We’re Hiring at Indoor Science! Learn more about our Job Openings.

How Can I Test my Home for Allergens?

Allergen sampling, sneezing

The number of allergens inside a home can be a major concern for those who suffer from allergies.  If you have allergies, you want to be comfortable while indoors and not be bothered by a runny nose, watery eyes, or sneezing fits.  Many people control their allergies by taking medication and avoiding the source of their allergies altogether. It does happen, however, that even after taking the necessary precautions people still suffer symptoms which makes them wonder – How can I do allergen sampling in my home?

Air Allergen Sampling

For allergen air sampling, the approach we prefer collects an air sample for 5 days.  A device is set up so that it continuously runs for that time period. During that time, air passes through the apparatus and allergens are collected on an electrostatically charged plate.  This type of sampling is very simple but it requires a sampling time that is longer than dust sampling. The sample is sent to a laboratory which analyzes the dust found inside of the device.  Once it’s analyzed the results tell us the amount of certain allergens per volume of air. Allergens included in the results are weed pollen, tree pollen, grass pollen, mouse, roach, dust mite, cat, and dog. We prefer to collect a sample in the bedroom, but it can also be helpful to test other areas of the home.

Dust Allergen Sampling

A different method for allergen sampling is to collect a dust sample directly from an environment.  This is done by using a vacuum with a specialized collection device. The collection device connects to the hose of a vacuum and traps the dust in a filter sleeve.   This filter sleeve is what is sent to the laboratory to be analyzed.

When the sample arrives at the laboratory it is first sieved and weighed.  The U.S. Department of House and Urban Development (HUD) recommends that all dust sample be sieved and weighed1. The purpose of sieving the sample is to remove large fibers that may have been picked up by the vacuum. Once those large fibers are removed, the dust sample is weighed because the results are typically reported per gram of dust which makes the initial weight of the sample critical.  The results can also be reported in per square area, although this is rare.

A drawback of dust sampling is that allergen deep in a carpet may not be getting airborne regularly. A dust sample doesn’t measure current exposure directly. Dust samples are better for a historical view of the allergens in a home.

Why Test for Allergens Inside a Home?

We get calls to test for allergens in a property for various reasons.  It may be that a client of ours is allergic to cats and is purposely moving into an apartment building that has never allowed the occupants to have cats.  Before signing a lease or buying the apartment, our client wants to ensure that there are no cat allergens in the new space. A dust sample would be best for this case. Another more common example is when an individual is highly sensitive to a certain allergen and wants to know if that particular allergen is present in her home.  An air sample would be best for this case.

Visiting the Allergist

Testing your home for allergens should only be one part of determining whether or not you may be suffering from allergies due to your environment.  Another very important component is seeing an allergist. It may be more helpful to determine if you suffer from a particular allergy prior to testing your home for allergens.  This way we’re not blindly testing for some select allergens when you could be suffering from a completely different allergy that is not part of the test. Also, keep in mind that everyone’s individual sensitivities are different and that one person may be very sensitive to a small amount of allergens and another person experiences no effects even to a large exposure.

If you would like to test your home or office for allergens in the Chicago area, please give us a call.

  1. HUD Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control. Vacuum Dust Sample Collection Protocol for Allergens; HUD: Washington, D.C. May 2008.

Ian Cull

Ian Cull is a nationally recognized expert in the field of indoor air quality. He is the Chief Science Officer of Indoor Science, a company he started in 2004. He speaks around the world on air quality topics and is a training provider of the Indoor Air Quality Association. Mr. Cull is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). His degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign. Mr. Cull has developed 50 air quality related courses for the IAQA University and is the author of the book, “Fundamentals of Mold Remediation”. In his words… “Besides being passionate about indoor air quality, I enjoy cycling, music, the Chicago Bulls, and having fun with my three kids.”