Dust is composed of everything from tiny particles of rock, sawdust, fabric, paper, salt from the ocean, carbon from smoke, ash from volcanoes, and even cosmic dust. You also find flakes of skin, little pieces of insect bodies, viruses, bacteria, pollen, and mold spores in there, too, along with insect eggs and droppings, hair, and just about anything else you can think of. The air in the average house has about twice as much dust as the air outside, and many of the particles are so small they never settle – they just float around constantly. Controlling dust prevents it from becoming a health risk and since dust can be abrasive, from damaging furniture and building surfaces.

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Sunlight as a Disinfectant

You can reduce the number of bacteria in the dust by opening the window blinds and curtains to let the sunshine in, according to a study published in the journal Microbiome. Eleven miniature rooms, each with its own window were built by researchers at the University of Oregon. The windows in the rooms were each glazed a little differently to let in visible light, ultraviolet light, or no light at all. Samples of dust from each room were tested after 90 days, and researchers found that bacteria reproduced best in the dark rooms (12%) and contained microorganisms associated with respiratory diseases, compared to 6.8% of the bacteria in dust exposed to ultraviolet light.

The researchers’ goals were to help architects design homes, schools, hospitals, and other facilities with access to sunlight that can reduce the risk of dust-borne infections.

Controlling Dust

We can control dust by preventing it (door mats, weather stripping, sealing concrete floors, etc.), by collecting it (dusting, sweeping, vacuuming), and by sifting it out of the air with the filters on our furnaces and HVAC systems, and with special air filters. Too often, however, dusting is just moving dust around. A broom, for example, gets much of the dust off the floor, but it kicks a lot of the finer particles up into the air where they will soon settle on other surfaces. Dusting with a feather duster or untreated cloth also tends to clean the object we’re working on but redistribute a lot of what we remove. A vacuum with leaking seals or a bad bag or filter can fling dust through the whole house. The key to dust control is using tools that capture and remove dust instead of just relocating it.

A Good Vacuum

A good vacuum is one of the most effective dusting tools we have because it traps and holds dust, so it can be removed from the premises. You can use a vacuum dusting brush for everything from hard surface floors and furniture to lampshades and woodwork. Just make sure bags, gaskets, filters, and seals are in good shape so dust is really caught in the machine and not thrown back into the air as you vacuum. Good, well-sealed and filtered vacuums can remove up to one micron-sized dust particles.

A Good Dust Cloth

When you hand dust, you also need to collect and hold the dust, and you can’t do that with a retired t-shirt. Look for microfiber cloths or treated or electrostatic dust cloths. Always use a gentle wiping motion and be careful not to flick dust off the surface and into the air. Don’t shake a dust cloth off in the house – take it outside.

No matter what tool you’re using, always dust from top to bottom, and be sure to switch sides when one side of your cloth gets full of dust.


Berry, Michael A., Ph.D. Protecting the Built Environment: Cleaning for Health. TRICOMM 21st Press, 1994.

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