How To Make Your Home An Allergen-Free Space
Cleaning Often & Keeping Certain Items Out
Because I have a life-threatening allergy to peanuts, making my home a peanut-free space has always been important to me. In an ideal world, at the place I call home, I don’t have to worry as much about my food allergy, providing me a designated space where I don’t have to be in a state of constant worry and I can let my food allergy anxieties relax a bit.
Personally, I tend to consider the safest, least cross-contact contaminated room in my house to be my bedroom since it is the least used by other people. However, I’m still potentially bringing contaminants in accidentally from the outside world on my clothes, phone, etc. Our dining room, kitchen, living room, and basement are all areas that experience heavy foot traffic, which unintentionally allows for potential minuscule peanut contaminants. Here are my steps to making your home an allergen-free space:
- Do an assessment of your home if you haven’t already, and see if there are rooms where you are bringing in a lot of items in from the outside. Things like shopping bags, grocery bags, purses, and jackets, to give some examples. These main living spaces are probably where friends & family are most often coming in and out of. I know from our experience, this is also where our dog Colby tends to first track things in, and in general, those are the spaces I still am careful to not touch my face while in without washing my hands if I can help it, and to wipe, vacuum, and clean frequently. In an ideal world, I would wipe everything coming in our home from outside, even if just with a rag and water, but I haven’t taken it to that level yet. That’s not to say I don’t wipe many things already! I used to be in a band and whenever we would move our music equipment around between vehicles and venues, I would make sure to clean my mic as well as my drumsticks, drums, and our many cords. I also wipe down grocery store items and shopping items once I get home, since I’ve noticed how contaminated the grocery store can be, especially if you go through a check-out line and it’s on the conveyor belt. I’ll wipe cereal boxes, chip bags, ice cream containers, my bunch of bananas- any surface of the item with a damp paper towel, damp rag, or a wet wipe, to try to get any obvious allergens off of it so my hands and other surfaces don’t continue to get contaminated and contaminate other spaces such as my kitchen cabinets, handles, our fridge, etc.
- Think about your car or main method of transportation. Over the years I’ve determined that my car is a place where lots of potential allergen particles are, it really becomes a haven for cross-contact contamination, since it’s constantly being used and exposed to various environments I’m coming in and out of like the doctors office, work, the grocery, the library, the park, and so on. I wipe my steering wheel often, and I am aware to try to not touch my face in my car without wiping or washing my hands first. I will always wipe things I get from public places, like library books. I also wipe things that are prone to being highly exposed to public places, such as my purse, my phone, and areas of my home where I tend sit those items down, like my coffee table, kitchen counter, bedside table, and dining room table. If you rely on public transit, it can be even trickier to clean surroundings, and so my method is to use the transit as usual making sure to not touch my face often throughout the day, wearing a mask if need be, and then once home I take off all my clothes for the day and put them directly into the laundry basket and wipe down my regularly used items from the day (credit cards, phone, purse, etc).
- Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum! I vacuum the rug in our home entry-way often and specifically got a rug that’s easy to clean and can be hosed down in the warmer months and left to air dry outside. Believe it or not, peanut traces could be on the bottoms of our own shoes and our friends & families shoes! I say this because I see peanut shells in bird feeders and on the sidewalks in our neighborhood often, and know places like grocery stores or restaurants have peanut products and top allergens all over the place. Another place I try to wipe regularly is our couch, since our clothing, and friends and families clothing, or Colby’s fur coat and paws, can track in these allergen particles from shared spaces during our day.
- I view the dining room table as a hot spot for potential cross-contact, because it is where we put our mail, grocery bags, where we sit our bags after work, and jackets. Most often, if someone comes over that’s where they often sit, and in general things tend to just collect there. In the past we’ve kept a tablecloth on it so that it is easier to clean and won’t scratch or get water stained, and so that it was easy to throw into the wash regularly. Lately, we’ve been just wiping down the wooden table regularly.
- Getting machine washable home items. I make sure that our dining room tablecloth, couch cushions, throw blankets, pillows and pillow covers, dog toys, and any rugs in our house are always machine washable and can be washed regularly. Even if something says hand wash only, that’s better than “dry clean” or a scenario where it really shouldn’t be washed. When in doubt, I throw items in the washer and cross my fingers and see how it goes.
- We do not keep any type of peanut products in our home. Meaning: no dog treats made in a shared facility with peanut products, no face/shampoo products with possible peanut ingredients, no peanuts in any food that people bring over, etc. and we take special care to keep all food options that are in the house safe for me to eat. To me, I see this practice as being crucial to make life easier because I like being able to look in the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator and not have to check all the labels of what I can have or can’t have. I do still read them before consuming them, but it’s just a measure I take to be safe, it isn’t to make sure it’s an item that I can eat versus one my husband can eat only, due to it being something that ‘may contain’ peanuts. I’m not having to do a hard check like that in my own home, everything is safe for me already if it’s inside or not intended for me to eat necessarily.
- Using a HEPA air filter. This is more overall allergy-related, but it can help filter out common allergens from your air at home, in addition to replacing your filters in your home HVAC unit regularly.
I take these precautions, and now so does my husband, so that my home can better serve as my safe space, with less allergen cross-contact. Doing the above steps helps give me peace of mind and the ability to relax at home.
My Home Compost, Vegetable & Herb Garden
I feel really lucky to be able to have a small backyard where we can have some raised beds and a compost bin. My husband sat in on a class about composting so we could learn the basics for ourselves at home, and then we got a huge outdoor composting bin. If you aren’t too familiar with the concept, composting is a wonderful way to cut down on trash, have a less stinky trash can, and use leftover kitchen scraps to create healthy soil we can use in our garden!
During the warmer months, I try to grow items I typically buy at the grocery store, because it allows me some control over what equipment and surfaces the herbs and food have come into contact with. Being able to grow my own cilantro and wash it at home, for example, gives me less anxiety than buying fresh cilantro from the store and having to wash each little strand really, really well. I overheard a terrifying conversation at a farmer’s market where a vendor was talking about how peanut shells are great to compost with and how they compost a lot of them, and this was a major red flag for me to hear. I never thought about that aspect of gardening and how compost could potentially contain peanut ingredients that aren’t fully broken down! I don’t know if it can be life-threatening to come in contact with broken-down peanut shells, but I know I want to avoid that entirely, so making my own compost helps me have control over things like this.
I recently dried some sage from our garden this past week with my dehydrator that I’m putting into an old spice jar, and I’m pretty proud of it! I wanted to — plant this seed — for readers of my blog. It could be worth beginning to compost and/or garden if you have the space and ability to, or if you have potential access to a community garden plot. I really enjoy growing some of my own produce to help lessen the trail before it gets to my plate, and in turn, eliminating some food allergy-related anxiety. I do scrub all my vegetables and fruit and produce from the store & even from my own garden at home (i.e. squirrels) and I highly suggest if you have a food allergy to do the same to limit cross-contact from allergens. Trader Joe’s has a fruit and vegetable wash that I like, and will use on solid produce items sometimes when it makes sense to like apples, eggplant, bell peppers, carrots, etc. I wouldn’t use it on something as delicate as cilantro.
Squirrel Garden Contamination
One thing I briefly mentioned above is that squirrels have contaminated my garden, front and back yard, porch, and sidewalk in the past and unfortunately, will likely always continue to! This is because people in my neighborhood feed squirrels peanuts or put birdseed with peanuts in it in their yards. It is one of those things out of my control, that I have to be mindful of and avoid as much as possible. I have typed up and printed letters to my neighbors on my street, and the two surrounding streets around my home letting them know simply, “Hello, I live nearby in the neighborhood and have a life-threatening peanut allergy. I’ve come across peanuts in our yard, and on sidewalks on our walks, from bird feeders or people feeding squirrels. If you don’t mind, please feed the birds and animals something else, I would appreciate it for my own safety. Thank you!”. If I can pinpoint which homes are doing this, I will give them an additional letter if I want to, but the hard part is they don’t have to listen or do anything. All I can do is put the request out there and if people don’t want to respect it after they’ve been told, I have to accept that and act accordingly and do what’s best for me. I do have a mat I wipe my shoes on outside of both our front and back doors, and I do wipe them each time I come into the house to try to not track in allergens from outside. I’ve found peanuts planted in our hanging planters on our back deck, planted by squirrels, so it’s good to always be aware and on the lookout!
Store-Bought Soil Ingredients
Unfortunately, products that aren’t meant for human consumption such as bagged potting soil are not required to label for allergens the same way our food products are required to. One time while potting a new plant with store-bought soil, I started feeling itchy and reactive to the soil. I looked online into the ingredients of bagged potting soils and mulch, and was led into a dark, blackhole of vague information where I found out that the store-bought soil and compost likely contains peanut and top allergen ingredients. I reached out to a few soil companies, and the one that got back to me confirmed the soil was packaged on shared equipment as animal feed, birdseed, and likely peanuts and nuts. Cross-contact with store-bought soil is definitely something to be aware of.
Now That You Know How To Keep Your Home Allergen-Free
I hope this helps everyone feel more safe and relaxed in your own home. I’d be interested to learn how other people keep their homes allergen-free- comment below with any food allergy tips and tricks you have & check out my blog post with my best DIY cleaning product recipes.
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Well done! You would also be good in forensic science! Great research and investigative reporting! Be aware and be happy!