthma symptoms, a clean home has also been linked to fewer mental health problems and lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress. Even the act of cleaning is a stress reliever for some.”

Whether you have to force yourself into a cleaning marathon or you’re eager to tackle grime, we recommend addressing these consistently forgotten spots the next time you clean your home.

Deep cleaning your rugs

Many of us are pretty good about regularly vacuuming carpet, but rugs are just as susceptible to dust and gunk accumulation and tend to get the shaft. Large area rugs and runners should be vacuumed at least once a week and then taken outside for a good shakedown once every three to six months. This can be accomplished by draping your rug over a vertical surface and beating it with the broad end of a clean broom. If spills happen, spot clean the rug immediately.

Smaller accent rugs also need attention, especially those in the bathroom, says Melissa Maker, a cleaning professional with Clean My Space.

“Because of how easily bacteria can spread via ‘toilet plume,’ that little bathroom mat can pick up and hang onto a lot of unwanted bacteria and become quite gross,” Maker says. “Fortunately, bathroom mats are typically very easy to clean if they’re machine washable. I recommend laundering your bathroom rug every two to four weeks.” Hang-dry to prevent damaging the non-slip rubber backing.

Cleaning behind and under large appliances

Large household appliances, including the fridge, stove and laundry machines, are notorious for amassing gobs of grime and actual rabbit-sized dust bunnies. They also tend to store missing socks and bits of food that become nearly petrified after sitting for so long. Once every two to three months, have a friend or family member help you gently pull these appliances away from the wall and then sweep, mop and wipe down surfaces.

Tackling the area around your bed

“The bedroom is the most important room to keep allergen-free since we spend the most time there. Weekly vacuuming or mopping is a must — [including underneath your bed] — and reducing clutter in general will help prevent dust and dust mites from accumulating,” says Dr. Parikh. Also wipe down bed posts and bedside tables, and launder all bedding weekly, including sheets, comforters and pillowcases. Parikh recommends using an encased dust mite cover that zips around the entire mattress and box spring to keep them cleaner.

Wiping down your laundry hamper

The sole responsibility of a laundry hamper is to hold stinky, sweat-doused, dirt-filled clothing. Though the laundry within said hamper gets routinely cleaned, the hamper itself is often left wanting a good wipe down.

“This chore doesn’t take more than a second, but it’s well worth it. Not only does keeping it clean really manage odor, but it also prevents the breeding and spread of germs,” says Karina Neff, a cleaning professional with MaxiMaids, Inc. “In our house, keeping disinfectant wipes strategically placed by our hamper helps remind me to wipe down the basket every time we do the laundry.” If your hamper is a cloth material or wicker, lightly spray the surface with a solution of one-part vodka and six-parts water.

Sanitizing your trash can

Another household bin that’s prone to amassing funky smells and bacteria is your trash can. Though a liner protects the interior bin most of the time, it’s still possible for rips or rogue pieces of junk to make their way inside. Monthly, take your trash bin to the yard and thoroughly hose it down. Spray it with an antibacterial cleanser or soapy water and scrub with a long-handle brush. Rinse, then allow to fully dry before bringing it back inside.

Caring for wood cutting boards

“Wood is porous and easily absorbs bacteria, so we have to clean, care for and protect them to make sure they work the way they need to,” says Maker.

She says wood cutting boards should be wiped down with sudsy water after every use and then deep cleaned every two to four weeks depending on how frequently it’s used.

“To scrub and treat your board, cut a lemon in half. Sprinkle coarse salt onto your cutting board and use a circular buffing motion with the flesh side of the lemon,” Maker advises. “You'll want to clean corner to corner, top to bottom. Rinse, and dry well. Once it's dry, apply a wood cutting board maintenance product, such as mineral oil, and allow it to dry for 24 hours. Then wipe off any excess.”

Changing every filter in your house

Though swapping out a filter is a 30-second job, it tends to get pushed to the bottom of the cleaning to-do list until it’s a particularly grody task. This is true with HVAC filters, water filters, filters in small air purifier units, and over-the-range grease filters on your microwave.

Regarding your heating, venting, and cooling (HVAC) system filters, a good rule of thumb is to check the filter monthly and replace it at least every 90 days, says Richard Ciresi, franchise owner of Aire Serv, a Neighborly company. He adds that if you're susceptible to allergies, have pets, or easily get sick, changing your filter every 45 to 60 days can help reduce chances of those symptoms.

"Air filters help you breathe easy, literally. It improves the quality of the air by helping air purifiers, air conditioners and furnaces circulate air through the home, ultimately stopping airborne dust, pollutants and pollen from settling in the home," says Ciresi.

In addition to improving your health, Ciresi adds that staying on top of filter changes is essential to the health of your HVAC system. During some months — such as the summer when your central air conditioning unit works harder — you may need to change the filter more frequently.

Disinfecting the remote control

“This is one of those things that, if placed under a special ‘germ light,’ would absolutely horrify you,” says Neff. “Once a month, while watching TV, sit down with cotton swabs and alcohol and get to work. While you’re at it, tackle your phones, tablets and any other hand-held devices.”

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