Fixit: Lots of factors help make a house dusty

  • Article by: KAREN YOUSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 7, 2007 - 4:00 PM

Q My house seems unusually dusty. Do dust mites make dust?

A No. It's where they live! About 5,000 possible ingredients make up dust. They include pet and human hair and skin cells (which is what dust mites eat), as well as tiny particles of rock, soil and sand, fibers from clothing, carpets, drapes and furniture, mold spores, pollen and bits of plants and insects. Recent EPA research also discovered that house dust commonly is laced with toxic chemicals such as lead and flame retardants.

The composition and amount of dust in a house vary depending on what's in and around the house. For example, dust in a rural home on a gravel road is different than that in a city home by a freeway, or a suburban home with construction nearby.

If your house seems overly dusty, consider these issues:

• Carpet. Carpets shed fiber and collect dust particles. Every time you walk on it, you knock particles into the air; they circulate throughout the house on drafts and air currents, including those from forced-air furnaces. In addition, as synthetic carpets and pads deteriorate over time, they become brittle and break into fine particles, contributing considerably to dust. Replace old carpet and pads, or, when possible, remove them and use hard-surface flooring and area rugs.

• Pets. Furry pets shed hair, dander. Launder their sleeping areas frequently, and bathe and groom animals regularly.

• Ductwork. Don't worry about cleaning it unless you've had remodeling or construction work done recently, or it's never been cleaned before.

• Vacuum. Cleaning with a vacuum can help control dust, but if you don't use one with a HEPA filter you'll simply spread around the dust. A central vacuum that discharges outdoors also works well.

• Filter. The standard filter on a forced-air furnace doesn't do much to capture household dust. Replace it with a higher-efficiency pleated filter.

In addition:

• Place a mat outside entry doors so people can clean shoes and boots before entering. Better yet, remove shoes and especially boots, and leave them on a mat near the door.

• Put outdoor clothing in closets and keep the door closed.

• Damp-mop or damp-wipe all smooth surfaces weekly. Don't forget those easily overlooked areas such as window sills, door frames and baseboards.

• When possible, use cabinets and display shelves with doors rather than open shelving.

• Beware of ultrasonic humidifiers. If you are using tap water instead of distilled water in the humidifier, it will release fine minerals or light-colored "dust" into the home.

• Limit candle burning, as it releases fine particles of soot into the air.

Includes information from the Asthma Society of Canada

Send your questions to Fixit in care of the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488, or call 612-673-9033, or e-mail Sorry, Fixit cannot supply individual replies.

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