Spring Sneezes

How to deal with allergies onboard

May 2021 Feature Janet Groene, with Gordon Groene

Allergy suffers who live on houseboats have two powerful weapons against allergies. First, you live on the water and away from plant life. Second, your floating home is mobile. You can simply move to the other side of the lake and let prevailing winds carry dust, smoke and spores away from you, or sail to a new region to avoid seasonal blooms.  

That’s a start, but some allergens travel everywhere with us. Because this boat is your home, start with these allergy-busting tips. 

* Wash bedding in water that is at least 130 degrees. Use dust mite-proof pillow and mattress covers. Remove, wash or cover fluffy comforters.

* Replace porous and plush flooring and window covers (chenille, plush, fleece) with hard surfaces (vinyl, chintz, hardwood). If you have carpeting, get the tightest weave available and vacuum it frequently with a cleaner that has a HEPA filter. Shampoo your carpet often too. Use washable, tightly woven curtains or blinds with metal or vinyl slats.

* Keep windows closed during pollen season. Avoid upholstered furniture. Favor furniture made from wood, leather, metal and plastic. Reduce clutter. Wipe down dust.

* If you can’t part with your pet, keep it out of the bedroom.

* Keeping potted plants is a problem even if you’re not allergic to the plant itself. Damp soil feeds spores and growths.

* Get good filters for the furnace and AC. Change them often. Even if they look clean they can harbor mold spores.

* Run the exhaust fan in the kitchen and bath to remove steam. Vent the drier and microwave overboard.  If you have a shower sump or a drip pan under the refrigerator, keep them dry or add a mildewcide.

* If you want a fireplace onboard get gas or electric, not wood. 

* Find the best filters for all systems including vacuum cleaners, exhaust fans and heat and air systems. Change them often.

* Wash new garments and bed and bath linens before using them for the first time. They probably contain formaldehyde or other chemical fabric treatments.

* Leave shoes on deck. They can trap leaf mold and pollen picked up ashore.

* That “new boat” smell may not be good for you. Give a new houseboat time and plenty of ventilation. It takes weeks to dissipate volatile compounds in new construction materials, paint, carpeting and adhesives.

* On an older boat, allergens may include wood rot, mildew, black mold and algae growths in wet spots such as the bilge and sumps. Allergens will continue to grow until you eliminate the source.

* If you buy a used houseboat and have severe allergy problems, consider hiring a cleaning firm that specializes in deep cleaning to remove any vestiges of peanut dust, pet dander and other allergens generated by former owners.


* Clean permanent filters often with a non-allergenic cleaner. One supplier of a wide range of allergy products is National Allergy.

* Ask your allergist or pulmonologist to recommend an air filter specific to your allergies, budget and cubic feet.            

* Your doctor can recommend first aid products to carry on board for bug bites and stings specific to your cruising area.

* Some holistic service providers recommend eating local yogurt and/or honey in each region, believing they build up your tolerance for local allergens.

* Pets can have allergies too.  If your dog reacts badly to a new cruising area, contact the AKC Canine Health Foundation at www.akcchf.org.

* Air Angel is a new portable air cleaning unit designed for hotel travelers. Because it’s so small, yet treats rooms up to 250 square feet, it may be just the ticket for your master stateroom or one of the children’s cabins. 

About the Authors

“Living Aboard” is a recurring column that focuses on living on your houseboat. Gordon and Janet Groene lived full-time on the go for ten years and they hold the NMMA Directors Award for boating journalism. Janet posts new galley recipes weekly at www.BoatCook.blogspot.com.



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