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How to get rid of dust around your home and reduce sneezing

Uncategorized Dec 05, 2020

COVID this year, like no other year, has really shone a spotlight on how we maintain our homes and offices and what steps we use to protect ourselves. And I thought this week that I would be focusing on something that I see all the time when we do indoor air quality and mould and water damage inspections. And that is the incredible amount of dust that is often found settled in your home and even my home. And I just want to put up a typical example of what we see in what extensively looks like really clean properties. And under the microscope dust is a really complicated and complex material. And it's quite unattractive, all of us would agree about that. And so, this week, like other weeks we're going to be focusing on some practical tips that you can follow to reduce sneezing and dominate dust in your home.

Here's an example of a tape lift under the microscope at x100 times magnification.  The tape lift was taken from the bookshelf in the hallway of a home where one of the occupants had been diagnosed with mycotoxin exposure.  Her reaction to the test for Aspergillus fumigatus was off the charts. This is the dust that was typically found settled out onto horizontal surfaces in many parts of her home. The mould reservoir was found to be contaminated roofing insulation.  This material entered into the habitable parts of the home around the perimeters of downlights and over time made the occupants very ill.  

And you're probably thinking, why did he quickly put up that ugly picture of the dust? Well, I want to emphasize some overarching statistics here that have been published by the World Health Organization. And annually 4.3 million people die prematurely each year due to exposure to indoor air pollution. And because all of us spend up to 90% of our times indoors, our exposure to not only water damage and mould, but the amount of dust that's present is of concern. And this material, dust, is complicated. And the most common reaction that people have to dust is sneezing. And in amongst this, when we look at this under the microscope, we can see road debris, we can see pollen, often different types of fungi, fungal spores, fungal fragments, and insect parts, whole bunch of material of unknown origin. And this is really complicated.

Tape lifts are an easy way to measure the levels of dust and work out what's in your air and settling out onto surfaces.  Dust is like a time capsule for what's inside your home because it settles out and accumulates.

I recommend testing for dust using tape lifts on the tops of door frames, on the top of shelving in walk-in robes, on the tops of wall hangings like paintings or mirrors.  The aim is to collect enough material that reveals what your air quality is like as particulate matter settles out.  When this dust gets agitated, it again becomes airborne and can be easily inhaled leading to irritation and allergy.

Dust under the microscope at x400 times magnification.  The tape lifts reveal fibres, pollen, mould spores, cell wall fragments, dirt and road debris and sometimes insect parts and fibres from clothing and insulation, and usually lots of skin cells. 

And when people respond to dust, usually it is some sort of irritation. You're going to sneeze, right? But you can also end up with itching, itching of the nose, itching of the eyes, leading to inflammation of the mucosal membranes, discharge from the nose and eyes. And this constellation of symptoms is known medically as allergic rhinitis. And the dominating trigger for allergic rhinitis in 30% of cases is unwanted exposure to dust, pollen, certainly in spring and summer, that causes allergic rhinitis in approximately 20% of people. And interestingly, mould is only a trigger for nose allergic rhinitis symptoms in approximately 4% of cases.

So, today, I want to work out whether or not it is best to clean up around the house using paper towels, using something like a disinfectant wipe, using a sponge or microfiber. So, in order to approach this problem, I have gone into the research literature, I have read a number of publication on dust exposure and allergic rhinitis and practical methods to clean up around the house. And I've summarized this research into five takeaways for you. And the first one is how best to clean. Well, the number one method, select microfiber over cloth or paper towels. And the reason for this is that microfiber has high amounts of surface area. It's just the way microfiber is constructed.

Now, I'm not going to get into the underlying physics and chemistry of microfiber although that is very interesting and exciting. Just remember, microfiber is better than cloth and paper. If you are going to use wipes, these disinfectant type wipes, they may contain alcohol, they might not contain alcohol, your best bet is to choose one that does have some type of disinfectant here. However, you cannot rely on the disinfectant alone. And some original research studies that came out in the last 15 years, some hospitals in fact have recommended just using disinfectant wipes with water. But more recent publications say that they should contain an anti-bacterial, anti-microbial in it.

But that isn't the whole story. How you use these disinfectant wipes is equally important, and it is one wipe, one side, one surface. Because if you use this on one surface and then move it to another, you're going to cross-contaminate the next surface. And no amount of inherent alcohol or disinfectant in here is going to prevent you transferring this. So you have to be careful with these. So, the next two points really come down to when and where to clean. And the literature shows that fungal contamination is much worse inside our homes over winter. And interestingly, the statistical distribution of what microbes are present when people do quite complicated PCR tests show that the levels of bacteria actually decrease over winter, but we definitely need to be more vigilant in winter with our cleaning.

And we cannot underestimate where you live. The results are in from quite interesting studies. And if you live in urban areas, your risk of allergic rhinitis is four times higher compared to those people who live in rural areas. And in fact, your asthma risk is eight times higher. Now, why does this happen? Well, the key point here is that in urban areas the amount of traffic pollution, all that material that goes into the air, is a big trigger for allergic rhinitis. Now, I'm a strong advocate for cleaning with microfiber. Definitely follow the protocols here about using one surface, one wipe. In hospital terminology, this is one surface, one wipe, in one direction. So follow these rules as best you can.

And the final takeaway is how to optimize cleaning. Well, the key thing here is combine a sporicidal disinfectant or detergent with microfiber. Do not just dip your microfiber into water and hope for the best. The research studies are clear as crystal, microfiber plus a disinfectant leads to far better removal of pathogens. And that's what we all want.

In any case, my name's Dr. Cameron Jones, you're listening and watching The Mould Show. If you liked this, please subscribe and leave a comment below I'll be sure to answer it. All the literature that I have built this talk around is cited in the show notes. If you want to test your home or office for mould using tape lifts, you can buy them online. I'll be back next week. Bye for now.

Watch the video: 


[1] Kef, K. and Güven, S., 2020. The Prevalence of Allergic Rhinitis and Associated Risk Factors Among University Students in AnatoliaJournal of Asthma and Allergy, Volume 13, pp.589-597.

[2] Viegas, C., Dias, M., Almeida, B., Vicente, E., Caetano, L., Carolino, E. and Alves, C., 2020. Settleable Dust and Bioburden in Portuguese DwellingsMicroorganisms, 8(11), p.1799.

[3] Williams, G., Denyer, S., Hosein, I., Hill, D. and Maillard, J., 2009. Limitations of the Efficacy of Surface Disinfection in the Healthcare Setting. Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, 30(6), pp.570-573.

[4] Robertson, A., Barrell, M. and Maillard, J., 2019. Combining detergent/disinfectant with microfibre material provides a better control of microbial contaminants on surfaces than the use of water aloneJournal of Hospital Infection, 103(1), pp.e101-e104.

[5] Lori Keong, L. (2020). How to Get Rid of Dust, According to Cleaning Experts. Retrieved 30 November 2020, from


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