Dust…it’s everywhere. No matter how many times you clean, it always seems to reappear – seemingly before you’ve even had a chance to sit back and admire your hard work. Fine, gray dust seems to settle on every surface.
Why is house dust gray? Dust is made of microscopic particles. These tiny particles don’t reflect light very well at all individually or collectively, which is why dust is gray. These particles can include everything from human skin to pet dander and flakes of paint. As a collection of small particles, they randomly scatter light through a process known as Mie scattering.
Interestingly, dust is not only in our homes; it is all over the universe, even in space, which sure makes it seem impossible to get rid of.
Whether it’s the particulate dust in the cosmos, made up of inanimate molecules, or the cell-based dust in our homes, we first have to understand where it comes from and why before we can tackle some ideas about how to help lessen its presence.
What is Dust, and from Where Does it Come?
The gray color of house dust comes from a combination of very, very tiny particles – including human skin, dust mites, pet dander and animal fur, lint, dirt, and other unsightly residues from cooking or other habits in the home, including smoking.
While most of us think of house dust when we reference the term dust, there are also other types, including atmospheric dust.
The many particles of dust are too tiny to reflect color precisely, so what we see is a combination of the reflections of light from all of those particles at one time.
The combined reflections create a fine gray contrast or “dust” color covering on the surface of furniture and other things in our homes (source).
But the fine gray dust we tend to see in our homes is a byproduct not only of our own day-to-day lives but also can be more prevalent and difficult to deter, depending on where we live and what goes on outside of our homes, including construction taking place nearby.
And, in addition to the molecules of human skin cells, hair, fibers, pollen, and other tiny particles, there’s often a hidden creature thriving amid those microscopic fragments – dust mites. If they make you want to cringe, you’re not alone.
Unfortunately, along with domestic dust comes dust mites, which are going to thrive on those tiny skin cells that we unknowingly shed every single day.
On a more positive note, dust mites do not live on humans. They settle onto surfaces, specifically those that are dark, warm, and humid – including your carpets, mattresses, bedding, and furniture.
Don’t confuse dust mites with bed bugs, though. They’re not at all the same and should not cause anywhere near the same level of concern.
Dust mites are microscopic creatures so small you’d need to magnify them by at least 10 times to identify one correctly, and wherever humans live, they’re sure to follow (source).
The primary concern with dust mites is for those who suffer from asthma and allergies, but there are ways to lessen these creepy little creatures, which we’ll get into a bit further on.
Atmospheric dust is different from domestic dust in that it arises more from human activity, including construction, building, unpaved roads, driving, farming, or anything else that would, in a sense, disturb the land.
The amount of atmospheric dust present will depend on your location as well as the population.
If you live somewhere that is densely-populated, and where there are naturally more people, and thus more vehicles and construction, atmospheric dust may be to blame for the seemingly incessant amount of dust in your home.
However, most federal guidelines, like those of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), require construction facilities – especially those in new housing developments – to take measures to control the amount of dust emissions on-site.
These regulations are due to potential health hazards and complications, including allergic reactions, respiratory illnesses, and air quality issues (source).
The Dust in My Home is Uncontrollable. Why?
If you’ve ever felt like one room in your home harbors more dust than others, you’re probably not entirely off base. It is possible and, actually, pretty likely.
If you’ve noticed that your bedroom seems dustier than any other room, it may only be because it’s smaller.
Another possibility would be that there’ more carpeting or surfaces for the dust to settle on, or it may be because it’s one place in your house that is likely to have more clothing and fibers as well as hair from both you and your pet if you have one.
Regardless of where dust seems to settle most in your home, some identifiable culprits may be the cause of all of that excessive dust, including air filter and air duct issues, the level of humidity in your home, and even vacuuming – yes, vacuuming.
Air Filters: Why You Need High-Quality, Clean Filters
One of the most common sources of increased dust is due to air filters that are either clogged, broken, or old. Both your heating and air conditioning units use air filters, as do other ventilation systems, with the primary purpose being to clean the air you breathe.
You also have these filters in your car. Often, when you get an oil change, you’ll hear your mechanic tell you that your air filter is dirty. He may even show you the black, grimy filter.
The filter’s job is to clean the air pulled in from the outside when you turn on your heat or AC. The dirtier the filter is, the less efficient it becomes.
Similarly, in your home, air filters are designed to trap particles in the air as the air circulates. The dirtier that filter is, the less efficiently and effectively it is going to work, thus creating more dust in your home.
Air Filter Ratings and HEPA Filters.
ASHRAE developed the MERV rating – Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value – for air filters. This value ranges from 1 to 16 with a higher rating indicating that it will do a better job filtering the dust particles in the air.
Conversely, the lower the rating, the cheaper the filter will be but, also, the less efficient it is.
If you notice that you have excessive dust, you may want to consider replacing your air filter with one that has a higher MERV rating.
You may also want to consider a HEPA filter – or High-Efficiency Particulate Air filter – especially if you have asthma, allergies, or other respiratory challenges.
HEPA filters are capable of removing around 99.97% of dust and airborne particles in your home (source).
A HEPA filter is also going to increase the air quality in your home compared to a standard filter because it has a higher ability to trap all of those air pollutants.
Interestingly, as filters get dirty, they actually can become better at doing their jobs because the buildup lets less air through. However, this is only beneficial up to a point.
Old filters can cause problems in the long run since a clogged or overly dirty filter is going to force your ventilation system to work harder to pull air through the filter.
Having an older, dirty filter doesn’t mean the air is not going to get through; it merely means it will not be well filtered, increasing the prevalence of dust in your home.
So what is the takeaway?
Well, if you have a lot of dust, the first thing you want to do is check to see that your air filters are not old, clogged, or broken. How often you need to replace them depends on how many people live in your home and whether or not you have pets.
On average, most recommendations agree that you should replace your filters about every 90 days, but sooner if you have pets (source).
If replacing your filters is not working, try a filter with a higher MERV rating, or invest in a HEPA filter. Remember, the higher the MERV rating, the better the filter is going to be.
Air Ducts: Leaky Ducts Causing Dust?
Now that you’re familiar with some of the air filter types, we also need to take a look at our air duct system or HVAC systems as a whole.
Many people rarely, if ever, have their air duct systems cleaned and, if you aren’t an allergy sufferer or noticing excessive dust in your home, you probably don’t necessarily need to (source).
However, if you do notice that the dust in your home seems uncontrollable, your air duct system may be to blame.
The system’s purpose is to deliver, remove, and circulate air throughout your home. If there is a leak in that system, then you will undoubtedly notice excessive dust.
Essentially, leaky ducts have holes or gaps between duct sections, and these holes pull in dirty air and dust and circulate it throughout your home.
How do you know if you have leaky ducts? If you answer yes to most of these questions, you probably do.
- Do you notice hot or cold spots in certain places in your home?
- Have you noticed higher than average energy bills?
- Do you have excessive dust build-up despite how much you clean?
- Are your vents often covered with lint and dust build-up?
If you do think you have a leak or clog in your air duct system, the best thing to do is to hire a professional duct cleaning service. Professional cleaners will be able to perform diagnostic tests to determine if you have a leak and then seal it.
A professional cleaning will undoubtedly reduce the amount of dust in your home and could lower your energy bills, too.
Reducing Dust in Your Home
In addition to the above more extreme measures to eliminate or at least reduce dust in your home, there are some essential tips and tricks that will help you to control it. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get rid of it altogether.
However, there may be a few things you’re doing that seem like a good idea that could be making your dust problem worse.
Vacuuming – Does it cause more dust?
There’s no straightforward answer when it comes to vacuuming and whether or not doing so causes more dust since it’s sometimes yes and sometimes no.
What normally happens when you vacuum is that you’re inadvertently releasing many of those dust particles and allergens back into the air.
Rather than cleaning your carpets – which harbor dust, dust mites, and other dirt and debris – you might be making your dust problem worse.
One way to fix that is to nix the carpets in favor of hardwood floors, but most of us are not ready to make that kind of investment into home remodeling, and hardwoods have their drawbacks too.
And, even if you do have hardwood floors, you’re much more likely to notice dust blowing around quite a bit, causing dust bunnies to make their homes in every corner.
The better solution here is to invest in a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter, and there are many on the market you can choose from.
The filters in these vacuums serve the same purpose as the air filters we mentioned earlier. They can also trap up to 99.97 percent of airborne particles and dust (source).
Vacuum First or Dust First?
When it comes to reducing dust build-up, you’ll find many will say to dust first and then vacuum.
The problem with this is that when you dust, your vacuum is going to end up stirring up a lot of that dust, allowing it to resettle on the surfaces you just cleaned.
The best advice is to dust the highest elevated surfaces in your home first – think ceiling fans and high shelves (source). You don’t want to merely push the dust around, so use a microfiber cloth over a feather duster or rag.
Once you’ve dusted the highest surfaces, then you will want to vacuum. Once you’ve finished vacuuming thoroughly, use another microfiber cloth to dust the remaining surfaces in your home.
Dusting Hardwood Floors
If you don’t have carpeting, you may not have a vacuum, and when it comes to hardwood flooring, a vacuum is not the best tool for removing dust. You’ll want a microfiber cloth designed to trap dust particles.
Cotton mops or other materials are going to end up pushing the dust around rather than efficiently picking it up. If you are going to use a mop, make sure that it is wet, not dry.
Additional Tips to Reduce Dust in Your Home
Once you’ve gone through all of the above, you should certainly notice less dust around your home. But there are still a few other tips that will help you along the way.
One thing to consider is an air purifier with a charcoal purifying bag. To learn more about the benefits and increased air quality with charcoal purifying bags, take a look at “Do Charcoal Purifying Bags Work?”
Secondly, leave your shoes at the front door to avoid tracking in the dust. When you are dusting, do so top to bottom to prevent it from resettling on surfaces.
Avoid synthetic sprays or cleaners too. They don’t work well and will only add chemicals to your surfaces (source).
Remember, microfiber is a game-changer. Stick to this material for the best, most efficient dusting tool, whether floor or surface.
If you do have pets, you’ll also want to keep them well-groomed. Doing so will help to keep things a bit cleaner and your air quality better.
And, one last tip – when spring does come around, know that fresh air is very beneficial for your health, but open windows are, unfortunately, going to bring in more dust.
Leaving windows open is going to allow dust, dirt, and pollen into your home. If you notice that your typically fine gray dust has a shade of yellow or green to it, you are likely looking at pollen residue from the outside.
Rather than leaving your windows open in the spring, get outside instead and keep your windows closed. To learn more about the benefits and disadvantages of keeping your windows open, check out our article, “Is it Good to Leave Windows Open?”
While all of that fine gray dust is certainly a nuisance, you don’t have to live with excessive amounts of it hanging around.
Consider cleaning and replacing your air filters, clean with microfiber cloths – from top to bottom – and try to dust more frequently to avoid too much build-up.
All of these practices together will help you to increase your air quality while decreasing excessive dust in your home.