"If my face looks puffy on the show, you know that I haven't taken my Claritin," she tells me in a small coffee shop near Grand Central Station in New York on a windy April morning. It is just the kind of day that causes havoc with one's allergies; red, itching eyes and running noses populate the tourist-laden 42nd Street to prove the point. It seems only fitting that I've meet with her to discuss allergy proofing the home.
Basically, it all comes down to cleaning. There's a reason that spring signals a time to clean. All winter long our homes have been closed up and items such as blankets and heavy drapery litter our homes. When the temperatures begin to rise, it's time to change all of these things since they have spent the last half of the year collecting the allergens that you have dragged into your home from November through April.
"Your living room has the most allergens in your home," says Soto. "Think about it, you come in and sit on the couch and everything that is on your clothes rubs off on your furniture and stays there." Start this spring with this go-away-allergy to-do list from Soto:
Have all rugs and carpets cleaned at the beginning and at the end of the season, either by a professional or using a rental carpet cleaner. (See our report on carpet cleaners for the best match for you.)
If you have carpets, make sure your vacuum is a true or closed HEPA-filter not a HEPA-filter type. The former, at .3 microns, will trap 99.97 percent of the particles. The results of testing are often included with the vacuum.
Take down heavy drapery and have it laundered, then store it until the cold temps return. Instead, Soto suggests putting up linen or cotton drapes, which are lighter and allow more natural light and lighten things up a little bit in the room. They are also easier to clean through the open-window seasons of spring and summer.
Wash your window screens, says Soto. "The wind will just blow all that dirt and pollen that has accumulated over the winter into your house." First vacuum the screen and then take it down and wash it with soap and water.
Furniture and the Rest:
Have any upholstered furniture cleaned. According to Soto, the couch and chairs absorb most of the allergens we bring in on our clothes. "Throw pillows should be cleaned at least once a year, even stuffed animals," she says. "I heard a good trick the other day: Put them in the freezer to kill off the dust mites instead of washing them. Because when you wash them, they still get moldy inside because they don't dry all the way."
Put away the clutter. "Clutter kills small spaces; it always makes everything feel so much smaller." This includes throw blankets and pillows. "Since the weather is warmer, you don't need these items," she says. Also, the fewer things you have out, the less space there is for dust to collect. If you like having these things handy, she suggests multipurpose furniture--benches with underneath storage or ottomans that double as chests, etc.
Finally, don't wear your shoes in the house. This isn't a new concept by any means, but Soto reminds us that our shoes can track in all sorts of microbes that can send or allergies into high gear. If you hate seeing shoes piled up at the front door, like she does, use a chest or a decorative basket with a lid or a bench that has storage boxes underneath.
Clean, then repeat in late October.