Eugene writes a variety of articles on the Maven coalition network of sites, covering topics such as gardening, DIY, photography, and STEM.
No home is free from dust, that annoying and unsightly layer of stuff that builds up gradually on furniture, shelves and floor and inevitably makes us reach for the Hoover to reluctantly undertake the tiresome chore of vacuum cleaning and dusting.
So what is dust made up of, and why does it appear spontaneously on surfaces? In this guide, we explore the top 12 most common constituents.
How Does Dust Get Up Onto Surfaces?
A lot of the material we list below ends up on our floors, but much of it exists in the form of tiny particles. These particles are easily sent airborne by draughts, the movement of our feet over a floor surface or when we dress/undress or change bed clothes. In fact even the action of dusting can just move dust elsewhere!
1. Dirt From the Street, Garden and Yard
Asphalt (tarmac) and concrete highways wear as vehicles pound over them every day. The same goes for pavements from pedestrian traffic. Sun, frost and rain erodes our streets, and slowly but surely breaks down the seemingly tough material into tiny fragments. A lot of this material gets washed away into the gutter, but some of it becomes airborne and makes it's way into our homes via draughts under doors or through open windows. We also carry it in on our shoes. Vehicles lose rubber from their tires and this also ends up on road surfaces and enters our homes if we live nearby.
In the garden, soil (dirt or clay) from pavements and lawns sticks to the soles of our shoes. Once we drag it inside on our footwear, it dries out and is one of the main contributors to dust makeup.
2. Fibres From Clothes and Bed Linen
Clothes are made from woven or knitted textiles using raw fibres such as wool, cotton, polyester, nylon and acrylic. Bed sheets are generally made from cotton, linen or polyester fabric. These items shed fibres constantly as we dress and undress and make our beds. The bedroom is probably the dustiest place because of our activities there.
3. Carpet, Rugs and Upholstery Fibres
Just like clothing, carpet and furniture upholstery is often made from synthetic or natural textiles such as nylon or wool. Traffic over floor coverings or plonking ourselves down on the sofa sends lots of fibres airbone.
4. Food Crumbs
Bread, cake, cookie and cereal crumbs are another source of dust on the floor. They get trodden underfoot and eventually get crushed to the extent that tiny particles get lifted up into the air and land on surfaces.
5. Dead Skin, Hair and Other Debris From Our Body and Our Pets
We constantly shed hair from our heads, eyebrows, eyelashes and the rest of our body. Our skin is like the peel of an onion, new cells growing underneath whilst the outermost layers of cells are shed.
6. Tissue and Kitchen Towel Fibres
Paper is made from wood pulp fibres and as we blow or noses and wipe down spills with tissues, the paper disintegrates and wood fibres break off.
7. Dead Insect Parts
Think of all those tiny insects you find in your home that can make their way inside under doors or through gaps: Spiders, flies, wasps, woodlice, ground beetles, earwigs, clothes moths, ants. When they die, they desiccate or dry out and their hard outer skeletons are left behind, getting broken up and adding to to the collection of dust or dirt in the home. Cobwebs also accumulate in corners of rooms and contribute to the grime.
We also may have tiny live insects living in our homes such as dust mites and lice which also add to the dust mix.
8. Fungi and Bacteria
In damp homes, black mold can be a problem on walls. Bacteria may also be a issue in damp crevices. Wet and dry rot, caused by fungi can damage furniture and structural timbers. Spores from fungi and the crumbly timber fragments are just another contributor to our dust constituent list.
9. Mud, Leaves, Flowers and Pollen
During the summer, pollen and flower petals may make their way indoors. In the fall, dried leaves blow in our doors. Once inside, all of these items dry out and become crinkly, easily getting crunched up into dusty particles. Leaves and flowers also come from indoor plants.
We often hear about the danger of microplastics in our oceans and the hazards they pose when they get ingested and concentrated in the bodies of marine life. All of the plastic utensils, bags, tools and appliances we use in the home also shed tiny plastic particles as we use them. This occurs as the result of wear and tear and abrasion in use when they're handled or rub off other surfaces.
11. Personal Care Products
In this category we have soaps, deodorants, cosmetics, aftershaves, hairsprays, mousse and perfumes. Some of these materials fall off our bodies after use once they dry. Sprays from aerosol cans don't always land on target and some ends up in the air.
12. Soot and Ash From Stoves and Fireplaces
When wood and coal is burned in our stoves and open fireplaces, it produces very fine ash as a byproduct. This is extremely light and easily becomes airborne when we clean out our stoves. Smoke from chimneys can also can make its way indoors through open windows and loose fitting doors. Smoke is made up of tiny soot or carbon particles suspended in the air. This ends up as dust, but being sticky can also stick to walls.
Can You Think of Any More Sources?
So that's 12 constituents of dust. Can you think of any more?
What's the Best Way of Dusting?
- Don't use a dry cloth, because it just shifts back into the air again to land back down on other surfaces. Use a damp cloth instead so that dust sticks to it.
- Hoover your dust! Yes, using a soft brush on the end of your vacuum cleaner hose is a better solution to prevent your dust escaping.
- Vacuum after you dust. If you vacuum first, when you dust, it's just going to land back on the floor again unless you follow either of the suggestions above.
Recommended Vacuum Cleaner
VAX floor cleaning appliances are excellent products and the Vax 1 CCQSASV1P1 Air Stretch Pet Vacuum Cleaner (bag-less) is no different with a 55% rating on 5-star reviews. Some of the complaints appear to be that the product has too much suction, but this can be turned down using the control on the handle. I bought the predecessor to this model a couple of years ago and was very impressed by the product. The high suction is generated by multi-cyclonic technology and results in vastly improved performance compared to older, higher powered bagged machines.
When I used it first on my dining room carpet, it sucked up a large amount of brown dust which I can only imagine was dried clay from the soles of shoes that had worked its way over the decades underneath the 50-year-old carpet! At a fraction of the cost of a Dyson, the cleaner comes with a 12 m power cord, standard tool and turbo tool for cleaning stairs, upholstery and for homes with pets. The input filter is washable and the post motor HEPA filter is readily available as a spare part.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Eugene Brennan
Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on May 11, 2021:
I know. Dusting always gets pushed pushed to the bottom of my priority list of things to do until the stuff begins to mount up in piles!
Lady Dazy from UK on May 11, 2021:
It is surprising where it all comes from. As soon as I finish cleaning, I turn around and there is some more, only to be told `you missed a bit'.
Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on May 10, 2021:
Thanks, dusting is one of my least favourite chores!
Iqra from East County on May 10, 2021:
Hi Eugene, You share excellent sources of Household grime. Dust comes into almost every home. Your article may be more useful for women. :)