It’s estimated that the average American spends about 90% of his/her life indoors. And while the inside threats of radon gas and secondhand smoke are well known, very little is known about the full health impact of household dust…
Scientists define dust as fine particulate matter that is made up of dirt, organic material, pollen and human and animal skin cells. Dust is also produced by mold spores and cigarette smoke. Although dust can enter your home when you open a window, about one-third of household dust is created inside your home.
It’s no surprise that a major cause of dust is pets. Dogs and cats shed dander from their skin, which causes allergies for many people. And dust mites, another well-known allergen, feed off pet dander and skin cells shed by people. Other sources of dust in the home…
• Textiles. Carpets, bed linens and clothing are common sources of dust. The fabrics these items are composed of break down over time and give off chemicals that get absorbed into the dust we breathe. The routine use of flame retardants and surface protectants on textiles stopped when researchers demonstrated that these chemicals made their way into human blood and tissue. But other harmful chemicals, such as Teflon, are still used in textiles and can end up in household dust.
• Lead. The federal government banned consumer use of lead-containing paint in 1978. But lead paint is still present in millions of homes, under layers of newer paint, contributing to lead in house dust. Children exposed to lead can experience behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia.
• Chemicals tracked in from outside. Shoes worn outdoors pick up cancer-causing toxins from asphalt road residue, lawn chemicals that can disrupt the endocrine system (glands that produce hormones that regulate many functions in the body) and much more. Also, researchers find that 96% of shoes have traces of feces on their soles.
Other problems: We all know that dust can cause eye irritation, sneezing and coughing. But for people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), even small increases in dust can worsen symptoms.
Best Ways to Minimize Dust
Sweeping with a broom or using a feather duster just stirs up dust and spreads it around. To reduce dust…
• Vacuum at least once a week using a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which mechanically forces air through a fine mesh that traps harmful particles such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites and tobacco smoke particles. A HEPA vacuum filter will also trap harmful metals, such as lead, and chemicals in dust. A stand-alone HEPA air purifier is helpful, too.
• Run an air conditioner. Central air-conditioning can filter the entire home, and window air conditioners can help as well. Filters for a central system should be changed at the frequency recommended by the manufacturer. Filters for window units should be washed monthly and thoroughly dried.
• Before entering your home, take off your shoes. Change into slippers reserved for indoor use.
• Make cleaning simple. Mix one-part white vinegar with nine-parts water, dip a cloth in the mixture and wipe down surfaces. This is one of the most effective ways to get rid of dust, including lead dust, and helps to eliminate bacteria. And it’s chemical-free.
• Don’t use antimicrobial cleaning products and hand soaps. A recent study found that the antimicrobial chemical triclosan, which the FDA banned in antibacterial soaps in 2016 after discovering dangerous side effects, including possible impact on the endocrine system, is abundant in dust, resulting in organisms that can cause antibiotic-resistant infection. Triclosan is still used in consumer products that may not list it on the label. Plus, other antibacterial chemicals are used instead and may have the same impact on dust as triclosan.
Wash hands with plain soap and water, and use vinegar (see above) to clean.
• Be sure to use dust-blocking covers on your mattresses and pillows, and when possible, replace carpets with hardwood flooring or tile.