The solution to most household problems is to attack the source. But you can’t eliminate the sources of household dust. You can’t even do much to reduce them, because more than 90 percent of household dust comes from people and fabric. Our bodies constantly shed tiny flakes of skin. Our clothes, bedding and furnishings constantly shed barely visible fibers. These flakes and fibers float on the slightest air currents and settle on every surface in your house. In a spot sheltered from air movement, the particles stay put. In other areas, they constantly rise and settle as doors swing open and people pass by.
Even if fighting dust is a battle you can never completely win, you can save a lot of time and energy with these dust-busting strategies.
1. Keep closet floors clear for easy cleaning. Closets are dust reservoirs, full of tiny fibers from clothes, towels and bedding. Every time you open the door, you whip up an invisible dust storm. You can’t prevent clothes from shedding fibers, but you can make closets easier to keep clean and vastly cut down on dust.
Box or bag items on shelves. Clear plastic containers are best — they lock fibers in and dust out and let you see what’s inside. When you dust, they’re easy to pull off the shelves and wipe clean.
Enclose the clothes you rarely wear. Those coats you wear only in winter shed fibers year-round. Slip garment bags or large garbage bags over them. They help to contain fibers and keep the clothes themselves from becoming coated with dust.
Keep closet floors clear. If the floor is cluttered, chances are you’ll just bypass it while vacuuming. But a wide-open floor adds only a few seconds to the vacuuming chore. And a wire shelf lets you clear all those shoes off the floor without losing storage space.
2. Upgrade your furnace filter. If your home has a forced-air heating or cooling system, it can help control dust by filtering the air. Most visible dust settles on floors and furniture before it can enter the heating/cooling system, so no filter will eliminate dusting chores. Still, a filter upgrade can make a noticeable improvement.
The most effective system is an electrostatic filter connected to your ductwork ($700 to $1,500, professionally installed). An electrostatic filter may be worth the expense if you have allergies. But if you just want to reduce dust buildup, it’s smarter to spend $40 to $100 per year on high-quality disposable filters. A standard fiberglass filter traps only the largest dust particles. It’s effective enough to protect your furnace but does almost nothing to reduce household dust. Better filters are made from pleated fabric or paper. Most pleated filters also carry an electrostatic charge that attracts and holds dust. A pleated filter can capture virtually all the visible dust that reaches it. Manufacturers usually recommend that you change these filters every three months, but you should check them monthly, especially if you have cats or dogs, and replace them if they’re dirty. Dirty pleated filters can restrict airflow and damage your furnace.
3. Rotate bedding weekly. Your cozy bed is a major dust distributor. The bedding collects skin flakes, sheds its own fibers and sends out a puff of dust every time you roll over. To minimize the fallout, wash sheets and pillowcases weekly. Items that aren’t machine washable don’t need weekly trips to the dry cleaners — just take blankets and bedspreads outside and shake them. You can spank some of the dust out of pillows, but for a thorough cleaning, wash or dry-clean them. When you change bedding, don’t whip up a dust storm. Gently roll up the old sheets and spread out the new ones; even clean bedding sheds fibers.
4. Capture dust — don’t just spread it around. Feather dusters and dry rags pick up some of the dust they disturb, but most of it just settles elsewhere. Damp rags or disposable cloths that attract and hold dust with an electrostatic charge (like Swiffer or Grab-it) work much better. Cloths that attract dust with oils or waxes also work well but can leave residue on furniture. Use vacuum attachments only on surfaces that are hard to dust with a cloth, such as rough surfaces and intricate woodwork, because the exhaust stream from a vacuum whips up a dust storm.
5. Beat and shake area rugs. In most homes, carpet is by far the biggest dust reservoir. It’s a huge source of fibers and absorbs dust like a giant sponge. Even the padding underneath holds dust, which goes airborne with each footstep. Some serious allergy sufferers find that the only solution is to tear out wall-to-wall carpet and install hard flooring like wood or tile. Those of us who don’t want to take that drastic step have to vacuum regularly. Vacuum pathways and busy areas at least once a week. The dust that gathers under chairs or behind the sofa is less important. It stays put unless it’s disturbed by a toddler, a pet or a breeze. Vacuum large area rugs too. But also take them outside three or four times a year for a more thorough cleaning. Drape them over a fence or clothesline and beat them with a broom or tennis racket. A good beating removes much more dust than vacuuming. Take smaller rugs outside for a vigorous shaking every week.
6. Take cushions out for a beating. Upholstery fabric not only sheds its own fibers but also absorbs dust that settles on it. You raise puffs of dust every time you sit down. The only way to eliminate upholstery dust is to buy leather- or vinyl-covered furniture. But there are three ways to reduce dust on fabric:
Dust settles mostly on horizontal surfaces; vacuum them weekly. Vacuum vertical surfaces monthly.
Take cushions outside and beat the dust out of them. An old tennis racket works well and lets you practice your backhand. A thorough beating removes deeply embedded dust better than vacuuming.
Slipcovers for chairs and sofas are easy to pull off and take outdoors for a shaking. Better yet, some are machine washable. Slipcovers are readily available at discount and home furnishings stores and online (surefit.net is one good source).
Do air cleaners reduce dusting? An effective air cleaner removes large and small particles from the air in a single room. Within that space, it can relieve allergy or asthma symptoms and even reduce smoke and cooking odors. But don’t expect it to relieve you of dusting duty. Air cleaners are sized to filter a small area, so only a small portion of the airborne dust in your home will ever reach the unit. For air cleaners to have a real effect on overall dust levels, you would need one unit in every room — at a cost of $60 to $500 per room.
7. Clean the air while you clean house. All vacuums whip up dust with their “agitator” (the cylindrical brush that sweeps the carpet) or blowing exhaust stream. That dust eventually settles on the surfaces you’ve just cleaned. But if your forced-air heating/cooling system is equipped with a good filter, you can filter out some of that dust before it settles. Just switch your thermostat to “fan on.” This turns on the blower inside your furnace and filters the air even while the system isn’t heating or cooling. Leave the blower on for about 15 minutes after you’re done cleaning. But don’t forget to switch back to “auto.” Most blowers aren’t designed to run constantly.
8. Match the vacuum to the flooring. Suction alone isn’t enough to pull much dust out of carpet. For good results, you need a vacuum with a powerful agitator. Upright vacuums are usually best for carpet, although some canister vacuums with agitators work well, too. When it comes to wood, tile or vinyl flooring, your best choice is a canister vacuum without an agitator (or with an agitator that can be turned off). An agitator does more harm than good on hard flooring because it blows dust into the air