When was the last time you gave your home a good dusting?

Items in our homes are called dust collectors for a reason. It seems no sooner a person dusts the tables, shelves, knickknacks or other surfaces in the house than visible dust starts accumulating all over again. That’s because once disturbed, the almost lighter than air particulates float around for a while before landing again on your furniture.

Keeping up with dusting can seem like a never-ending battle but it’s important to stick to a good dusting regime. Sure, dust is unsightly. But it’s more than that: dust can make you sick.

In addition to minute particles of dirt, dust is a mix of sloughed off skin cells, hair, clothing fibers, bacteria, dust mites, bits of dead insects, pollen, mold and even microscopic bits of plastic. It gets tracked in our shoes, it drifts in through open windows and hitches a ride on just about anything you bring inside.

Dust itself picks up contaminants from the ground and air so it can act as a very efficient transport system for chemical pollutants like pesticides. It all combines to create an airborne recipe that can make you sneeze or trigger severe allergic reactions.

“When we talk about dust allergies it’s important to know what part of dust you are talking about,” according to Dr. Rung-chi Li, allergist and immunologist with Northern Light Allergy and Immunology. “It’s such a mix of different things.”

The most common allergens with indoor dust are dust mites, pollen and mold, Li said.

“All of those particles get mixed in the air and end up on our floors or in our beds,” Li said. “Our immune cells treat these particles as foreing invading bodies in our systems and [the immune cells] want to attack them.”

For people with allergies that can trigger reactions including a stuffy nose, red and itchy eyes, wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath. This can be especially serious for people with underlying respiratory conditions like asthma, Li said.

To keep your home as dust-free as possible, Li recommends dusting at least once a week and more often if possible.

The most efficient way to dust is a top-down strategy to avoid letting dust settle back down on the area you just cleaned.

Use a microfiber cloth to dust countertops, tabletops, shelves, and other smooth surfaces in your house. A dry cloth works fine, but to catch even more particles use them with an all-purpose cleaner or plain water. To get to hard to reach areas like the tops of shelves or ceiling fan blades attach a cloth to a long handle or use a long-handled microfiber duster designed for getting to high places.

When a bit more dust collecting power is needed, reach for a lint brush. They work well on cloth surfaces or where dust has built up over time.

“Once you dust, go outside for one or two hours,” Li said. “All the dust you have disturbed is going to be floating in the air and you can breathe it in and that can cause problems for you.”

Li also recommends keeping an eye on the humidity levels in your home as dust mites and molds in particular thrive in moist environments of 70 percent humidity or higher. He also suggests checking and either cleaning or changing filters on household air exchangers and furnaces.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.