Get Control of House Dust

Get Control of House DustMany people (and no doubt some of your customers) are allergic to house dust. That’s a big deal since dust allergies can aggravate dangerous breathing conditions like asthma.

Plus, a layer of dust on everything just looks bad; right?

Truth be told, dust levels vary greatly from house to house, and often for no apparent reason. Customizing a dust-busting approach for each house, based on how much dust there is and how much time you have to devote to it, will hopefully make each customer’s home a healthier space to breathe.

What is Dust, and Why Does it Cause Allergies?

It’s important to realize that ‘house dust’ is made of many different types of particles, but they all fall into two categories:

One category is fairly benign stuff; lint from fabrics, miniscule powdery-residues left from construction materials, etc. This type generally doesn’t cause anyone discomfort beyond making the tabletop look dusty.

The other category is the allergy troublemaker. Essentially, it’s biological micro-bits like spores, pollen, dander, and dead-bug bits. And when I say dead-bug bits, I mostly mean dust mites.

Warning: skip over the next paragraph if you are squeemish~ which you probably aren’t, since you clean for a living…

Dust mites are teeny-tiny spidery type critters. They don’t bite or carry disease; they’re just a part of the invisible biosphere. They get their water from moisture in the air; their food from flaked-off skin cells. (I know, gross… but I felt you needed to know.)

The dust-mite-bits, and other sources of biological ‘house dust’, contain proteins which can provoke an allergic response when inhaled by humans. That’s what is meant by ‘being allergic to dust’.

(I found an informative article on about dust and dust mites, with even more cool, unsettling facts in case you’re interested…)

Where Does Dust Hang Out?

On Horizontal Surfaces: Like freshly fallen snow that never melts, dust comes to rest on any horizontal surface. Large tables and dresser tops can be a good gauge of how dusty a room gets between cleaning visits.

And for every large flat surface that collects dust, there are dozens of small strips and nooks the dust settles on just as easily… lateral blinds, paneled door ledges, woodwork and picture frames, chair rungs, baseboards, etc., etc.

If your customer’s budget includes time for detailed dusting, it’s important to have a system to ensure you get different details on different visits (from top to bottom) so everything gets dusted on a regular basis.

On Vertical Surfaces: If people shower and cook (and most people do), there are traces of oil floating through the air that will eventually stick to surfaces around the house. Dust won’t stick to a slick, clean vertical surface, but when oils begin to build a film, the dust and dirt have something to cling to.

Just making the point that everything needs to be well-cleaned (and dusted in the process) now and then.

On Fabric and Paper Surfaces: Upholstery, curtains, lampshades, pillows, silk plants, carpeting… if you were a particle of dust, wouldn’t you feel comfy there? And let’s not forget the allergy-whammy of rows and rows of books… dusty (perhaps mildew-y) paper is a problem without a good solution.

Carved and Detailed Surfaces: knick-knacks, intricate wood or metal carvings, woven baskets, grates, glider rockers … holding dust in hundreds of little hard-to-reach crevices.

Strategies to Control Dust:

The Sequence of Tasks: Dust settles downward, so the ‘top-to-bottom’ rule of thumb applies as you go about whole-house cleaning. If possible, work from upstairs down.

If there are tasks you need to accomplish that will stir-up dust, try to do those when you first arrive so the dust can settle. Things like:

  • Dusting ceiling fans (leave the fans off until all dusting is completed)
  • Running a duster over lateral blinds
  • Stripping and re-making beds
  • Brooming out stairway crevices
  • Shaking out throw rugs
  • Swinging an extension duster under furniture where dust balls or pet hair hides
  • Broom sweeping cat litter corners or dirty/dusty floors

The final task should always be floors, so you can hopefully collect by vacuum the last of the dust. (Yeah, that ain’t ever happening, but we can try.)

Knock it Off: Sometimes, knocking dust off (or out) is the best you can do; hoping it will settle somewhere you can actually get it. An extension duster for things like ceiling fans, window blinds, or the floor beneath furniture, is a help.

I carry a Swiffer ‘extender’ duster; which is great for ‘light dusting’, but mostly for reaching up, down, or under. The arm of the Swiffer locks at various angles, which is very helpful.

The puffs are pricey (about 75 cents each for Swiffer and 50 cents a piece for store brand) so using as few as possible is best. I start out using them on clean stuff, then demote them to tougher tasks as they get dirtier, then demote them to the floor. One puff serves many purposes; I usually use 1-3 per house.)

P.S. Don’t bother with the ‘360’- style puffs… the tip of the duster gets dirty on both sides so it’s wasted money. Finding puffs that slip on from either end is better.

Dusting Cloths: Your best friend.

I prefer disposable Swiffer-style dusting cloths; they’re good for dusting both the surface and the items sitting on it, and really hold the dust~ much better than dusting puffs. The Swiffer-style cloths (again, there are decent store brands) are light and fit easily in and around things… unlike fabric style cloths which can be a bit bulky.

They’re not ‘green’, so use disposable items sparingly. Usually 1-2 disposable cloths will be enough for a cleaning visit if I’m careful to avoid wiping up hair or debris with them.

If you prefer using washable dusting cloths, be sure they are bound around the edges or they’ll fray. Choose cloths that are lightweight, and not overly-huge in size. (Dragging a long corner past a little figurine can be deadly for the figurine.)

Last but not least, a lightly damp cloth works best of all, but keep in mind you can’t return items to a surface until it’s completely dry. Damp dusting usually isn’t practical for routine maintenance, but great for cleaning things well now and then.

Vacuum Attachments: Having a vacuum with a hose and attachments is terrific for lamp shades, upholstery, carpet edges, etc. Sadly, I have yet to find a vacuum with those features that I also like for the floor. Sigh.

Lint Roller: If you don’t have a vac with attachments, using a lint roller (you can find them as big as a paint roller these days) or wide masking tape can help pull dust off lamp shades, and out of hard-to-reach furniture crevices, carpet stairway creases, or wall-to-wall carpeting edges. (BTW: lint rollers and tape are also great for pet hair.)

Floors: The floor is the final stop for dust, so cleaning as thoroughly as possible each visit goes a long way toward getting dust under control. In the old days, vacuums spewed dust back into the air, but most have a hypoallergenic system these days so dust goes in and stays in~ that’s good!

Be sure to get the room edges; that is where dust and pet hair ultimately waft to.

On hard floors, always dust mop beneath and around furniture where the vacuum won’t reach.

For carpeted rooms, regularly move the small furniture to access the corners and carpet edges. A clean, plastic whisk broom is great for brushing out crumbs and dust that has settled around the baseboards and furniture legs.

Room to Room Specifics:

Living Areas: People-activity stirs up dust, so these areas usually have the lamps, tables, and display shelves that need extra attention. It’s also where the tv and computer equipment is, and electronics attract dust. (I’d recommend only a light dry-dusting of electronic components to avoid damage of pricey equipment.)

Bedrooms: Grand Central Station for dust mites, but not much you can do besides wipe dresser tops and bed frame, and thoroughly clean the floor. (If it’s a hard floor beneath the bed, it’s always good to thoroughly dust mop… and even run the damp mop under if time permits.)

Kitchen: Don’t forget the top of the fridge, and ledges on cabinet fronts. Note: The tops of cabinets can have dust layers years old. If your customer is interested in paying for extras to bring everything to a high-level of cleanliness, and you feel comfortable on a (good!) ladder, it can make for a special project.

Bathrooms: A lint-y place, what with all the clothing going up and down and toilet paper swinging. Be sure to keep the window sill, door ledges and baseboards maintained each visit; dust accumulates quickly.

Laundry Room: Ground Zero for lint production is usually the laundry room. If it’s on the same level as the living area or bedrooms (as opposed to being in a basement utility area) it is good to include it in your cleaning routine. Emptying the lint trap for the dryer (should be done after every load… but not everyone does), wiping the washer and dryer, pulling lint out from between and under the machines, and vacuuming the floor goes a long way toward keeping lint contained.

Tell Your Customer If…

HVAC System: If a house is chronically dustier than you’d expect, the problem might lie within the HVAC system (Heating; Ventilation and Air Conditioning). Air-intake ductwork might have seams that are not completely sealed, pulling very fine construction dust into the vents behind the walls. This can result in a micro-powder that settles on everything.

If you suspect the HVAC system, let your customer know. There are a couple of things they might try that are not terribly expensive and could make a big difference:

  • The-most-bang-for-the-buck approach is beefing-up the filter in the furnace/ventilation system; there are filters that remove micro-particles… they just cost more.
  • Having ductwork cleaned professionally can cost several hundred dollars, but can give the house a fresh start.

When Bidding a Job

The dust level of a house can be a big variable when you are bidding a job; thorough dusting of a chronically dusty home is a time-consuming task!

For each customer, and each house, you need to know:

  • If the house itself just tends to be ‘dusty’
  • If anyone has dust allergies
  • If there are loads of shelves with books and knick-knacks
  • If thorough dusting is a priority for your customer, or if ‘light dusting’ will suffice as a touch up task each visit
  • If pet hair is a big issue

Suggesting to your customer that you spend an occasional shift (maybe when they’re on vacation?) to detail clean items you usually only have time to dry dust can be a good strategy to improve the overall dust level.

Dust is our job~ May the Force Be With Us!


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