Whether it’s greasy food splatters on the stovetop, grime gathering on shower tile, or kids tracking mud across the floor, it’s easy to figure out the source of most household messes. Dust, in comparison, seems mysterious. It creeps in, somehow, and tends to accumulate virtually anywhere and everywhere. And while the dust you notice as a thin gray film on furniture is one thing, what about those specks forever floating in the air, invisible until a sunbeam puts them in the spotlight?
Banishing existing dust basically amounts to diligent swiping and vacuuming, but preventive measures that keep the stuff from collecting in the first place is equally, if not more important. Read on to learn how to outsmart this sneaky substance in your home so you can enjoy cleaner surfaces and easier breathing, too.
What Is Dust, Exactly?
Household dust is comprised of a variety of tiny particles, including dead skin, hair, pet dander, fabric fibers, food crumbs, soil, pollen—just about anything capable of being shed, flaked, crushed, or crumbled.
Although dust mites, those microscopic creatures that feed on dead human skin cells, typically breed in bedding and other soft, moist spots, they lurk in everyday dust. Mold, bacteria, and environmental pollutants, including lead, asphalt, and arsenic, can also be present in household dust. No wonder dust is not just unsightly but a common allergen that can cause sneezing, coughing, congestion, and other symptoms.
Tips for Keeping Dust to a Minimum in Your Home
Due to its diverse composition, the dust in your home will be unique, depending on your climate, the personal habits of family members, even the age of your house and its systems. Check out these tips for keeping dust at bay, and effectively cleaning it when it does gather.
Keep the outside out
As much as 60 percent of dust in the home may come from outdoors. Two simple rules, working in tandem, can stem the tide. First, ensure that everyone wipes their feet on a quality doormat prior to entering the house. Choose a mat made of a thick fiber, like coconut coir, to effectively remove and trap dirt and debris from shoes. Then, adopt a “no shoes in the house” policy, asking family and guests to take off and store footwear before getting much farther than the threshold.
A basket or cubbies in a mudroom, porch, or vestibule helps enforce this. When possible, shake off coats and other outerwear before coming in, and store these items in a dedicated front closet so they are less likely to sprinkle particles willy-nilly. Furthermore, examine windows, doors, and your home’s exterior, caulking, replacing weather stripping, and repairing screens as necessary, and/or limit the amount of time you leave windows open.
Be HVAC vigilant
Invest in quality air filters and, if dust allergies are an issue, look for a high MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating; the higher the MERV, the better the filter at capturing more and smaller particles. Most homes rely on filters with MERV ratings between 5 and 8, but allergy sufferers may opt for 10 or higher. Recommendations for replacing old filters with new ones differ, depending on the filter type, but their effective range is usually between 30 to 90 days. That said, it’s a good idea to visually inspect a filter monthly to see if it’s clogged with dust.
Old or leaky HVAC ducts can also be problematic, letting in the likes of fiberglass, insulation, and other debris. If you suspect a problem, have a pro come in to diagnose and repair. Finally, adding an air purifier to the home can help remove impurities and lessen the load on your HVAC system, so it needn’t work as hard.
Hit the showers
Though not as significant a component as once believed, dead skin is present in all household dust. Fortunately, it’s one culprit that’s easy to control via healthy hygiene habits. The more that dead skin goes down the drain with frequent bathing and shampooing, the less it can flake off and contribute to dust. Extend this policy to pets, too. Brush and bathe them outdoors if possible, or take them to the groomer regularly to diminish shed dander and hair.
Deter dust mites
These microscopic pests thrive in humid conditions, so adding a dehumidifier may help reduce the dust mite population. Ideally, humidity levels in the home should be above 40 but no higher than 60 percent.
Washing bedding weekly in hot water at least 120 degrees F—not just sheets but pillow shams, comforters, duvet covers, and the like—is also important. Using allergy-reducing mattress and pillow covers designed to guard against dust mites is also a good defense. And don’t forget to shake out and wash your pet’s bedding on a weekly basis, too.
Don’t just clean
Of course, you clean, which no doubt vanquishes visible dust, including the diabolical dust bunnies that hide under beds and sofas. But regular housecleaning becomes more effective when using microfiber cloths or slightly damp 100-percent cotton rags instead of a feather duster or dry dust cloths made of other materials, which tend to scatter rather than pick up dust. Remember to always dust a room from top to bottom.
Bonus tip: Stymied by dust in pleated lampshades and curlicues in furniture? Try a clean, small, lightly moistened paintbrush.
A HEPA (high-efficiency particulate absorbing) filter on your vacuum is a must to better banish dust. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it can remove at least 99.97 percent of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and airborne particles. And be sure to discard vacuum bags or empty canister models outside, not in the house.
Get gonzo about grease
Sticky surfaces trap dust and make it harder to remove. Run the exhaust fan when cooking to get grease out of the air before it can land on the floor, table, and countertops. Also, if you use furniture polish, apply it sparingly to a clean cloth, rather than spray directly on surfaces. Overdoing polish can leave smears, to which dust can cling.
De-clutter and redecorate
Beyond cleaning, a significant purge of dust-magnet décor can go a long way. Do you really need that many accent pillows and throws in the living room, plush toys in the kids’ rooms, heavy drapes in the dining room, and wall-to-wall carpeting anywhere? Soft fabrics disguise and trap dust the way hard surfaces don’t.
Area rugs, after all, can be brought outside and shaken free of collected dust. If you love the comfort of upholstered furniture and the drama of drapes, break out those vacuum attachments and use them regularly—ideally, as often as you vacuum carpeting.
As to window treatment alternatives, the positioning of vertical blinds makes them less likely to collect dust than horizontal versions, and cellular (a.k.a., honeycomb) shades are typically made from anti-static fabric that helps prevent dust from settling. If replacing curtains and carpets is cost-prohibitive, have them professionally cleaned several times a year and vacuum at least weekly.