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How to Get Rid of Pet Dander

Living with Pet Allergies: How to Get Rid of Animal Dander

We all love our pets, but living with a cat or dog can be difficult if you have a pet dander allergy.  Most people who suffer from pet allergies understand that they are “allergic” to cats or dogs, but many people do not realize exactly what it is that causes their itchy eyes, runny nose, or sneezing whenever they enter a home or apartment that houses a pet.

Contrary to popular belief, pet hair is not the issue per se.  Furniture that is covered with fur may be unsightly, but you are not allergic to the fur.  The actual allergen lies within the animal’s dander, which consists of shed skin cells.  The dead skin contains proteins that aggravate a sensitivity within the immune system (for more information on how allergies work, see our article entitled What Are Allergies?).  An animal’s bodily fluids, such as saliva, can also contain these proteins. 

Cat dander particles are typically between 1 and 10 microns in size; a human hair follicle ranges from around 20 to over 150 microns in width.  Because of the size and lightness of pet dander particles, they stick well to soft surfaces (including clothing) and float in the air for extended periods of time, sometimes hours.  Simply walking into a room or sitting on a couch can stir up pet dander particles. 

This is why getting rid of pet dander is a multi-step process.  It involves cleaning the surfaces, removing unnecessary particle traps, cleaning the walls, and running an air purifier to filter airborne animal dander particles.

  1. The first order of business is to focus on surfaces.  Use a HEPA vacuum to regularly vacuum all soft furniture, and have any carpet or rugs professionally cleaned.  Mop wood and tile regularly.
  2. Clean the walls, banisters, crown molding, and the like.  Believe it or not, animal dander can stick to these as well!
  3. This will kick up millions of dander particles in addition to the ones you agitate just by being in your home.  Consider an air purifier to filter out the air – more details follow.
  4. If you live with a pet, try not to have too many cushions and soft toys for them, since they will act like sponges for animal dander when the pet uses them.  This goes for any type of cushion or pillow, as well as stuffed animals.  Wash these objects often.


A HEPA filter is a filter than will trap 99.97% of all particles greater than 0.3 microns in size.  This means that a HEPA air purifier will filter out nearly all of the pet dander that passes through it.  An air purifier is widely recommended as one step in getting rid of pet dander. 

There are a couple of models out there that are advertised as air purifiers for pets, such as the Austin Air Pet Machine.  In reality, however, most air purifiers with a HEPA filter will do an excellent job of trapping animal dander.  The differences to consider when choosing an air purifier for pet dander involve the performance power of the machine and optional features.  Since animal dander particles can be relatively large, we also recommend looking for a model that comes with a Pre-Filter, which is a standard-quality filter that is designed to trap large particles before they reach the HEPA filter.  This will ensure that the HEPA filter does not get clogged and will last longer. 

To view our selection of the best air purifiers for pet dander, see our best air purifiers for pets section.  This will also include air purifiers for getting rid of pet odor.  For a general and thorough guide on choosing an air purifier, see our Air Purifier Buying Guide.

By: Eugene Ravitsky

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