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Dust: Where Does It Come From and How to Control It?

Keeping house involves a lot of work and elbow grease. Dirt and debris naturally build up, and in order to keep your home looking neat, tidy, presentable, and comfortable, keeping things clean is an absolute must. Of all the chores that maintaining a house requires, there’s one that seems to be never ending: dusting.

It never fails, you finish wiping a layer of dust off a shelf or a table, and as soon as you turn around, it’s back! No matter where you live, how many people reside in your household, or what type of activities take place indoors, dust is one of those things that you just can’t escape. No matter what you do, dust will always find its way to you.

Dust makes things look unkempt, unwelcoming, and for lack of a better word, just plain icky. As if that isn’t bad enough, if you suffer from allergies, accumulated dust is even worse. Even if you aren’t allergic, breathing in dust-filled air isn’t exactly pleasant. Dust doesn’t just appear on surfaces out of nowhere; it floats through the air and is always swirling around, often completely unbeknownst to you, and of course, if it’s in the air, you’re going to end up breathing it in, and those small particles can cause adverse  effects and negatively impact your lungs – and your health overall.

There are several factors that impact the amount of dust in your home, such as:

  • Where you live
  • The time of the year
  • The size of your household
  • If you have pets
  • What types of activities occur in your house
  • How frequently and what you use to clean

Regardless of the amount, given the fact that it can be damaging to your furnishings – and more importantly, your health – there’s no doubt that you want to keep dust at bay as much as you possibly can. But what can you do to combat dust? Read on to find out what you can do to keep your home neat and tidy, improve your indoor air quality, protect your furnishings, and maintain prevent the negative impact that dust can have on your overall health and well-being.

What Is Dust and Where Does It Come From?

It seemingly comes out of nowhere. How often have you literally just finished cleaning, turn around, and BAM! – another layer of dust is already collecting on the surfaces? While the dust battle may seem as if it’s never ending, it’s a fight that is absolutely worth trying to tackle.

In order to battle dust, the first thing you need to do is understand what it is and where it comes from.

Essentially, dust is comprised of a variety of fine, dry particles that come from your local environment, both inside and outside. The particles are lighter than air; in other words, they’re airborne. While they can vary in size, most of the particles are so minute that you can’t see them. They float through the air and eventually, they land on surfaces, and as they accumulate, the particles become visible, and appear as a layer of film.

Dust is made up of so many different elements. In fact, the particles that it is comprised of are so varied that in an article that was published in Time magazine in 2010 quoted Paloma Beamer, a University of Arizona professor of environmental policy, Paloma Beamer, was quoted as saying, “… dust is a hodgepodge of all sorts of things. It would probably be impossible to make a list of all the possible items.”

In a study that Professor Beamer conducted, it was determined that the mixture of dust differs from household to household and largely depends on the climate, the number of individuals who reside in the home, the age of the house, and the activities that take place in the house (cleaning, cooking, smoking, etc.). In this study, it was found that the vast majority of dust that accumulates in a house – an estimated 60 percent – originates outdoors and travels inside via doors, windows, HVAC vents, and most notably (and pretty surprisingly), on the bottoms of shoes.

The findings of this study may be more than a decade old, but they remain relevant, as the findings of studies that were conducted after Beamers did not differ. The results of this study are important, as they indicate that having dust inside your house isn’t all that matters; what the dust is made of is important to. In fact, the particles the dust is comprised of may be even more important than the amount of dust in your house. So, what is in dust

So, what is dust made of?

As discussed above, more than half – 60 percent, to be exact – of the dust that accumulates in most homes originates outdoors. Some of the most common outdoor elements dust is comprised of include:

  • Pollen and soil, which are particularly prevalent in the spring
  • Mold spores, which originates from decaying vegetation and soil
  • Pollution; diesel fuel emissions, for example

How do these elements make their way inside, you ask? Well, the particles are carried by the wind and travel through opened doors and windows, small cracks in building materials, chimneys, and HVAC ductwork. It can also travel inside on your person. For example, as you walk outside, you pick up debris on the bottom of your shoes, particles fall on your clothing, bags, and even your hair, and skin, and when you enter your home, you track these outdoor particles inside. Those particles can be picked up in air currents inside your home, waft around, and eventually, they land on and accumulate on surfaces.

What is the remaining 40 percent of dust made of? Particles of elements that originate inside your home, such as the:

  • Dead skin cells, which you and your loved ones are constantly shedding
  • Pet dander, which is essentially just the dead skin cells that your pets shed
  • Dust mites, which are naturally-occurring microscopic pests that feed on dead skin cells, pet dander, so the more you have of these things in your home, the more dust mites you’ll have (sorry for the heebie jeebies)
  • Food debris; not only the crumbs themselves, but the dust mites they usher in, too
  • Pests, including their body parts and droppings, such as cockroaches, ants, and termites
  • Textile fibers, including from your clothing, carpeting, bedding, and linens
  • Toxic compounds, such as arsenic, DDT, and lead, typically in trace amounts, but these substances are present in dust, nonetheless

The Effects of Dust on Your Health

There’s no denying that dust negatively impacts the visual appeal of your home. When surfaces are coated with fine dust particles, the interior of your house looks dank, dingy, and dirty. It’s unwelcoming and just makes the space - and you and anyone who enters it – feel icky. But dust does more than minimize aesthetics and make your home look and feel gross; it can also cause adverse health effects that can range in severity from mild to serious.

Typically, the health risks that dust poses depend on the size and type of the particles. Furthermore, the effects someone experiences when they are exposed to dust depends on their genetics; for instance, those who suffer from allergies and preexisting respiratory issues, such as asthma and COPD, are more likely to develop adverse reactions as a result of dust exposure than those who do not. Nevertheless, even those who are in otherwise good health can experience unpleasant health effects when they are exposed to dust.

How do We Inhale Dust?

The dangers that are associated with dust exposure are directly related to the fact that it is inhaled. Due to the small size of the particles it’s comprised of, dust can be easily inhaled through both the nose and the mouth. There are actually two different types of dust that can be inhaled, including:

  • Inhalable. While it is very small in size, inhalable dust is comprised of larger particles. These particles can get trapped in your nose and mouth when you inhale, and because of their large size, usually, inhalable dust particles cannot be exhaled. In other words, once inhaled, the particles remain in the body.
  • Respirable dust. This type of dust is made up of particles that are smaller in size, and they tend to be more dangerous than inhalable. Because the particles are so miniscule, respirable dust can actually penetrate through the lungs and travel into the bloodstream.

How Does Dust Affect Your Home’s Indoor Air Quality

Numerous scientific studies have confirmed that dust degrease the quality of indoor air. According to findings from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the amount of pollutants in indoor air can be up to five times higher than pollutants in outdoor air. Furthermore, indoor air pollutants can be as much as 100 times more damaging than the pollutants that are found in outdoor air. Dust is one of the biggest contributors to poor indoor air quality.

How Does Dust Exposure Impact Your Health and Well-Being?

There are several ways in which dust can negatively impact physical health and well-being. Examples of the adverse effects of dust exposure include the following:

  • Allergic reactions. A lot of people are allergic to dust. In fact, about 20 million Americans experience allergic reactions when they come into contact with dust and can experience a range of symptoms, such as red, itchy, irritated, and watery eyes, nasal congestion, runny nose, sinus headaches, sneezing, sore/ scratch throat, and general malaise
  • Respiratory health issues. Those with preexisting respiratory health conditions, such as asthma and COPD, can experience worsening symptoms when they are exposed to dust. Breathing in both inhalable and respirable dust can aggravate the symptoms that are associated with these conditions, which can include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing.
  • Skin issues. Individuals who suffer from skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis and eczema, can experience flare-ups when they come into contact with dust. Inhaling dust particles can cause inflammation within the body, which can aggravate underlying skin conditions.
  • Increased risk of illness. Believe it or not, dust can spread diseases. That’s because it is a fomite, which are inanimate objects which, when exposed to or contaminated with infectious materials, can spread those infectious materials to a new host. Therefore, exposure to dust can increase the risk of developing ailments like colds and flus.
  • Brain development interference. If dust inside your house contains compounds that act as flame retardants to reduce flammability, known as Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are used on many common household items, such as carpeting and the underlying padding, furnishings, and textiles, it has the potential to disrupt the development of the hormone system within the brain.

Where Does Dust Accumulate?

Dust can accumulate on pretty much every surface within the interior of your home. Some of the most obvious locations include shelves, tables, windowsills, countertops, floors, and electronics; however, there are several inconspicuous spots where dust can collect, and being aware of these locations is important so that you can properly address it. Examples of less noticeable locations where dust can be found include:

  • Light fixtures
  • Ceiling fans
  • Blinds
  • On top of doors, windows, and cabinets
  • Upholstery
  • Carpeting
  • Baseboards
  • Decorative items, such as picture frames, vases, artificial flowers, etc.

How to Combat Dust in Your Home

Dust constantly floats through the air and collects on surfaces, therefore, it’s virtually impossible to completely eliminate it; however, the more you can minimize it, the better, as not only will the appearance of your home benefit, but more importantly, so will your overall health and well-being. So, how can you effectively minimize the amount of dust in your home? Practicing the following tips on a regular basis will certainly help:

  • Dust with a damp cloth. Avoid using dry materials to dust, such as feather dusters or rags. While it may appear as if these methods eliminate dust from surfaces, in actuality, all it does is loosen the particles, and those particles will float through the air and eventually, they will resettle – both on the surfaces you wiped down, and other surfaces, too. Using a damp cloth is a much more effective approach. Wet a clean, soft, cloth (preferably made of natural fibers, such as cotton) with lukewarm water, ring out any excess, and use it to wipe down the surfaces you want to clean. The moisture will trap the dust particles in the cloth, so it’s less likely to escape into the air and settle back on surfaces.
  • Work from top to bottom. When you’re cleaning, always work from top to bottom. When you dust, particles from upper surfaces will land on lower surfaces. As such, if you were to clean from bottom to top, the lower surfaces would be dirty again by the time you’ve finished your chores. By starting at the top and working your way to the bottom, you will be able to remove dust, as well as any other dirt and debris, that fell from upper levels and settled onto lower levels, which in turn will improve the cleanliness of your home.
  • Launder linens regularly. Linens, such as bedsheets, blankets, quilts, comforters, blankets, and even tablecloths, are hotbeds of dust-causing particles; pet dander, dead skin cells, dust mites, and food particles, for example. By laundering your linens on a regular basis – at least once a week – you’ll reduce the amount of fine particles, and thus, dust, in your home.
  • Don’t forget inconspicuous spots. When you’re dusting, don’t forget to tackle those less obvious spots, such as electronics, the tops of windows and doors, baseboards, light fixtures, ceiling fans, and decorative items. Of course, remember to work from top to bottom.
  • Clean the floors regularly. Make sure you clean the floors throughout your home on a regular basis. At least twice a week, sweep and dry or wet mop wood, tile, and other hard-surfaced floors, and vacuum carpeting and rugs. If you have pets, cleaning the floors more often is highly recommended in order to dander and hair to a minimum. If your home has stairs, don’t forget to clean them, too!
  • Make your home a no-shoe zone. If you recall, about 60 percent of dust particles that collect inside actually come from outside; on the soles of shoes, for example. Make sure that you, your family, and your guests remove their shoes before they enter your house. Create a spot by the doorways that are used to access your home where people can place their shoes; for instance, you might consider putting a basket where people can toss their shoes and a bench where they can take them off and put them on, right by the doorway. Don’t forget to hang up a sign to friendly remind anyone who enters your house to remove their shoes.
  • Maintain low humidity. Dust thrives in moist environments. Experts suggest keeping indoor humidity levels no higher than 40 percent will help to make indoor spaces less hospitable for two of the most common elements that dust contains: dust mites and mold spores. Proper ventilation and humidifiers can help to keep indoor humidity levels low, which will not only reduce dust, but will also help to improve your indoor air quality, as well as make your home more comfortable.
  • Keep air filters clean. Make sure that you keep air filters in your heating and air conditioning units clean. These filters trap all types of dirt and debris, including the particles that make up dust, such as dust mites, pet dander, and dead skin cells. Keeping your air filters clean will help to minimize the amount of dust in your home, and will also improve your indoor air quality.
  • Keep pets well-groomed. Regularly grooming your four-legged family members will help to reduce the amount of dander and hair that they release, and thus, the amount of dust in your house; plus, your pets will look even cuter when they’re well-groomed.
  • Keep clutter to a minimum. It might not seem like clutter has anything to do with dust, but on the contrary, it absolutely does! The more clutter, the more surfaces dust can settle on. By keeping your house neat and orderly, you can actually cut down on the amount of dust in your home; and of course, your house will be much more aesthetically pleasing, it will be a lot more welcoming and comfortable, and you’ll feel more productive, too.
  • Schedule regular mold inspections. Believe it or not, arranging to have regular mold inspections is also a highly effective way to keep the amount of dust in your home to a minimum. As discussed, mold spores are found in dust particles, and exposure to those spores can have adverse health effects. Indoor mold growth isn’t always apparent, however; it can lurk behind walls, underneath floors, and within ceilings, for instance. By having routine mold inspections performed by a reputable professional, you’ll not only be able to better control dust, but you’ll also improve your home’s indoor air quality, and thus, improve your overall health and well-being.

Looking for a Mold Inspection Professional?

If you’re looking for a mold inspection professional, get in touch with the team at Mold Inspection and Testing. MI&T is one of the largest and most trusted mold testing companies in the country, and our highly trained and experienced technicians use the most advanced technologies, state-of-the-art tools, and proven techniques and strategies to detect the presence of indoor mold growth.