Dust. It floats lazily through beams of sunlight, it settles gently on surfaces, and it tangles with other mysterious miscellany to create inanimate creatures beneath the couch–but where does it come from, and is it harmful? Scientists in Arizona reported a surprising answer to those questions in a report, “Migration of Contaminated Soil and Airborne Particulates to Indoor Dust,” which appeared in the ACS Environmental Science & Technology journal. The verdict? Most of indoor dust comes from outdoors, and it’s not always all that innocuous.
In the study, David Layton and Paloma Beamer found that over 60 percent of house dust originates outdoors. They note that household dust consists of a mixture that includes dead skin shed by people, fibers from carpets and upholstered furniture, and tracked-in soil and airborne particles blown in from outdoors. It can include lead, arsenic and other potentially harmful substances that migrate indoors from outside air and soil. This can be of special concern for children, who can ingest these substances by spending time on a dusty floor, or by putting dusty toys and other objects into their mouths.
They estimated that nearly 60 percent of the arsenic in floor dust could come from arsenic in the surrounding air, with the remainder derived from tracked-in soil.
So then, I wasn’t too far off base when I wrote Please Remove Shoes Before Entering, extolling five reasons for removing shoes before entering the home: number two being toxins-toxins-toxins! Even so, many people are wildly opposed to removing their shoes when visiting others’ homes. To each his own and all, but still.
Aside from keeping dust out of the home in the first place, I like microfiber cloths to tackle surface dust once it has invaded. They are eco-friendly because they reduce the use of cleaning products and paper towels or other disposables, and they thoroughly remove dust, allergens and bacteria.
To clean dust from the floor, the right vacuum is essential. Suction alone often isn’t enough to get much dust out of carpet; for best results, use an upright vacuum with an agitator, although some canister vacuums with agitators work well for carpet too. For wood, tile or vinyl flooring, use a canister vacuum without an agitator–or with an agitator that can be turned off–using an agitator on hard flooring actually kicks up more dust than it sucks up.