We hate to break it to you, but this pesky household nuisance is composed of mildly gross things, say our experts.

By Rachel Sanoff
June 09, 2021
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You see dust around corners and on shelves each time you clean your home, but do you know where those particles come from? And do you understand why maintaining a dust-free interior space can be so tricky? "The dust in our homes is an inverted mirror of our lives," explains Emma Barton, the founder of Steam Cleaner Help. "It shows all of our by-products and the things we dispose of without us even being aware of them." Understanding the science behind those pesky dust bunnies under your couch-and the reason they're in your home in the first place-can help you take intentional steps to slow down the build-up and take back control.

person cleaning dusty table
Credit: Comstock / Getty Images

Dust is comprised of a lot of particles.

To better combat dust, it's important to know what it is made of-which is a lot of things. The clumps you find in your home are composed of moderately gross particles from inside and outside. "It's mostly made of dead skin cells, dust mites, dead insect particles, soil, pollen, tiny plastic particles, bacteria, hair, and clothing fibers," explains Natalie Barrett of Nifty Cleaning Services. As for how these exterior elements find their way indoors? "Pollutants and contaminants waltz in through the window and settle down on the floor," Barton says, "then sand, gravel, and dried-up goo on your shoe soles are brought in from the street." Dander and shedding from your pets and crumbs from snacks and meals contribute to dust build-up, too.

But there is one important myth to bust: While dead skin cells certainly do make up part of the dust in our homes, it's not as big of a portion as you may think. Sean Parry of Neat Services notes that people often assume that more than 50 percent of dust comes from dead skin, but in reality, "most of that is carried away by water when we bathe, ending up not on our floors, but in our sewers."

It accumulates very quickly.

And you have science to thank. Think back to what you learned about static electricity in grade school. "When dust moves around in the air, it accumulates a slight positive or negative electric charge," Matthew Baratta, the vice president of operations at Daimer Industries, explains. "The dust is then attracted to surfaces with a slight negative or positive charge," leading to an accumulation. Carpets, on the other hand, are also dust magnets-more so than hardwood or linoleum. Ana Andres, the co-founder of TidyChoice, says that rugs are a "major contributor" to dust build-up and "harbor a lot of dirt, as their fibers break down and swirl in the air."

While a regular cleaning schedule will keep the dust in your home at manageable levels, those airborne particles are an inevitable aspect of any indoor space. "We live in relatively tightly sealed environments, so dust gets entrenched in carpets and crevices," Parry says, "and every time you open a door into your home, you allow access for more dust particles to come in." Even cracking a window swirls the dust already inside, allowing it to settle in different areas of your home.

External factors could increase the amount of dust you have in your home.

If you live on a busy city street with lots of traffic, you likely have more dust, Barrett explains. The more going on outside, the more accumulation you will see-but the same is true of your interior environment. If you have a plethora of knick knacks and small items, there are more places for airborne particles to settle.

Luckily, there are many ways to get dust under control.

It's scientifically impossible to have an entirely dust-free house, but you can reduce your interior's levels and improve allergies as a result. "Regularly vacuum your home, wipe down surfaces, and wash bedding and blankets," Parry says. Remember to include furniture and upholstery each time you vacuum, adds Henry Paterson, the senior operations executive at Housekeep. Frequent dusting is also crucial to ensure that you don't make the problem worse each time you clean, John Selkow of Office Pride Commercial Cleaning Services explains. Attempting to clean a surface with a heavy layer of dust will only push more particles into the air during the removal process-so the goal should be to avoid accumulation in the first place. To do so, Selkow recommends welcome mats and walk-off mats to prevent tracked-in dirt, as well as an HVAC filtration system to stop dust from layering up. Paterson likes vacuums with built-in HEPA (high-efficiency particulate absorbing) filters, which trap dust and allergens as you clean; you can even purchase HEPA air purifiers to trap more dust and allergens all day long.

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