What’s Really In Dust?

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It collects on surfaces and seems to come back just moments after you clean it up. Everyone knows that homes get dusty, but have you wondered where dust comes from and what's really in it? The answers may surprise you.

Where Does Dust Come From?

The majority of your household dust, about 60 percent of it, comes in from outdoors. It can travel inside in a number of ways including:

  • On the soles of your shoes
  • Through windows and doors
  • Through vents.

The rest of household dust is actually generated inside the home by the people, animals and materials it contains.

Not So Scary Ingredients In Dust

Many of the ingredients found in dust result from elements of nature outdoors and our modern lifestyles indoors. Here are some common elements of dust you probably won't find too bothersome:

  • Lint: When you run your dryer, some of the lint produced escapes into the air.
  • Organic fiber: Bits of fiber break off from clothing, bedding and other fabrics.
  • Soil and sand: These get tracked in from outdoors on your shoes.
  • Soot: Soot in the air drifts in from outdoors or come in on your shoes.
  • Pollen: Tiny, almost weightless spores of pollen can even fit through your screens.

Gross Things In Dust

Thinking about certain common dust elements may actually make you queasy. Every time you run your finger through some dust, you're also touching these unpleasant ingredients:

  • Old food debris: Any food that gets dropped or spilled, and isn't cleaned up may eventually become part of your household dust.
  • Bits of human skin and hair: We're constantly shedding skin cells and hair, adding to the dust buildup around us.
  • Animal fur and dander: As living creatures, our pets also shed fur and dander, contributing to dust buildup.
  • Decomposing insects: Any insects that pass away in your home and are not cleaned up will become part of your household dust as their bodies break down.
  • Insect excrement: Tiny droppings from dust mites and other insects form a significant percentage of dust.

Disturbing Dust Ingredients

While some of the animal and insect ingredients in dust may make you squeamish, they probably can't do you any real harm. Unfortunately dust also contains some truly dangerous ingredients. These include:

  • Particulates from smoking: Toxic cigarette smoke comes back to haunt us in household dust.
  • Lead: When lead paint chips of flakes, it creates toxic lead dust. Additionally, when this paint is sanded, scraped or otherwise disturbed, lead dust can result.
  • Arsenic: This poison becomes airborne as a result of volcanic eruptions, mining, the burning of fossil fuels, smelting, and other industrial processes.
  • DDT: Although this toxic chemical has been outlawed for decades, it's still lingering in our dust.
  • Mold and bacteria: Particles of mold and bacteria can become airborne and join the ranks of dust ingredients.

Dusty Spaces

Certain areas of your house attract dust more than others. Here are a few areas that tend to be particularly dusty in most homes:

  • All around windows
  • On electronics such as televisions, computers, CD players and cable boxes
  • On kitchen grease, which creates a mess that's challenging to clean
  • In ducts, vents and fans
  • On fabric and carpeting.

Because bedrooms are so full of the fabric from mattresses, bedding, curtains, pillows, and carpeting, they collect a huge amount of dust. Many people find their sinuses get irritated at bedtime without realizing that this is due to the dust accumulating where they sleep. Living rooms and family rooms are also very vulnerable to dust because they contain so much fabric and so many electronic devices.

Managing Dust in Your Home

You'll never be able to completely rid your home of dust. These easy tips will help you keep the amount of dust in your home to a minimum:

  1. Vacuum at least once a week. When you vacuum, cover the entire floor with the vacuum, not just the center. If you have pets, you may have to vacuum as often as three times a week.
  2. Change your vacuum bag or empty your canister frequently. Full vacuums don't pick up nearly as much dust as those with a fresh bag or empty canister.
  3. Wipe down walls and household surfaces regularly, especially around electronic equipment.
  4. Wash natural and artificial plants regularly.
  5. Have ductwork in your house cleaned every other year.
  6. Invest in high quality doormats for inside and outside all doors.
  7. Take your shoes off when you come into the house.
  8. Change your air conditioning and furnace filters regularly.
  9. Clean your dryer vent regularly and its lint filter after every load.
  10. Consider replacing carpeting at your entranceway and in high traffic areas of your home with a hard surface that won't collect dust.

Knowing about all the strange and interesting things in dust is lots of fun and good motivation to keep your house as clean as possible.

Last Updated: July 29, 2012
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About Roberta Pescow Roberta Pescow holds a bachelor's degree in communications from City University of New York, Queens College and is a freelance writer and editor in the NJ area. The author of "A Life In The Service" and "A Monster's Tears," she enjoys writing informative articles, personal essays, fiction and music.  Roberta is a proud mother of two. Her other interests include fitness, photography, sculpture and meditation. She is a voracious reader and holds a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Roberta enjoys decorating her hectic, but happy home and garden in original and affordable ways.  

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