Avoiding Toxic Dust

It is well known that dust may contain mold spores, pet dander, dead skin, and dust mites, which can cause allergic reactions and asthma. However, only recently have we learned that dust in the modern home contains toxic chemicals that leach out of our chemical-laden goods, such as electronics, furniture, and flooring.[1] Toxic dust can also enter your home by tracking it in with your shoes. Studies of dust and air in homes have revealed over 60 chemicals, including phthalates (plastic softener), PBDE’s or polybrominated diphenyl ether (flame retardant), and even DDT (which was banned in 1972).[2] [3] These chemicals enter your body when you breathe contaminated dust or touch your mouth or food after accumulating contaminated dust on your hands.[4] PBDE’s are bio-accumulative (builds up in the body over time), and exposure has been associated with diabetes and neurodevelopmental problems (e.g., lower IQ); it is also suspected to cause cancer.[5]

General Measures for Minimizing Exposure to Allergenic and Toxic Dust

  1. Maintain a dust-free environment in your home, office, and car by cleaning at least once or twice per week. This includes floors, furniture, and electronics. Eliminate clutter from desks and countertops that prevent proper cleaning.
  2. Avoid walking through your home with outdoor shoes to prevent introducing contaminants from elsewhere.
  3. Vacuum or use a wet cotton rag to remove dust from furniture. Avoid microfiber cloths, which are made of non-biodegradable plastics (polyester) that end up polluting the ocean.
  4. Wash bedding, curtains, stuffed toys, and rugs in hot water (which kills dust mites). Bedding should be washed on a weekly basis. Window blinds can be vacuumed or dusted with a damp cloth.
  5. Remove contaminated dust from your hands prior to eating by washing them.[6][7][8]

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Guidelines for Dust-Reduction Products

  1. Vacuum: Ensure that your vacuum has a HEPA filter, which most efficiently traps dust particles.
  2. Wet mop: Prevent airborne dust by using a wet mop rather than broom to clean bare floors.
  3. Air filter: Use an air filter in rooms where you spend the most time, typically your bedroom, living room, and office.
  4. Furnace filter: Use a furnace filter designed to reduce allergens, one with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of 11 or 12. Leaving the furnace in the “on” position can also function as an air filter.
  5. Mattress and Bedding: Use allergen-proof, organic cotton mattress, box spring, and pillow covers/encasing.
  6. Flooring: Replace carpeting with bare floors (e.g., bamboo, cork) that diminish the accumulation of dust mites. [9]