May 15th, 2006
Not only is dust annoying, it's gross. That seemingly innocuous crap that builds up on the shelf around your nicknacks and on your stereo is a conglomeration of nastiness. If you take a close look at dust you'll not only find dirt, you'll also find sloughed dead skin, hair, pollen, plant fibers, pet dander, dust mite carcasses, dust mite feces, bits of spider web, and more. What's worse is that you can never get rid of it completely. There are a number of things you can do to significantly reduce dust in the home, but it will always be there.
Not to be an alarmist, but one of the more disturbing things I've recently learned about dust is that, aside from all the other nastiness it's comprised of, dust is a major source for PBDEs (Polybrominated diphenyl ether). In fact, the EPA estimates that 80% of PBDE exposure comes from house dust. So what are PBDEs and why should you care? Well, PBDEs are flame retardants that can be found in many of the things we own such as electronics, computers, cell phones, furniture, carpet pads, mattresses, and automobiles, just to name a few. PBDEs are bioaccumulants that have been shown, in lab animals, to have toxic effects on both the liver and the thyroid, which, in turn, can cause endocrine disruptions that can lead to neurodevelopmental disorders in offspring. Like I said, I don't want to be an alarmist. These are the results from tests on lab animals, not humans. However, since the use of several types of PBDEs have been banned in the United States, I have to believe there is at least some cause for concern and will, therefore, put a little more effort into cleaning dust in my home.
Getting Rid of Dust
Get rid of dust magnets. The best thing you can do for yourself when trying to reduce the amount of dust in your home is to get rid of the things that dust likes to settle on. You don't want to hear this, but that carpeting under your feet should really be the first thing to go. Wall-to-wall carpeting is the number one worst thing you can have in your home if you're trying to get rid of dust. Not only does it settle in there like crazy, it also gets kicked up quite easily, which allows it to settle elsewhere. You should also consider getting rid of heavy drapes in exchange for easy-to-clean blinds. Upholstered furniture is bad, too. When it comes time to replace it, consider leather, vinyl, or wood.
Start dusting. I realize full well that this is one of those "no crap" moments, but bear with me. Many people do a rather half-assed job when it comes to dusting, and if you have dust allergies or have children or pets with dust allergies (see left for symptoms), then this is important. Dusting should be done at least twice a week. Start dusting high and work your way down. Don't forget light fixtures and the tops of picture frames. For hard-to-reach places, ostrich feather dusters are nice. They quickly develop a static charge that works well for holding onto dust rather than just spreading it. If you use the rag or glove method, dampen them lightly with your cleaner of choice. Take your time and do a good job. If there's dust to clean, clean it.
Cleaning dust from floors. After you've dusted all the furniture, decorations, and fixtures, that dust is gonna have to settle somewhere. That somewhere is the floor. And so it doesn't get kicked back up into the air, it's important to clean the floors immediately after you dust. If you have carpet, vacuum. If you have hard floors, mop. While it may be tempting to sweep first, I advise against it. Sweeping is notorious for throwing dust back up into the air. When cleaning dust from floors, it's also a good idea to move appliances and furniture. It's amazing what gets built up behind refrigerators and couches. Also, if you have upholstered furniture, put the appropriate hose attachment onto your vacuum cleaner and vacuum every surface you can get to.
Keep a tidy house. Dust and clean, tidy houses are not friends. The more junk you have laying around, the more surface area there is for dust to collect on. Pick up piles of dirty clothes. Get rid of old magazines, newspapers, and stacks of mail. Keep counters and tables wiped. Wash all bedding once a week (dust loves bedding), and store unused bedding in boxes, totes, or bags. While you're at it, store off-season clothing in the same way. If you use rugs and slip covers in your home, make sure to take them outside when you shake them out.
Use good air filters. When attempting to control dust in your home, one of the best things you can do is to replace old dirty filters (furnace, air conditioner) with new ones. Don't cheap out on the new filters either. It's well worth it to spend the extra few bucks on a good one. Just make sure to pick one with a high MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating. MERV values range from 1 to 16. The higher the MERV rating, the more efficient the filter. Keep air ducts clean, too. If you can't or don't want to do it yourself, you can hire it done.
HEPA Filters, HEPA Air Purifiers, & HEPA Vacuum Cleaners
HEPA air is good air, right? Right. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air. This is really just fancy talk for "filters that filter the crap out of your air." A true HEPA filter will remove 99.97 percent of all particles larger than 0.3 micrometers from passing air. This is a lifesaver for people with extremely dusty homes, for people who have dust allergies, and for people who just don't want to clean dust quite so often. Luckily for all, the HEPA air filter is becoming more and more common. Not only can you purchase HEPA filters for your furnace and air conditioner, you can also buy free-standing HEPA air cleaners and HEPA air purifiers that plug into the wall and work very much like a fan. Let's not forget about the HEPA vacuum cleaner either. It's true. You can now buy vacuums that come with a HEPA air filter. No longer do we have to deal with vacuum cleaners spewing dust back into the air as you try to clean the floors.