If you're severely allergic to cats, dogs, or other common household pets, you may find the house-hunting process to be physically draining in more ways than one. Spending your evenings or weekends touring homes where cats or dogs reside with their human owners can leave you a sneezing, congested mess. Unfortunately, with a solid third of the U.S. population owning at least one cat and up to 47 percent of households owning a dog, finding a pet-free home for your new purchase can be a tall order. If you've finally selected your next home and it happens to be currently occupied by a furry pet, what should you do to remove any lingering fur or dander before moving in? Read on to learn more about the most effective DIY cleaning methods for those with severe pet allergies, as well as some situations in which carpet replacement or professional cleaning may be required.
What can you do to quickly remove pet dander and fur from your home?
Most of those who deal with dog or cat allergies are primarily allergic to dander -- the ultra-fine flakes of skin and hair that are constantly shed by furry mammals. Some may also have saliva allergies, causing rashes or skin irritation upon being licked or coming into contact with an object that has been exposed to dog or cat saliva (like a food or water dish). Those with respiratory issues could also have problems if a portion of the floor or wall has been exposed to pet urine, as the strong odor created by this urine can be tough to mask and may irritate the mucous membranes.
Your first step, once you've been given access to the home after closing, should be to open all windows and screened doors (unless the outdoor weather makes this a poor option). You'll also want to invest in a HEPA air filter that can remove any minute dander particles that remain after your cleaning. Airing out your home and installing an air filter can go a long way toward making it more livable shortly after a pet has vacated.
Next, you'll want to thoroughly clean carpets and any other soft surfaces to which fur or dander could adhere. Although most department stores sell carpet cleaners for home use, you'll need a heavier-duty cleaner than most available for retail sale -- you may want to look into the rental of a commercial cleaning unit instead. These carpet cleaners utilize ultra-hot water and firm scrubbing bristles to reach the very bottom layer of carpet, removing dirt and dander and sucking up the dirty water into a waste tank that can be periodically emptied.
In addition to giving your home's flooring a thorough cleaning, you'll also want to take a proverbial fine-toothed comb to your home's filtration system and any air vents. If you have a central heating and cooling system with floor or baseboard grates, it's likely that pet dander has accumulated in these vents over the years, blasting out an invisible spray of allergens each time the heater or air conditioner kicks on. By removing your vents and spraying the interior surfaces with a water and vinegar mixture, then wiping clean, you'll be able to largely eliminate any remaining allergens that may have settled into your ductwork.
When may you need to replace carpet or other soft surfaces in your new home?
Unfortunately, some allergies are so severe that even the most detailed carpet cleaning isn't enough to remove all potential allergens. If you find yourself still sneezing or dealing with chest congestion after cleaning your new home's carpets and dusting out the air filters, you may want to pay for a professional carpet cleaning. Because having your carpets cleaned is far cheaper than having them replaced, pursuing this option first usually makes the most financial sense (unless the carpets are so worn or outdated that you were planning to replace them anyway).
If this cleaning doesn't result in a noticeable improvement in your allergy symptoms, having the carpet removed and replaced with solid-surface flooring like hardwood, tile, laminate, or even bamboo can be a good way to remove any remaining allergens while giving your home a streamlined new look. You will want to make sure you are far away from your home during the carpet removal process, as tearing out old carpet can send millions of microscopic dirt and dander particles airborne. Giving your HEPA filter a few hours to work before returning to the home should minimize any symptoms you experience.