Solved! Why Is My House So Dusty?
Learn what causes these pesky particles to settle everywhere and what measures you can take to defeat dust.
Q: I pride myself on keeping a tidy home, but I can’t seem to get a handle on the dust situation. It seems as though a layer of dust appears on my furniture mere hours after I clean. Am I doing something wrong? Why is my house so dusty?
A: Take heart—you’re not alone in the battle for a dust-free home. The layer of dust that settles on your furniture can be a combination of many things; tiny particles of dirt, fibers, pollen, pet dander (bits of fur and skin), and even human skin flakes. In addition to the never-ending battle against the stuff that accumulates on surfaces, countless dust particles are in the air your family is breathing. And dust is not just unsightly: Anyone allergic to it is likely to suffer from a stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing. So it’s a good idea to figure out where all the dust is coming from and take steps to fix the problem. Keep reading to win the war on dust!
Cheap and dirty HVAC filters increase dust.
The large flat air filters installed behind your home’s return air vents (or on the HVAC unit itself) are the first lines of defense against dust, but not all filters are created equal. Cheap filters have larger holes that allow more dust to pass through and reenter your home through heating and cooling vents. Air filters are rated by their minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV), on a scale from one to 16, with the higher numbers representing more efficient filters. When selecting HVAC air filters look for a MERV rating of at least between five and eight. Lower ratings are less efficient and higher ratings are reserved for commercial filters, such as those used in hospitals.
Even a high-quality filter with a good MERV value will get filled with dust, and the more you use your HVAC system, the more quickly filters will clog—and be ineffective against dust. Replace air filters at least every three months or when they appear saturated.
Dust lurks in the carpet.
The dirt from shoes and pet paws and particles in the air that settle into carpet fibers can be a major contributor to dust in the home. Frequent vacuuming (daily or every other day) can help—as long as you don’t recirculate some of the dust back into the living space while vacuuming. That’s bound to happen if you use a vacuum with an inefficient dust-trapping system. Consider switching to a higher quality model that has a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, designed to trap as much 99 percent of dust and debris. To further reduce carpet-based dust, encourage family members to take off their shoes at the door, and either stowing them in an entryway cubby or carrying them directly to the appropriate closet. While a good deal of carpet dust can be substantially reduced with these measures, the only way to eliminate it is to swap out carpeting for hard floorings, such as hardwood or laminate.
Upholstery and draperies are dust collectors.
Fabrics and textiles accumulate dust, and the simple act of opening the curtains or sitting on the sofa can release that dust into the room. Use your vacuum’s attachments to vacuum upholstered furniture and draperies once a week. Laundering or having the draperies dry cleaned once a year will also help reduce dust. Alternately, switch out your fabric-covered furniture with leather or wood that won’t absorb dust.
Your pet could be partly responsible for the dusty situation.
Cats and dogs—even shorthaired ones—shed both fur and skin flakes on a continual basis. Called pet dander, the combination can add to a home’s dust level, especially if you have more than one furry friend. Commit to brushing your pets at least once a week to remove loose hair or have them professionally groomed. Daily vacuuming will also help if you have long-haired cats and dogs.
Leaky windows and doors let dust in.
Not only are gaps around windows and doors a leading cause of energy loss, but also outdoor dust and pollen can enter the house every time the wind blows. Living near a dirt or gravel road can create an even worse situation. Fortunately, the solution is simple: Apply caulk to gaps around windows and replace worn weather-stripping around doors to keep dust from blowing in.
You might need to improve your dusting technique.
No matter how often you dust, if you don’t do it correctly, you may unintentionally be moving dust around rather than removing it. Be sure that the cloth or duster you use is made of microfiber, which will help trap most of the dust so less of it recirculates; if you’d rather use a rag, make sure to dampen it slightly, which will also help trap dust. Always dust from top to bottom, meaning higher surfaces first, and remember that dust can cling to vertical surfaces, too, so wipe down walls with a damp cloth once a month.
As to which comes first, dusting or vacuuming, there seems to be no definitive answer. Some cleaning pros say dust top to bottom and then vacuum (with HEPA filter) to banish all dust that settles onto the floor in the process. Others insist that because vacuuming can stir up dust (especially if your vacuum isn’t HEPA-equipped), you’re better off vacuuming first. We say try it both ways and see what works best for you.
Dust could be entering through leaky ducts.
HVAC air ducts run through ceilings, walls, attics, and crawlspaces, and if there are holes in the ducts or unsealed spots where two pieces of ductwork connect, dust can be drawn into the ducts and then blown into your living space. If you notice more dust settling after running the furnace or air conditioner, a leaky duct could be the problem. If the previous solutions haven’t reduced the level of dust, it might be time to call an HVAC technician who can run a pressure test on the duct system to determine if it’s leaking and repair the leaks if necessary.
Invest in an air purifier for the cleanest indoor air.
While the previous solutions will all help reduce the amount of dust in your home, if airborne dust is still a concern, you can further reduce it by using an air purifier. Air purifiers come with a variety of filters, including carbon and HEPA filters, which are designed to trap airborne dust and other particulates.