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Where Does Dust Come
From And Is It Harmful?

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 are reporting a surprising answer to those questions in a new report, “Migration of Contaminated Soil and Airborne Particulates to Indoor Dust,” which appears 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.

Aside from keeping dust out of the home in the first place, microfiber cloths can 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.


  • More Articles on Dust

February 22, 2010
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