What’s in Your Dust?

You might know what’s in dust but you’ll want to know in order to remove dust.

Studies show that the average six-room home in the United States collects 40 lbs. of dust each year. Sounds impressively awful, right? But don’t confuse all that dust with dirt and bad housekeeping. It’s actually a combination of a lot of things.


Small dust, larger than 10 microns, makes up more than 90 percent of the weight of common household dust. Really small dust, less than 10 microns (invisible), doesn’t weigh much, but includes 99 percent of all dust particles.

The small stuff is the stuff that bugs you. It’s that gray fluff that you see piled up in corners, on bookshelves, and under the couch. The vast bulk of it, more than 90 percent in most homes, is composed of just two materials, dead skin flakes and fabric fibers. The human body continuously sheds skin, dramatically when you have a sunburn, yet almost constantly in the form of tiny particles. The fabric fibers are also small, the same lint that you collect on the dryer screen. These particles range in size from 10 to 300 microns (1 micron equals 1/1000th of a millimeter). If you have sharp eyes, you can just barely see a 20-micron fabric filament floating in a shaft of sunlight that’s streaming through the window. In comparison, the typical hair caught in your hairbrush is about 100 microns thick.

Other small dust contributors range from human and pet hair to soil particles, pollen, mildew spores, dust mites and other minor sources. The dust in some homes also contains debris from localized concentrations of cockroaches, termites, ants or other insects.

You can’t see the really small stuff, particles smaller than 10 microns, unless they collect in high concentrations. So even though your home contains millions of these particles (they make up 99 percent of all dust particles), they’re so small that they won’t contribute much to the visible dust invasion.

The major components of dust fall off human beings and fabrics such as clothing, furniture, drapes and carpets. Since you’re not likely to banish the kids and your spouse to the garage or live a life free of fabric, you can’t stop the main dust-producers at their sources. Rather, you have to use good housecleaning techniques to attack dust where it builds up and spreads.

So how do you get rid of all that dust? These tips are a good start to keeping your home dust-free.

A furnace filter can help reduce dust in your home so it’s important to replace your furnace filter frequently. More expensive pleated filters usually provide a good balance between cost and filtration efficiency. These filters trap 80 to 95 percent of particles 5 microns and larger. Here are the best furnace filters to buy.

Your cozy bed is a major dust distributor. The bedding collects skin flakes, sheds its own fibers and sends out a puff of dust every time you roll over. To minimize the fallout, wash sheets and pillowcases weekly.

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