Written by Mark Sneller, PhD,

House dust: Just what is this stuff that causes perennial allergic rhinitis, bronchial asthma and respiratory allergy?

House dust is a complex mixture composed of pollens and spores; plant hairs and flower parts that are tracked indoors; fragments and feces from insects such as moths, cockroaches, ants, silverfish, spiders, and mites; fibers of material made from cellulose such as cotton, wool, linen, jute, wood kapok; man-made fibers such as fiberglass, nylon, plastic, rubber; animal and human hair and skin cells; cigarette smoke; fireplace soot; diesel exhaust carbon; lead; insecticides; aerosols from personal care products; and cat and dog antigen. It also may include food particles, such as allergenic wheat products, and tracked-in dirt that becomes worn to a powder.
Whew. Who would have thought all these substances could reside in such a tiny particle?

The chief problem with house dust comes from the ninety percent that settles on surfaces, not the ten percent that floats in the air. One study showed that the average six-room home can accumulate up to forty pounds of dust per year. The worst areas of the home for house dust are the carpet (especially deep pile), upholstered furniture, mattresses, box springs, blankets, bedspreads, comforters, quilts, drapes, and stuffed animals. Usually older upholstered furniture causes more allergies, because it has deeper layers of dust and a larger reservoir of dust mites.

Here are few ways to reduce household dust.

  • If you are in the market for furniture, look for solid unwoven or tight-weave fabrics. They may be cotton or synthetic. Either will retain very little dust.
  • If you don’t want to replace older furniture, consider shopping for a sofa or chair cover made of a tight-weave fabric.
  • Cover your bed with a tight-weave blanket to catch the dust. Fold it back at night.
  • Regularly run bedspreads through your dryer’s “air” cycle to removed dust.
  • Household dust settles near the walls because of its tendency to swirl outward as we walk, so concentrate your vacuuming or dusting at the floor’s edges.
  • Since tracking is the primary entry of dust into the home, leaving your shoes at the door greatly reduces the presence of dust that contains allergens.
  • Purchase vertical, rather than horizontal, blinds.
  • Decorate with curtains, drapes and lamp shades that are smooth and solid instead of rough and porous.
  • Deep pile carpets catch and hold a tremendous amount of dust, making them almost impossible to clean and vacuum sufficiently. The best bet is to opt for low pile carpet or go with an alternate type of flooring.
  • Reduce the number of items in a room and you cute the amount of dust and housework.

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