When I moved into my current home in Pacific Palisades,
California, nearly 20 years ago, I was searching for nontoxic
resources: paints, carpeting, and other furnishings.
My search was mostly met with odd looks and raised eyebrows
(ah, the olden days!). So I was overjoyed to find Mary Cordaro, just
starting out on her path as a consultant on healthy, green home
building and remodeling. She spoke my language! She became
my non-toxic home guide to whom I referred friends and patients
over the years: those with allergies, or simply, interested in green,
non-toxic living. Mold, volatile chemicals, indoor and outdoor
pollution—you name it, she’d have a resource.
My latest concern, likely in response to those incessant
commercials, is the existence of disgusting invisible dust mites
that camp out in our mattresses, living off our skin flakes (yuck!).
I asked Mary what she does for that and she referred me to this
article of hers, which follows in its entirety.
Written by Mary Cordaro
One of the easiest ways to reduce our homes’ chemical loads is to
remove shoes upon entering the house.
Allergy sensitivities are on the rise. They’ve doubled since
the 1970s, according to a 2005 study by the National Institutes of
Health. Some of that increase may be because most of us spend up
to 90 percent of our time indoors, meaning we are almost constantly
exposed to airborne allergens in our offices, homes and cars.
The most common home allergens are particulates and
chemicals. Particulates include seasonal pollen, mold, dust,
dust mites and animal dander. Indoor chemicals associated
with allergies include formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds
(chemicals that outgas from products such as plywood and
fiberboard), conventional paint and finishes, and permanent
fabric treatments. By improving air flow and reducing sources of
particulates, chemicals and moisture, we can reduce our homes’
levels of typical airborne allergens. Here are some strategies.
Many of the chemicals in our homes are tracked in from our shoes
and pets’ feet. One of the easiest ways to reduce our homes’
chemical loads is to remove shoes upon entering the house. We
can also reduce exposure to tracked-in grime by making bedrooms
off-limits to pets.
To control allergens that do get in, vacuum frequently, including
upholstered furniture, with a HEPA vacuum independently certified
to capture at least 99 percent of particulates. This is especially
important if you have wall-to-wall carpet or pets. If you don’t
have a HEPA vacuum, open windows while vacuuming and for 30
minutes afterward, as non-HEPA vacuums can stir up allergens.
You might also invest in a HEPA air cleaner that filters particulates
such as dust, pollen, dander and mold. The best HEPA cleaners
contain carbon for chemical filtering.
Moisture helps create an ideal environment for mold and other
allergens. One of the most common sources of indoor moisture is
condensation from bathing and cooking. Run exhaust fans when
cooking and for 30 minutes after bathing, even if your bathroom
has a window. (Make sure exhaust fans vent to the outdoors.) While
fans are running, it’s wise to crack a nearby window to provide
a source of makeup air (see “This House Doesn’t Suck” below).
Outdoor moisture may also lead to indoor mold. Make sure your
home’s drainage directs water away from foundation walls.
In basements, avoid materials mold thrives on such as drywall
and carpet. Instead, choose hard materials such as concrete,
ceramic, tile and stone. Keep moist basement air out of living
spaces by installing an airtight seal around the basement door and
caulking holes where plumbing and electrical wires pass from the
basement to the ground floor. Also install weatherproofing around
Carpet cleaning and humidifying
increase indoor moisture. If carpet
doesn't dry quickly after cleaning, you
may end up with low levels of mold
you canft see or smell. Use chemicalfree
cleaning methods that require
the least water, and only clean carpets
when humidity is low and you can open
windows. If you hire professionals, ask
them to extract as much moisture as
possible. If you use a humidifier, use
filtered water and clean the reservoir
with three percent hydrogen peroxide
before refilling to prevent mold and
Death to Dust Mites
The average bed is home to 100,000 to
10 million dust mites. Along with their
favorite food.our skin particles.
mites thrive on warmth, moisture and
darkness. Before making the bed, pull
back covers and air bedding, reducing
moisture. When itfs sunny, air bedding
outdoors. Wash sheets in hot water
weekly if you are dust mite-sensitive.
Unless they are filled with organic or
chemical-free wool, which is naturally
mite-resistant, encase mattresses,
pillows and comforters with nontoxic
dust mite barrier covers tightly woven
to at least 4.91 microns. Seek barrier
covers that are free of PVC and
antimicrobial, stain- or wrinkle-resistant
treatments (see Resources).
Increase Air Flow
Unless you have seasonal pollen
allergies or live in a highly polluted area,
open windows whenever weather allows.
Fresh air and sunlight are great remedies
for high levels of particulates, mites,
moisture and chemicals. For fast relief,
open windows and turn on all exhaust
fans. Whole-house fans ventilate your
entire home. If you install one, make
certain its exhaust is mechanically
vented to the outdoors, not into the attic.
This House Doesn't Suck
When you turn on your furnace, air
conditioner or exhaust fans, your home
may become gnegatively pressurized,h
an effect that causes indoor air to
gsuck inh pollutants from basements,
wall cavities, attics and crawl spaces.
To prevent this effect, keep all interior
doors open and crack one window on each floor when furnace or fans are running.
Change furnace filters when you see grime
buildup, or once every six months.
Mary Cordaro is president of Mary Cordaro Inc, where she works as a healthy home consultant and certified Bau-biologist. She lectures around the country.
Mary's company has grown along with the entire green industry and she remains my top resource here:
Mattress barrier encasements - Miele/Nilfisk
Allergy Store - HEPA room air filters
Organic Mattresses - Honeywell Inc./IQAir
HEPA vacuums - Mary Cordaro Inc