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Where Does Dust Come From and How Often Do You Really Need to Clean It?


What is the dust in our homes made of?

We spend about half of our time indoors. The amount of dust we witness out of nowhere really surprise us. Scientists have concluded that a third of the dust comes from sources inside the house. These are human and animal skin and hair cells, decaying insects, pieces of food and plastic. As well as left-overs from food preparation, open fires, if any, and smoking, if indoors.

Of concern is the fact that many of the chemicals in the dust are listed as persistent organic pollutants by the United Nations. These are, for example, the microplastics (39% dust particles) from clothing, packaging, carpets and furniture.

By the way, children under the age of six breathe in about three times more microplastic than the average-0.3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per year. Wooden floors and hard floors contain less of this potentially hazardous substance than soft and carpeted ones.

About two-thirds of household dust comes from the street. That is, we bring it on clothes and shoes, and it also seeps quite effectively from the street through air.


What are the dirtiest places in the house?

In 2011, the US National Sanitation Foundation conducted a study that found that the dirtiest places in our house are not at all what we consider the dirtiest.

The kitchen, surprisingly, occupies first place. About 75% of kitchen sponges and rags are contaminated with E. coli, a bacteria that causes diarrhea.

The second place on the list is the bathroom. A warm and humid room that creates ideal conditions for the growth and spread of germs. And inside it, is the dirtiest- our toothbrush, between the bristles of which 27% of E. coli bacteria and 14% of staphylococcus bacteria feel safe.

Third are bowls of pet food and water, which contain the same pesky E. coli, staph, mold and yeast.

Between all these zones, keyboards, mobile and landline phones, other keys, switches and knobs are comfortably located, largely due to the fact that the whole family uses them, and bacteria accumulate here much more easily.

How often do you need to clean

Tiny bacteria and microbes, viruses, soil, fungi, bacteria, animal dander, pollen, sweat, secretions, and skin cells, can live on surfaces for hours to days or even weeks. To protect your home, experts’ recommended frequency of cleaning is as follows:

  • Change sheets twice or at least once a week. They collect not only bacteria, but also particles of skin and oil from our body, which can affect the condition of the skin and cause dandruff.
  • Wash the sink everyday, as it accumulates particles of feces that remain here when we wash our hands after using the toilet, as well as a lot of food bacteria.
  • Vacuum carpets once a week, or more often if there are animals in the house. Wash kitchen floors twice a week.
  • Disinfect both toilet and sink once a week, and the bath once every two weeks. Pay attention to shower curtains, which accumulate mold that can irritate the skin, eyes and throat.
  • Towels in the bathroom must be changed every two days ideally, or at least once a week. A towel in the kitchen, once a week and immediately after processing raw meat.
  • Boil dishwashing sponges everyday in the microwave for two minutes and change as soon as it starts to deteriorate or smells.
  • Clean door-knobs, switches and other "common" surfaces once a week.

When choosing cleaning products, it is worth giving preference to "green" (biodegradable) detergents, which may not be completely safe, but at least not as harmful to the environment and ocean inhabitants as non-biodegradables.

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How to deal with dust allergies

Allergists constantly talk about the fact that hay-fever, an allergy to flowers, has additional triggers that can worsen the condition. One of them is dust. More precisely, dust mites, close relatives of mites and spiders, which, fortunately for us, are so small that it is impossible to see them in the dust. Which, however, does not prevent them from becoming the cause of a severe runny nose, uncontrollable sneezing, shortness of breath and other charms of life.

Dust mites feed on skin cells that fall on the floor, like many bacteria, they thrive in heat and humidity. But the dust in our homes contains not only the mites, but also their feces and decaying bodies. The proteins contained in this garbage usually cause an allergic reaction.

It is quite difficult to distinguish an allergy to dust mites from hay fever on your own, only an allergy test can help with this. As for treatment, in addition to drugs to reduce symptoms, lifestyle changes are needed.

The bad news is that it is impossible to completely get rid of dust mites in the house (even with cleaning every day), since for this we would have to live in a completely sterile laboratory environment. The good news is that you can reduce dust mites by using anti-allergic mattress and pillow covers, washing bedding at a temperature of at least 54.4 degrees Celsius (hot washing), keeping the humidity at or below 50% (with the use of dehumidifier), and use a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency filter.


Why is it important to wash your hands

We learned all about the importance of hand washing during the coronavirus pandemic. But it works in general with all viruses and bacteria. On average, people touch their face more than 20 times per hour, with most of the cases associated with the eyes, nose and mouth-the "entrance gate" to the body. So, if cleaning as often as you want does not work, it is useful to do at least this.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wetting both sides of your hands with clean, running water, lathering the soap, and going over the entire surface, paying attention to the spaces between the fingers and areas under the nails, which we often forget about. You need to spend at least 20 seconds on the procedure. Simply count 1 till 20.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which are worth using when there is no access to water, work a little differently. They do not physically, like soap, but chemically make the shell of pathogens (germs) more permeable, while alcohol destroys the proteins inside them. For the product to really work, choose something with at least 60% alcohol, which is the concentration found to be effective in most studies.


Can cleaning be hazardous to health?

Above, we understood that cleaning is important and necessary. But what about its impact on health? It's not great here, scientists warn.

One study, for example, found that women who regularly use cleaning sprays are more likely to experience decreased lung function over time and are more likely to be diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) when compared with those who use less or no cleaning sprays.

Another study found that household cleaners can make children overweight by altering their gut microbiota (beneficial germs). The fact that widely used household chemicals can affect the level of bacteria and fungi in our intestines is also confirmed by a study from the University of Washington.

While science is figuring out how to help people keep their home clean without harm to the body, some of its representatives suggest the following: after using harsh cleaning solutions, wait 20-30 minutes before getting down to the business, do not combine several products together. Use grandma's recipes like vinegar and soda wherever possible, and not get too carried away with disinfecting the house unnecessarily.

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