Depending on your health concerns, the amount of dust in your household may or may not have you overly worried. Of course, people who suffer from severe allergies or asthma – or have family members who do – are probably the most likely to take whatever steps are necessary to keep their homes as clean as possible. And those who pride themselves on maintaining a spotless home might go into cleaning warrior mode where, armed with a cloth and furniture polish, they vow never to see a speck of dust again!
But if you fall somewhere in the middle – busy business owner and/or parent who does their best to keep their home clean but doesn’t panic at a dust bunny here or there – then occasional dust build-up might just be something you learn to live with. But is that even healthy? People affected by allergies, asthma or other respiratory sensitivities know all too well the havoc dust can create for their health. As it turns out, though, dust isn’t really great for anyone to be breathing in.
Part of what makes dust so unhealthy is what’s in it. And the composition of dust changes with the times, as well – the dust in 300 A.D. was different from dust in 1900, which is different from dust in 2016. Dust itself is an amalgam: it’s hundreds or thousands of possible combinations reflective of a region or specific location where it’s found.
What’s In Dust
As reported by Time Magazine in 2010, “the specific dust mix in any household differs according to climate, age of the house and the number of people who live in it — not to mention the occupants’ cooking, cleaning and smoking habits. But nearly everywhere, dust consists of some combination of shed bits of human skin, animal fur, decomposing insects, food debris, lint and organic fibers from clothes, bedding and other fabrics, tracked-in soil, soot, particulate matter from smoking and cooking, and, disturbingly, lead, arsenic and even DDT.”
The Time article also pointed out that “the majority of household dust — about 60% — comes from outside, through windows, doors, vents and, significantly, on the soles of your shoes. Smaller dust particles — from 28 to 49 microns, or thousandths of a millimeter — tend to stay on your shoes. The rest is shaken off inside. A higher share of the dust that floats in the air gets deposited, but again, there’s a lot that determines how much any one home will get.”
Paloma Beamer, professor of environmental policy at the University of Arizona, told Time Magazine, “Dust in our homes, especially deep dust in our carpets and furniture, is a conglomerate of substances over the life of the home and can provide a historical record of chemicals that have entered it.” The article described a house as being like a living organism: “once it absorbs a contaminant, it may never purge it completely.”
Dust that contains organic matter – pollen, mold spores, dander – can certainly trigger allergies and asthma, causing a lot of stress and discomfort. But overall, organic matter in dust is far less worrisome than the chemical contaminants and pollutants in dust.
Modern-day dust may also feature a nasty component of particulate from high-traffic areas, both in large cities and near busy roadways, which was virtually a non-factor several hundred years ago. Particulate matter (PM) is “the sum of all solid and liquid particles suspended in air … includ[ing] both organic and inorganic particles, such as dust, pollen, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets.”
Doug Brugge, professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University, told their publication Tufts Now, “When it comes to air pollution, the main thing that really affects people is particulates—not gases.”
The EPA also notes that research findings “indicate that roadways generally influence air quality within a few hundred meters – about 500-600 feet downwind from the vicinity of heavily traveled roadways or along corridors with significant trucking traffic or rail activities. This distance will vary by location and time of day or year, prevailing meteorology, topography, nearby land use, traffic patterns, as well as the individual pollutant.”
People who live near these areas are potentially exposed to a much higher level of vehicle emissions. Particulate can then enter a home’s atmosphere and become mixed with larger dust particles in the home. The EPA estimated that in 2009, more than 45 million people in the United States lived within 300 feet of a highway with 4 or more lanes, a railroad, or an airport.
Our 6 Best Recommendations for Dealing with Dust
Apply a no-shoes rule. Even with a door mat, shoes are responsible for tracking soil, bacteria, trace chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, fecal matter and other undesirables into a home. Removing footwear in a mud room or directly by the door is a good way to prevent potentially harmful contaminants from being tracked around your home.
Clean your floors often, with the right machine. Even if you don’t have carpet – which can hold onto an untold amount of dust – cleaning your flooring on a regular basis is essential to cutting down the amount of dust in your home. Use a vacuum with a double-sealed HEPA filter to prevent contaminants from re-entering your indoor space. For hard floors, a damp mop can do wonders for removing dust and particles from your flooring.
Properly seal your windows and around openings. Particulate can enter through cracks in windows or other poorly-sealed areas. Sealing your doors, windows and other openings can help prevent extra debris from entering your home.
A damp cloth is better than a feather duster when it comes to actually removing dust from your home. A feather duster will simply disseminate the dust from a particular surface; wiping surfaces with a slightly damp rag will collect the dust and debris, allowing it to be removed instead of simply relocated.
Easy on the chemicals. Anything you spray into the air – perfume, hairspray, cleaning agents, room fragrances – can become part of the dust in your home. Finding natural cleaning solutions can be not only a healthier option for your indoor air solutions, but also cheaper as well!
Invest in an air purifier. A high-quality air purifier can do a great job of removing allergens, contaminants and pollutants from your indoor air. Find one designed to run 24/7 for maximum protection. Some also contain a technology that’s designed to actively clean the air and surfaces in your home.