A popular marketing campaign proclaims, “We will protect this house!” It’s that same kind of passion that we must bring to our actual homes when it comes to dust. That’s right, dust, plain old house dust. Dust is unsightly and triggers our allergies, but what you may not realize is that it also contains toxic chemicals, chemicals that it can then re-release into the home slowly and over time.
How It Happens and Why Your Home Has Toxic Dust
Dust operates like a sponge, and it will absorb airborne contaminants. Those contaminants re-release over time, which makes them even more effective at lowering overall indoor air quality (IAQ). Every home has dust; it’s unavoidable. All homes also have contaminants. With effort, you can avoid most of them, but you can’t completely eradicate them all. Contaminants come through windows or are released from products, and then they absorb into the dust where they continue eroding our IAQ for a very long time. Interestingly, each home has a unique “dust load,” which is determined by a number of environmental factors. Some factors are benign. Some factors are avoidable. Others you can only conquer through the removal of as much dust as possible from the home. A primary source of dust load, and a source we can certainly control, is the grime that we track into the house on the bottom of our shoes. We used to consider footwear customs a peculiarity of the Japanese culture, but now see the wisdom in their ways.
Toxins Originate from Within and Outside the Home
- In a process known as off-gassing, materials in your home emit chemicals over time. Common items that off-gas are paints, finishes, fabrics, furniture, plastics, electronics and even food. This can be particularly dangerous when the item off-gassing is used in a baby’s room, such as a crib.
- As mentioned, outside pollutants enter our homes on the bottom of our shoes. They also enter through open windows and doors or other gaps in our home’s structure. The concentration of air pollutants in our homes is often many times worse than the air outdoors due to poor ventilation in which polluted air doesn't escape and fresh air isn't introduced to dilute pollutant levels.
A Common Household Toxin
It can be hard to believe that some toxins actually originate in our homes, due to our choices. They do, however, and a common example is Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs). PBDEs are chemical flame retardants used in plastics, upholstery fabrics, and foams in products such as electronic equipment, furniture, and carpet pads. Unfortunately, these substances are terrible to breathe. They release into our air, and they absorb into our dust, which compounds the issue.
How Toxic Dust Hurts Your Family
Exposure to toxic chemicals, even at surprisingly low levels, can adversely affect your health. Dust is an additional, and incredibly persistent way for those toxins to attack your body. Toxic dust is particularly dangerous for young children. They are more prone to the damage because their bodies are still developing. They also come in contact with the toxins more often. Children often play on the floor, where the dust collects, and children tend to put their unwashed fingers into their mouths. This is all exacerbated by the fact that, relative to body mass, children take in much more air than adults do, because they breathe more often and have much smaller bodies. Concerning flame-retardants, a prevalent dust toxin, scientists have found that exposure to seemingly inconsequential doses can cause numerous problems in children. These problems include damage to the reproductive system and deficiencies in behavior, hearing, learning, memory and motor skills.
Dust is a well-known and powerful allergen; it is so without toxins, and it can be even more so with them. The good news is that if you apply the dust-control techniques presented in the next section, you can claim control over your allergies, or your child’s, as well as overcome the toxin danger.
Removing Dust Safely and Effectively
- Thorough and regular cleaning is necessary. Don’t procrastinate.
- Vacuum frequently with a unit that has a HEPA filter. Standard vacuums tend to recirculate fine dust particles back into the air. A HEPA unit, on the other hand, is able to collect that dust. Change the filter regularly. Vacuum objects like furniture and drapes in addition to the carpets.
- For hard-surface flooring, wet mop frequently to avoid dust accumulation. Avoid dry mopping because it tends to stir the dust, which then resettles. A microfiber dust mop is a viable alternative, since that will actually collect a majority of the dust on its fibers.
- Wipe furniture with a slightly damp or microfiber cloth. As mentioned above, microfiber works because particles cling to its fibers. A slightly damp cotton cloth is a decent alternative. Avoid synthetic dusting sprays and wipes, since they simply add unwanted chemicals.
- Caulking along windowsills and door frames can help prevent dust accumulation.
- If you have a forced-air central heating and cooling system, install high-quality air filters in all vents. Change the air filters on a regular schedule, and do not rely on visual evidence.
- Dust electronic equipment frequently. There is nothing you can do about dust accumulation at these sites other than frequent cleaning. Be proactive, since these are hotspots for PBDEs.
- Pay attention to where your kids sit, crawl and play. If their preferred spots are suitable, then take extra care in cleaning them. If their preferred spots are not suitable, then motivate them to choose a location that is.
- If you’re allergic or dust-sensitive, have someone else in the home perform the dusting. If that is not practical, then use a dust mask while dusting and vacuuming.
Create Less-Toxic Dust
No matter how diligent you are, dust will collect, so it is also important to limit the toxins in your home. If you do that, then you will “create” dust that is less toxic. Here are some crucial tips:
- Remove shoes at the door. Have an inner and outer mat at each entrance. At the main entrance, have cubby storage that the family and guests can use to store their footwear safely.
- Beware all foam products created prior to 2006; they likely contain PBDEs. Replace any household item that has exposed foam, regardless of how old it is. If you can’t replace them, then cover the exposed area yourself, even if that means performing a makeshift repair job.
- When purchasing electronics, opt for units that do not have PBDEs. Many companies are committed to not using PBDEs and announce so on their websites and products. Companies that do still use them tend to be coy about it, so assume the worst until you can verify for certain.
Clean Air Plus is a veteran and family owned small business. We represent the leading manufacturers in HEPA filtration including Austin Air, IQAir, Amaircare, Oransi and Airpura. Shop online or call one of our friendly experts. We'll be happy to help.