Background: Exposure and sensitization to indoor allergens is a major cause of asthma. Objectives: This study investigated the levels of house dust mite, cat, dog and cockroach allergens in the dust and air in hospitals and the effects of regular vacuum cleaning on allergen levels in hospital chairs. Methods: Der p 1, Fel d 1, Can f 1 and Bla g 2 were measured in the dust collected by vacuuming upholstered chairs and a 1 m2 area of carpet and mattress in 14 hospitals. Air samples were collected using an air sampler (flow rate 60 L/min) on 10 separate days for 4 h in the outpatient department in one of the hospitals during busy clinics when patients were waiting for their appointments. In addition, dust samples were collected on four occasions, at 4-weekly intervals, from 36 fabric covered chairs in the outpatient area of a busy chest clinic by vacuuming each chair for 2 min. During the intervening weeks, 18 of the chairs (active group) were each cleaned by vacuuming for 1 min, three times per week. Der p 1, Fel d 1, Can f 1 and Bla g 2 were assayed using monoclonal antibody-based ELISA. Results: In total, 83 carpets, 69 mattresses and 42 upholstered chairs were sampled. The levels of dust mite allergen Der p 1 and cockroach allergen Bla g 2 found in the hospital setting were low. High levels of Fel d 1 (GM 22.9 μg/g, range 4.5-58) and Can f 1 (GM 21.6 μg/g, range 4-63) were found in upholstered chairs. Airborne Can f I was detected on every occasion (range 0.12-0.56 ng/m3), whilst detectable airborne Fel d 1 was found on 7 out of the 10 sampling days (range 0.09-0.22 ng/m3). Der p 1 and Bla g 2 were below the detection limit in all airborne samples. Following repeated vacuuming the mean cat and dog allergen levels decreased significantly (P <0.001) and were almost fivefold lower in the vacuumed chairs compared with the control group. Conclusions: Low levels of mite allergen are unlikely to be of any clinical significance to mite-sensitive asthmatic patients. However, upholstered chairs in hospitals constitute a significant reservoir of cat and dog allergen. Inhalation of airborne allergen in patients attending their hospital appointment may exacerbate asthma in those highly allergic to cats or dogs. These results question the wisdom of introducing soft furnishings and carpets into hospitals. Three-times weekly vacuuming significantly reduces allergen levels in upholstered chairs.