3 Facts You Didn't Know About Dust

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March 5, 2018

In an interview with NPR, dust expert Heather Stapleton confirms that “[our] understanding of how much dust a person is exposed to is very limited.” It seems there may be more to dust than we realize — even though these particles play a major role in our health. To help you get a few facts straight, we rounded up three more little known facts about dust:

1. You can still be irritated by dust, even if you aren’t directly allergic.

There’s more to dust than dust mites. In fact, it’s best to consider dust as a potpourri of unpleasant items — from both inside your home and out. This can include (but is not limited to) pieces of dead skin, mold spores, dead insects and their droppings, pollen, pet dander, soil, particulate matter from smoke, food debris, and, of course, dust mites.

What’s worse is that we tend to underestimate the resiliency of dust, and the fact that, if not removed properly, dust can be in homes for a very long time — and particularly “old” dust can contain especially harmful ingredients. For example, traces of lead and DDT — a pesticide banned in the U.S. in 1972 — are still being found in recent dust samples.

With ingredients like these, it isn’t a surprise that dust can be irritating, even without a formally diagnosed dust allergy. Other factors, such as dust particle size, can also contribute to how irritable the dust in your home may be. Larger dust particles typically get trapped in your nose and mouth, but they can be breathed (or sneezed) out. Smaller particles, typically referred to as fine dust, float in the air and can easily travel to your lungs and even be absorbed directly into your bloodstream.

Dust irritation isn’t just sneezing. You may notice a runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, itchy nose or roof of mouth, cough, congestion, and postnasal drip.

2. Dust isn't always where you expect it to be.

You’re most likely familiar with the occasional dusty bookshelf or desk, but dust is actually present far beyond a few neglected shelves. In fact, it’s safe to assume most surfaces have at least a thin layer of dust.

There are a few areas in our homes that are especially at-risk for dust — and they’re places that we may not even realize need dusting. Tough-to-reach areas such as ceiling fans, lighting fixtures, and the tops of cabinets can unknowingly collect unhealthy amounts of dust. Upholstery, carpet, and bedding are also some of the worst dust collecting culprits — allergists usually recommend washing bedding once a week to keep dust at bay.

3. You could be dusting wrong.

How can you do away with all the dust hiding in your home? The first step is understanding that there is actually a right way and a wrong way to dust.

For the best results:

Take Control of Your Indoor Air Quality

Staying on top of the dust in your home can be overwhelming. Luckily, there’s air quality monitors, like Awair. Awair tracks toxins and chemicals in your air and gives you actionable insights and tips to help you stay safe and healthy.


  • Don’t use a feather duster. Feather dusters actually make the situation worse by pushing dust into the air instead of eliminating it. Opt instead for a damp cloth, which will trap dust on contact.
  • Be careful vacuuming. When you vacuum, dust and hold that has settled in your carpet can be uprooted and blown around your house--and can take hours to settle back down. Try to wear a mask when you vacuum, and look into buying vacuums with a HEPA filter built in to catch dust.
  • Don't wear your shoes indoors. Reducing the amount of dust in your household doesn't necessarily mean dusting better or more often. Up to 60% of dust particles are made from materials brought in from outdoors, and many allergists believe shoes that were just worn outside are to blame. Changing your habits can significantly improve your air quality and reduce allergy symptoms.