Household Dust ContaminantsDoing the dusting is probably something that most of us would rather put off. And some might think, what’s the point of it anyway? – It just gathers again a few hours later.

Yes, it’s true, that we can’t bust dust – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to keep it at bay – because new studies are showing that the average handful of dust could be making us sick.

What’s In Household Dust?

Dust is the debris of life – the bits left over after they have dropped off, blown away, de-composed or been brought in from somewhere else.

The content of household dust can vary according to where you live and what’s in your home, but typical ingredients would be such things as: flakes of skin and nails (both from humans and any pets around), dust mites, hair and fur, fibres from fabrics such as clothes, upholstery and carpets, mould spores, tiny particles of dirt and plant material, bits of insects, pet droppings, pet dander and a myriad of chemicals.

Allergic Reactions

One of the reasons to be aware of how much household dust is collecting in your home is because dust causes the most common of allergic reactions. Symptoms include runny nose, tickly throat, itchy eyes and can also trigger asthma, eczema, and headaches.

Cutting down on the dust in your home will also help to cut down, if not eliminate allergic responses.

Dust Mites

The things that most people are aware of, is that dust contains dust mites.

Dust mites are microscopic, eight-legged creatures which feed upon on our dead skin. They live in colonies and can number tens of thousands per each gram of dust, thriving in moist, warm conditions.

Their favourite hide-out is our bedding, so there’s a good chance that if you start sneezing when you get into bed, you are reacting to the faeces of the dust mites, which is a powerful allergen. (It is said that a 2-year old pillow can hold as much as 10% of its total weight in dust mites).

But instead of reaching for the antihistamine, think instead about the following simple remedies:

  • Wash your sheets and pillowcases regularly in a hot wash (which will kill the mites).
  • Consider investing in bedding which is specifically designed to keep mites at bay.
  • Don’t make your bed in the morning! Instead, pull back the sheets and leave the bed to air, with the window open, so cooling the bed down.
  • Remember to hoover under your bed and include the mattress when you do the rest of the room.


Perhaps the most alarming group of household dust contaminants is the chemicals that can be detected. Findings from several studies have discovered the presence of solvents, flame retardants, heavy metals, detergents, pesticides, and toxic contaminants including endocrine disrupters, carcinogens, and irritants.

Toxic Dust

A groundbreaking 4-year study in the US took samples from 120 homes in the Cape Cod area, in order to explore the particularly high incidence of cancer, and the results, published in 2003, make for sober reading. 66 ‘gender-bending’ chemicals and 27 pesticides were found in the mix, as well as heavy metals and other carcinogenic agents.

The same year, a Greenpeace study of UK homes found similar results. Testing household dust for certain toxic contaminants, they found 35 hazardous chemicals of those they were originally looking for and then revealed findings of a further 140.

One of the most surprising results was that DDT, a pesticide chemical banned for nearly 40 years, is still persisting in the environment and present in samples of the household dust collected both here and in the States. Scientists are now researching household dust contaminants in other countries to compare results.

Research by WWF has linked the instance of contaminated household dust and the presence of the same toxins found in blood, to suggest that some harmful chemicals may be finding their way into the body via the dust in our homes. For this reason, it would be wise to adopt a precautionary approach and keep on top of the dusting.

So What Can We Do?

Scientists advise not to panic, but also not to just sit back and do nothing. Simple precautions can be taken to cut down the dust in your home and therefore cut down your exposure to contaminants. The following steps are suggested as simple but effective measures:

  • Chuck out your Carpets, which harbour dust and also shed fibres, adding to the problem
  • Vacuum regularly and for longer than you generally deem necessary
  • Dust regularly
  • Use a dust mat as you enter the house
  • Take off shoes indoors