Dust is one of those things that doesn’t discriminate. Whether you’re struggling to make ends meet or a multi-millionaire, it’s there… making your life a misery. And no matter how much time and money you throw at it, there’s always more waiting to settle on your household surfaces.
For most of us, dust is nothing more than an annoyance — something we have to remove from our homes on a daily basis. But for some people, dust is a potentially life-threatening allergen. Mites, pollen and dander contained within household dust can trigger serious allergic reactions. They can also exacerbate breathing difficulties and respiratory problems.
Understand dust, and you’ll be better equipped to protect yourself and your family from it. The more you know about this ubiquitous substance, the more you can do to minimise it.
With all this in mind, we’ve put together a few interesting — and often horrifying — facts about dust.
1. There’s skin in dust, but not as much as you think
Did you know that you’re constantly shedding and regrowing skin? But unlike a snake or a tarantula, you’re doing it gradually. Over the course of a week, the average person generates around a third of an ounce of dead skin. To put this into context, that’s the same weight as a car key.
But household dust is mostly comprised of “stuff” from outside. Pollen, dander, clothing fibres, mites, mite carcasses and mite droppings account for around 80 percent of domestic dust.
2. Dust loves to be in the air
If dust fell to the ground instantly, it wouldn’t be the serious problem it actually is. Dust is inhaled when it’s airborne — triggering a range of allergic and respiratory reactions. Unfortunately, the average dust particle can stay in the air for around five days. And when it finally lands, there are always more to take its place.
3. Most atmospheric dust comes from Africa
A lot of the dust in your home right now came in from outside. And as most of the dust in the atmosphere came from the Sahara desert, there’s always a little bit of Africa right beside you.
Around five billion tons of dust is dispersed into the Earth’s atmosphere every year. And this can pose a serious problem for the aviation industry. In fact, dust in the atmosphere has a direct effect on air temperature, rainfall and weather patterns.
4. Dust is to blame for rain
Inside every drop of rain is a speck of dust. No, that’s not a metaphor — that’s absolutely true! Airborne dust helps to create cloud condensation nuclei. Gaseous water in the air attaches to airborne dust and turns into tiny droplets. When those droplets become too heavy, they fall to the ground.
5. The first vacuum cleaner wouldn’t fit into most houses today
Dust has been a problem for humans since the dawn of civilisation. For centuries, people came up with labour-intensive, ineffective ways to get rid of it. But it wasn’t until 1901 that someone actually invented a workable, cost-effective machine to deal with dust.
The very first vacuum cleaner was so big it has to be pulled around to houses by horses. It would stand outside as it rumbled into action. And the whole system was powered by petrol.
6. Dust can be a thing of beauty
We’re all used to making a villain out of dust. It looks awful, it’s a constant source of embarrassment, and it makes many of us ill. But this panto villain isn’t all bad. And you only need to get up early in the morning to see why.
It might surprise you to learn that dust is directly responsible for beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The dust in the atmosphere soaks up all the blue and green light around the sun. But for some reason, it doesn’t care for red, yellow and orange light. That’s why you see beautiful oranges and reds in the sky when the sun is at its lowest.
7. The average home generates a huge amount of dust in a year
Take a look around you right now. How much dust do you see? Remove it with a cloth, and come back to it in an hour. You’ll probably see that a new layer has already replaced the old. Dust is one of life’s certainties, after death and taxes. You’ll never get rid of it completely; you can only keep it to a minimum.
Now imagine how much of the stuff lands on your household surfaces every year. Scientists estimate that the average home generates around 40 pounds of dust every year. That’s an awful lot of cleaning!
8. Dust isn’t the real problem
You may hear a lot of people talk about being allergic to dust. In reality, these people are allergic to some of the substances found in dust. Dust can exacerbate breathing problems such as asthma and bronchitis, but these aren’t allergies.
When someone has an allergic reaction to dust, they’re probably reacting to the dust mites inside it. These mites feast on dead skin, so they love nothing more than to sit on humans. But they defecate as they do, and many of them die. They’re the usual causes of allergic reactions related to dust. Just a gram of dust can contain up to 500 dust mites, so it’s easy to see why dusting, vacuuming and cleaning are absolutely essential.
9. Dust is a weapon against crime
Another of dust’s great virtues is the role it plays in solving crimes. Forensic investigators have been using dust as clues for more than 200 years. Think about it: everything from a handprint to a footstep can be preserved in dust — at least for a short while.
10. Dust is used to make fireworks
Do you remember those boring chemistry lessons at school? The ones where you had to set metals on fire to create beautiful colours. These same reactions are used to give fireworks their explosions of colour.
But in order to control the explosions, only tiny amounts of the metals can be used. Firework manufacturers actually use metal dust to deliver safe and controlled explosions in the sky.
11. Dust kills
We already know how dust affects people with allergies and respiratory problems. But dust is a real killer, and it’s taken thousands of lives over the years. During the infamous Dust Bowl event of the 1930s, thousands of Americans succumbed to dust pneumonia. A combination of reckless farming practices and weather patterns created a giant cloud of dust that wiped out entire villages.
12. Don’t look at dust too closely if you’re an arachnophobe
Humans have tried to remove dust from their lives since the dawn of time. And with good reason. It’s a nuisance, and it’s bad for our health. But take a really close look at it, and it’s more horrifying than you can imagine.
When most people think of mites, they think of tiny insects — like microscopic woodlice. Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was the first person to take a close look at the little critters. He put several household items under a telescope, and he found hundreds of tiny, spider-like creatures living on them.
So, there you have it — the good, the bad and the ugly of dust. You’ll never win the war, but you can win daily battles against dust with a strict cleaning regime, the right approach, and the right tools for the job.