Part 4: Dust Hygiene for the Mold and Chemically Sensitive

Cesar Collado
Apr 13, 2022

Don’t… Let the Dust Settle Blog Series

Cleaning Dust… or Spreading Dust?

Dust is a constant nuisance in life no matter where you live. It’s made up of tiny particles of dirt, fibers, paper, and many other organic materials. It is impossible to completely get of rid of dust in any home. In fact, improper treatment or cleaning of dust exacerbates Indoor Air Quality (“IAQ”) problems. For many of us “old school” cleaners, we remember using brooms and dusters with impunity. As physics, measurement technology, and optics have evolved, we learned that we have often been spreading dust (more importantly toxins) while believing we are removing the dust.

Brooms and Dusters Make Things Worse

When using a broom, dust is moved around a surface until it is all in the same location to be picked up by a dustpan. No matter how well we sweep, some dust remains. The same thing occurs when using a duster. Only the visible dust may be picked up by the duster. You can often see the dust becoming airborne while dusting. In addition, the dust will escape the duster while it is being carried from room to room. Some users may bag their duster and try to remove the dust outside by tapping a hard surface to free the dust. In a study by Aerosol and Air Quality Research (“AAQR”) a particle counter was used to measure airborne particles during numerous trials of sweeping. While sweeping with a broom, the concentration of 1–2.5 µm dust particles can increased by up to 5 times, whereas that of 2.5–10 µm particles increased by ~60 times when the floor was excessively dusty.[1]

How dust compares in size to other things.

It is also important to pay attention to dust mites. Dust mites are tiny bugs that live in your home and thrive under moist conditions. They measure about 1/100th of an inch in length. That is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Dust mites feed off pet and human dander (dead skin cells in the air and on surfaces in our homes). Their feces are also allergens when inhaled. This places significant importance in cleaning bedrooms and bedding.

Cleaning Recommendations for the Mold and Chemically Sensitive.

During “Spring Cleaning” is as good of time as any to begin practicing good dust and microbial hygiene in your home. A thorough cleaning is always refreshing for a home. Doing so with IAQ in mind adds a small amount of work to the annual effort with excellent results.

These recommendations may seem to be overkill for healthy adults; however, this article is intended to be used by mold and/or chemical sensitive people. Addressing dust problems and effective cleaning techniques can make an order of magnitude difference in IAQ and health.


6 Tips for Reducing the Amount of Dust In Your Home

  • Keep It Outside:  Since most dust comes in from outdoors, being proactive helps here. Keep windows and doors shut as much as possible. Commit to a no-shoes policy inside and get a good-quality doormat to leave outside your main entrance.
  • Groom Your Pets Outdoors: Regularly brushing and petting your pets produce errant hair and dust. If your groom them inside, use an easy-to-clean space like the bathroom. Bathrooms often have limited ventilation. Close the vent and clean the bathroom afterwards.
  • Pack Up Paper and Fabrics: Loose fibers from fabric and paper contribute to household dust, too. Regularly recycle magazines, newspapers and cardboard boxes. Collect them in the garage or carport. Break down boxes by the curb instead of inside your home. Never bring stored cardboard boxes indoors.
  • Change Your Sheets Often:  Between the fabric fibers of your sheets and the skin particles from your body, your bed is generating significant amounts of dust. Keep sheets and bedding as clean as possible by changing sheets weekly and cleaning your pillows, comforter and mattress pads once a month, or at least every other month.
  • Use a Vacuum with a HEPA Filter. When you do need to clean, don’t make the mold or dust problem worse. Use a high quality HEPA cannister vacuum. If you cannot afford one, you can purchase an older style upright vacuum with HEPA bags. These bags will fill quickly, and you dispose of the bags in their entirety, which is much safer. Bagless “HEPA” vacuums are problematic as they expose you to a high concentration of dust and debris when emptying.
  • Consider Purchasing an Air Purifier: You should have one placed in the room you sleep in and any room where you spend considerable amounts of time.

All HEPA filters have multiple, strategic, layers

10 Ways to Improve Your Cleaning Routines

While researching the role of dust in IAQ, I spoke with several IAQ professionals. It turned out that there is an IAQ professional who has applied scientific principles to cleaning. John Banta co-wrote a book called, “Prescriptions for a Healthy House, 3rd Edition: A Practical Guide for Architects, Builders & Homeowners.” When water damage results in indoor mold growth, the conditions determine whether routine maintenance and cleaning alone are sufficient to resolve the issue or if a full-scale remediation involving demolition is needed.

John Banta states clearly that mold growth in a home “can be controlled by routine cleaning; however, the cause of the excess moisture should be resolved. If these conditions repeatedly soak beyond the surface and into wall cavities, insulation, attics, ductwork, behind baseboard or into other inaccessible places in the building then it may be necessary to perform mold remediation by physically removing the damaged materials.”[2]

“Prescriptions for a Healthy House, 3rd Edition: A Practical Guide for Architects, Builders, & Homeowners”
by John Banta, Paula Baker-Laporte, and Erica Elliott

In addition to the 6 tips to reduce mold, here are the “10 Simple Changes” recommended to improve IAQ by John Banta.[3] 

  1. “Ban the Broom.”
  2. “Always Use a Properly Functioning True HEPA Vacuum Cleaner”
  3. “Vacuum From All Directions:” It is common for people to do a single or double pass in a convenient pattern.  This approach can miss dirt and debris that settles in the carpet. Additional passes from multiple directions will capture more debris.
  4. “Remove and empty the vacuum collection bag or canister outside.”
  5. “Check to see how much dirt is being missed when you vacuum.”  After HEPA vacuuming your home in your normal way, empty then replace the collection bag and repeat the vacuuming of the area you just vacuumed.   You will be able to see how much additional dirt you missed when the second bag is removed. Repeat until you learn how many passes are required to fully remove debris as best you can.”
  6. “HEPA Vacuum Before Performing Wet or Damp Cleaning”
  7. “Clean Hard Surfaces with Microfiber Cleaning Cloths.”  Alternatively, the Swiffer® (insist on unscented!) dry wipe, Bona® microfiber cleaning cloth, and Rubbermaid® Hygen® disposable microfiber cleaning system are brands of disposable wipes that are commercially available at supermarkets, hardware stores, or online. 
  8. “Monitor How Effectively You Have Cleaned Hard Surfaces.”  When surfaces are clean you should be able to wipe 40 square feet (4 ft x 10 ft) of hard surfaced items such as wood floors, ceramic floors, resilient flooring, table tops, wood, glass and metal furnishings and counter tops without seeing significant dust accumulation.
  9. Use Common, Safe Household Products for Cleaning Effectively.  Regular dish soap or detergent in warm water is safe and effective for cleaning fats, greases, and oils from surfaces. As particulates, residues, and especially biofilms accumulate, water alone will not remove oily films.  The addition of a surfactant (soap/detergent) will make the oil soluble in water.  CitriSafe Mold Spray contains a specific surfactant for this task. 
  10. Avoid Dangerous Ineffective Products.  Bleach and Ammonia are effective in removing mold stains on hard, non-porous surfaces; however; when either is sprayed on porous surfaces (tile grout, fabrics, etc.), mold growth and stains may disappear, but the hyphae (root like growth into the pours) will grow back soon after. This can result in unnecessary work, or the false perception that surfaces have been effectively cleaned. Accidentally mixing products with bleach and ammonia will form a toxic gas that can be lethal. The EPA states “The purpose of mold remediation is to remove the mold to prevent human exposure and damage to building materials and furnishings. It is necessary to clean up mold contamination, not just to kill the mold. Dead mold is still allergenic, and some dead molds are potentially toxic.”  It is important to use products that penetrate porous surfaces to avoid rapid regrowth.

Hyphea grow like a root system under the surface of porous materials

I hope these tips are helpful to set up a solid routine to maintain dust and mold hygiene in your home. Next week’s article will address the most common cause of indoor air pollution: Excessive Moisture.

  1. Ji, J.H (2020). Size Distributions of Suspended Fine Particles during Cleaning in an Office. Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 20: 53-60.      Https://
  2. Banta, John et. al.  “Prescriptions for a Healthy House, 3rd Edition: A Practical Guide for Architects, Builders & Home Owners” Published October 1, 2014.
  3. Banta, John. “Effective Cleaning” Mold Toxicity/Methylation.   July 2, 2016