Dust seems annoying but harmless. For some of us, however, dust and dust mites can cause very serious health problems.
I used to think I had a lousy immune system, but it was actually a strong dust allergy. These days, I can tell when I need to get cracking on housecleaning — my eyes feel dry and itchy, my throat gets scratchy, I sneeze. It’s not sickness, it’s allergies.
Fortunately, thorough routine cleaning and other preventative measures help me win the war on this ever-present trigger. For some, it may require medications or even shots, but for many of us, following dust-controlling strategies can be enough.
Protect Your Inner Sanctum
Ideally, you’re sleeping six to eight hours a night, and that’s where it’s most important to fight dust and dust mites.
If you haven’t done so yet, the first place to start is with an allergenic cover to your duvet, mattress, and pillow. As creepy as it sounds, dust mites love to feed on dead skin. You can ignore the claims that “90% of dust” is human skin, but a lot more than you’d like to think is there. It’s our skin flaking off. Each of us loses a million skin cells (of our trillions) in a 24-hour period, meaning more than 8 pounds of skin flakes off per year, much of it at home and at work.
In bed, it’s mostly your shedded skin cells the dust mites are after. You can exfoliate in the shower every day or two to keep this to a minimum, then employ allergenic covers (some lined, some just cotton — investigate what seems appropriate for you, or ask a medical professional for a recommendation) to keep a barrier between you and the mites.
A lot of fancy sheets can’t be washed in hot water without pilling, so instead of just looking at the thread count, make sure those lovely sheets you’re buying can be washed in hot water, because that’ll take care of any mites in your bedding.
If you don’t have a mattress cover or allergenic sheeting, you might want to vacuum your mattress now and then, as this can be effective for some.
Flooring Choices & Care
My carpet-cleaning guy tried to tell me carpets are preferable to wood floors for dust control because carpets trap dust. Well, then you have trapped dust, and that’s the problem, don’t you think?
It can be very difficult to stay in control of dust when you have carpeting. I learned that the hard way. With my first wall-to-wall carpeting since 1993, I had allergy symptoms about 70% of the time. With hardwood floors, I have symptoms if I don’t clean once a week, but that’s manageable.
For allergy sufferers, experts recommend hardwood, vinyl, and other smooth, hard, easy-to-clean floors. Look for low-VOC floors with no emissions, since you’re already vulnerable to environmental impurities.
Today, I enjoy both area rugs and old-school hardwood floors. The rugs trap a lot of dust and I understand now why carpet throughout posed such a problem for me. I now pick up two cups of filth from my 6×8’ wool rugs per week. From just two rugs! At least I can easily take care of two rugs, though. Experts say if you have serious allergies, ditch the rugs altogether, because, for some, vacuuming can be a big problem, and that’s why you’ve got to have a good machine. With mine, the air smells cleaner immediately after vacuuming, and that’s what you’re looking for.
The recommended amount of vacuuming for allergies is once per week, but I find that’s when I’m already sneezing and rubbing my eyes. Instead, I (and you should) vacuum twice weekly to keep all symptoms at bay, particularly in the high season of late summer, autumn, and early winter.
Sweeping is critical, but I find I must also follow that up with a Swiffer-type dry-cloth cleaning too, to get all the dust from the corners and under furniture, especially in my bedroom. The low profile of the “Swiffer Sweeper” makes it the ultimate solution dust control on the floors, and I personally wouldn’t go without one.
Wet-cleaning the floors makes a difference, but it’s a lot of work to sweep, Swiffer, vacuum, clean, and then oil floors. Last I checked, my name isn’t Cinderella, so I confess I only do the actual wet-cleaning once or maybe twice a month. Sweeping, vacuuming, and Swiffering is done every 2-3 days.
Control your environment
Whether you’ve got your windows open or closed, you’ll have dust. From air intake, skin shedding, pets, and anything else in your living area, dust is inevitable, and so too are dust mites. How much you have, though, is what you can control.
Steady, thorough maintenance is always the answer. Dry-dusting is a lovely notion, but get real! Dust is just moved around. Some might cling to “electromagnetic fibres” or whatever, but wiping with wet cloths will keep your air from filling with dust, and you’ll breathe easier on both counts.
With furniture, leather sofas or hypoallergenic upholstery are the way to go, since we flake off a lot of skin when lounging too. Who wants that? But leather is the ultimate allergy sufferer’s solution. Impermeable and wipeable.
Clutter is also a big problem. The more in your way when you clean, the bigger the free pass you’re giving for dust mites to invade. Ensure you’ve got access to as much of the floors, shelves, and surfaces as you can get. The more area you can clean without moving things around, the easier maintenance will be.
The right equipment matters
A dehumidifier might do you a world of good in your dust mite battle, especially in the bedroom. At humidity levels under 50%, you’ll have far greater success at controlling the mites around you since humidity makes them happy, and happy makes them breed. Before you go investing in a dehumidifier, know how powerful a unit you’re going to need. Try monitoring the humidity first with a “hygrometer,” found at most hardware shops and available for $2-$20 and up.
Your choice of vacuum is a big deal. You should be looking for a HEPA-grade filter, with a bagless vacuum for more control with dust disposal. It’s ideal to wear a mask if you’re vacuuming and you’re very allergic, particularly when you’re emptying your canister. Make sure the vacuum itself is completely sealed, or else it’ll spit out dust as you go. Also ensure you empty your canister every time. The more dirt in your vacuum, the less efficient vacuuming becomes, thanks to air-flow and such. Your filter will also work better if you’re cleaning it regularly.
Here are Consumer Reports’ top-rated vacuums to consider.
In the end, being like the Harry Potter Professor Mad-Eye Moody is the only way to go. Practice constant vigilance. Constant vigilance! Clean anything in your home you know is a dust-magnet. Vacuum, clean the floors — be an active, frequent housecleaner.
For a while there in the ‘30s, the American Mid-West was the “Dust Bowl,” and you could wake to find an inch of fine dust blew through your home over night. Ken Burns’ PBS series The Dust Bowl put my dust-controlling struggles in perspective, especially since death from dust exposure was a very real fear back then.
These days, I count myself blessed that we have bedding solutions, vacuum and dehumidifier technologies, and so many other ways to manage our environment and keep ourselves healthy. With some technology on your side and a little commitment, you can stay on top of your allergies and enjoy a better life. Today’s a great day to start!