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What Is Dust? Where Does It Come From?

Dust is a nuisance. Most of us can agree on that. What is that pesky thing anyway? Where did it come from?

If you have many unanswered questions about dust, you just came to the right place.  In this mini dust FAQ, we will discuss all there is about this foul creature that bugs us every day.

where does dust come from

Dust is defined as fine, dry matter consisting of tiny particles of earth or waste matter lying on the ground or on surfaces or carried in the air.

What Does Dust Come From?

The dust in your home mostly comes from outdoors. The dirt stuck on your shoes and the particulates blown in through the doors and windows mix with multitude other particulates to form household dust.

That is why, under the microscope, dust particles don’t always look like a uniform collection.

That’s because it consists of anything from pollen, hairs, furs, skin, fibers, minerals, soil, soot, particulate matter from cooking and smoking, and many other materials which may be found in the local environment.

what is dust

How Small Are Dust Particles?

Household dust particles are generally 100 microns in diameter or less. A micron is a millionth of a meter or 1/25,400 of an inch. Based on its size and health effects, dust or particulate fraction is categorized as inhalable, thoracic, and respirable.

Inhalable dust particles enter your nose when you’re breathing normally. They are 100 microns in diameter or less.

Thoracic dust particles are small enough to reach your lungs. They are 10 microns in diameter or less. These particles are often referred to as PM10.

Respirable dust particles are small enough to penetrate the alveoli, the part of the lungs where gas exchange happens. They are less than 2.5 microns in size. This dangerous type of dust is often referred to as PM2.5.

What Are The Body’s Defense Mechanisms Against Dust?

When you breathe in, your nose filters most of the dust particles. Blowing and sneezing are the natural responses to remove them from your body.

In the case where some dust particles manage to get to the trachea (the tube leading to lungs), the cell lining it will secrete mucus to trap them.

The cilia or fine hairs covering the airways will move the mucus upward for disposal.

Dust particles that find their way to the lungs are attacked by macrophages.

These special cells eat the particulates then find their way up to where the cilia are present. The cilia move the macrophages upward just like how they do to mucus.

These layers of defense mechanisms are the reason why most people shouldn’t be too worried about inhaling low level of household dust.

What Are The Health Effects Of Inhaling Dust?

how is dust created

Inhalable dust particles that managed to get through the many defense mechanisms in the airways may trigger asthma attacks, coughing, sneezing, and hayfever.

In more severe cases, the particulates may cause injuries to the lung tissues. The seriousness depends on the type of the dust particles and how many of them get in there.

Severe inhalation may cause fibrosis or scarring and fibrous tissue formation.

One dangerous type of dust that can cause fibrosis is silica dust. Fibrosis by crystalline silica is a condition called silicosis. It impairs lung function and can be lethal.

If you inhale asbestos dust, not only you get fibrosis, you can also get cancer. Studies have shown that asbestos can cause lung, larynx, and ovaries cancer.

Asbestos can also cause mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that commonly attacks the membranes enveloping the lungs (pleura) and abdomen organs (peritoneum).

Is A Facemask Effective In Preventing Dust Getting Into Lungs?

It depends on what kind of mask you’re talking about. If the mask is only a piece of handkerchief tied around your nose and mouth, then it can stop 28% of dust particulates from entering your airways.

What you need is a mask with HEPA filter. If you can’t get your hands on one of those, use a surgical mask instead. They can block up to 80% of dust. Find out what name-brand masks the doctors and nurses in your local hospital are using. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you.

If you want something even better, go and buy cheap 3M masks. Despite their low price, they can block over 90% of dust particles.

What Are Dust Bunnies?

Dust bunnies are just balls of dust, lint, and hair that you can find under the bed, under the furniture, and in corners that are rarely cleaned.

They are called dust bunnies because the lump sometimes resembles a cute little bunny, that’s it.

what makes dust

Check under your bed and see if the dust bunnies there resemble that cute bunny above.

Dust bunnies are not dangerous on their own. Only when dust mites settle in them that they become a threat to your family’s health.

To get rid of dust bunnies, use the crevice attachment on your vacuum cleaner to clean under the bed, furniture, corners, and other hard-to-reach places.

What Is A Dust Mite?

how does dust form

Dust mites are microscopic bugs that love to dwell in household dust. They are 250 to 300 microns in length. That’s about double the thickness of the average human hair.

Almost every home has dust mites hidden somewhere.

Dust mites feed on shed skin but they don’t bite humans. There are still dangerous to your health because their feces and body fragments can trigger allergic reactions.

To prevent them from breeding freely in your home, use a dehumidifier to keep humidity level less than 50%. Also wash bedding regularly and use anti-allergy mattress cover if possible.

I Hate Dusting – How Do I Save Time When Dusting?

First, you need to dust from top to bottom. Let gravity helps you with the cleanup. Secondly, dust before you vacuum the room.

If you dust after vacuuming the room, you’ll need to vacuum the dust that falls on the carpet and floor again.

Finally, stop using a feather duster. It will push the dust around instead of catching them. Go with damp microfiber towel which picks up and removes dust a lot better.

Microfiber is a synthetic material made by blending polyester and nylon. Microfiber towels are superior compared to cotton towels when it comes to cleaning surfaces.

Microfiber towel leaves no lint so you won’t end up leaving extra microparticles to clean later.

Here’s a close-up view of what microfiber cloth looks like.

where does house dust come from

Try it on a dusty window. A piece of microfiber cloth will trap the dust between its fibers and prevent smearing.

I Clean Daily But My House Is Always Dusty – What’s Going On?

First, check that your house is well insulated. It’s a common theme among homeowners with similar complaints. The culprit is usually lack of proper insulation.

Sealing the places where air leaks will reduce the chance of outdoor dust getting into your home. A properly sealed home also makes your house easier to cool and heat. Consider that as an added bonus.

Is there a trick to finding spots with air leakage?

where do dust come from

Go find spider webs. Spiders rely on a breeze to carry the thread across a wide distance. That’s why you often find spider webs span across two trees more than several feet away. If you see a spider web on a corner in your home, then there’s a leakage nearby that causes a breeze.

Do Air Purifiers Get Rid Of Dust?

Yes, it can. Your home will never be dust-free, but running an air purifier can reduce the amount of dust significantly.

You’ll see less of them hovering around or sticking to where they don’t have the right to be. Everything appears to stay cleaner longer and you get fewer dust bunnies too.

In addition, you should vacuum regularly especially if you have plenty of carpeting in the house. Be sure to vacuum upholstery, bedding, and practically every surface, nooks, and crannies.

Groom your pets regularly too. Do it outside so their fur, hair, and dander won’t spread all over your home. Or just take them to a professional grooming service.

“What about drywall dust?”

Ah, yes. Drywall dust – the devil of home improvements. If there’s ever a contest for the most annoying type of dust, drywall dust is the top three finalists.

Unlike normal dust that gets blown away easily, drywall dust seems to linger forever. Whenever you’re remodeling a room in the house, you will find yourself still cleaning up drywall dust weeks after.

The best way to get rid of drywall dust is to run your air purifier on full blast while you’re working on the dusty parts.

Be sure to cover all furniture (and we mean everything) while you’re at it. Drywall dust has a knack for going places you don’t think is possible.

Once you’re done doing the dusty work, vacuum immediately while keeping the air purifier running.

Vacuuming will blow some of the dust particles back into the air. The air purifier will capture those particles before they find a place to settle.

A little warning: Running your air purifier during a major home improvement project means you must replace the filter once the project is completed.

Don’t wait until the normal replacement schedule. That filter will be too clogged up to do any real cleaning after.

I Live On A Busy Street – How Do I Stop Road Dust From Getting Into My Home?

Ah, yes. Living on a street with heavy traffic will give your road dust plus exhaust dust as a bonus.

An excellent way to reduce the amount of dust getting to your home is to plant shrubs and trees. They’ll act as buffers and shields while improving your privacy too. They are also excellent for blocking out some of the road noises.

Make it a habit to spray the leaves every morning and afternoon to wash down the layer of dust stuck on them.

The trees will grow healthily so they can keep blocking those dirty dust particles from entering your home.

Please note that as long as your home is not airtight, some of the dust particles will still get through.

It will be prudent to keep an air purifier running so your home won’t end up dusty all the time.

Does Dust Have Any Use At All?

Of course. In fact, dust plays an important role in climate.

what cause dustAirborne dust particles act as condensation nucleus, which allows clouds to form. There’s a piece of dust particle hidden within each raindrop and snowflake.

So far, scientists have not found any special properties of dust particles that help form ice crystals and raindrops. Any random piece of dust that passes by you may end up inside a raindrop one day.

The usefulness of dust particles can even manifest thousands of miles from where the dust is formed.

Each year, about 27 million tons of dust from the Sahara fertilizes the Amazon rainforest and the Atlantic Ocean.

Saharan dust is rich in Phosphorus, an important nutrient for trees. The migration of dust from the Sahara is so massive, it can be seen from space.

Watch this video from NASA that visualize just how much dust is involved in this process.