It may sound crazy to hear that the dust in your home could be contributing to your health symptoms, but according to research, this statement isn’t far-fetched.
Indoor dust found in the average US household has been shown to contain approximately 45 toxic endocrine disrupting chemicals, including flame retardants and phthalates, which are linked to weight gain, obesity, thyroid issues, cognitive impairment, and cancer.
Since we tend to think of our homes as safe havens, free from unavoidable outdoor pollutants, it may come as a surprise that the seemingly harmless dust bunnies in your living space are a major source of chemicals – which can accumulate in your body, build up in your blood and tissues, and cause a long list of health problems.
The good news is that there are easy and effective ways to begin reducing the number of chemicals that settle into the dust in your home.
How Do Chemicals End Up in Your Household Dust?
According to EWG, “products inside your house ‘shed’ chemicals over time,” including shoes, food and any chemicals released from cooking, plastics, stain-resistant furniture, electronics, and flooring materials – as well as fragrances, cosmetics, and any other household items that contain chemicals, such as cleaning products.
The chemicals that accumulate from indoor dust can come from outside, too. Outdoor pollutants can enter the air in your home when you have your windows open, and get tracked indoors from your shoes and from having an outdoor pet. Car seats even contain fire retardant chemicals that accumulate in dust.
4 Dangers of Household Dust
Before you even consider the addition of chemicals, dust is basically a combination of pollen, microscopic organisms, pet dander, dead skin cells, and/or plant material. All of these substances are known to cause allergic reactions, including sneezing, watery, itchy eyes, and shortness of breath. In addition to being a known allergen, here are five big dangers of household dust when chemicals are added to the mix.
1. Household Dust May Cause Thyroid Dysfunction
A common household chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) can build up in organs and tissues – and research has shown that one of the main sources of PFOA is household dust.
According to studies, those who have high levels of PFOA in their blood are more likely to develop thyroid problems and other hormonal imbalances than those who haven’t been exposed to this chemical. What’s worse is that once PFOA enters your bloodstream, it’s stable enough to remain in your body for several years .
PFOA is found in carpet, flooring that’s treated with wax, sealants, carpet stain remover, and non-stick cookware.
2. Household Dust Contains Chemicals Linked to Fertility Issues
You’d never think that pulling out the vacuum more often could improve your chance of conceiving, but it’s true: phthalates and PCBs are two other chemicals that accumulate in dust, which can lower sperm count and cause reproductive issues in women.
Phthalates are found in car interiors, vinyl shower curtains, vinyl wall paper, and cosmetics. PCBs are found in oil-based paint, electrical equipment, plastic, and floor finish. You’re more likely to find PCBs in materials in older homes, as the use of PCBs was banned in late 1979.
Similar to PFOA, both of these chemicals take a long time to break down, and can remain in your organs and tissues for a number of years.
3. Household Dust Can Trigger Skin Flare-ups
Bacteria and fungi are among the organisms found in household dust that can produce their own type of chemicals. Although these chemicals are more natural as opposed to man-made (such as phthalates or PCBs), they are still allergens. The chemicals produced by bacteria and fungi have been linked to skin conditions such as dermatitis and eczema.
4. Chemicals in Household Dust Can Interfere with Cognitive Development
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, a type of flame retardant found on mattresses, computers, car stereos, and couch cushions, are linked to cognitive impairment and neurobehavioral disorders in children (10). Studies show that a whopping 80% of our exposure to a chemical called PBDE is through household dust.
Although anyone who’s been exposed to toxic chemicals is at risk for developing health problems, infants and toddlers are at an even greater risk when it comes to household dust. Crawling on the floor, playing with toys that are stored in bins, and frequently putting their hands in their mouths creates an easy pathway for PBDEs in dust to wind up in their bodies.
High levels of PBDEs are also linked to liver dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, behavioral problems and low immunity.
4 Ways to Fight the Dangers of Household Dust
Now that you know the dangers of dust, here’s how to turn your household into a clean, chemical-free environment!
1. Use Organic and Natural Products in Your Home
As mentioned above, cosmetics, personal care products, flammable materials, and chemical-laden household cleaning products are at the top of the list when it comes to toxic exposure in dust. Therefore, swapping household products and cosmetics for natural alternatives is the best place to begin to make your dust less toxic.
Consider using coconut oil as your go-to moisturizer, essential oils instead of fragrances, and a combination of water, lemon juice, white vinegar, and antibacterial essential oils as an all-purpose cleaner around your home. Better yet, check out this guide on how to make your own natural DIY cleaning products and make everything from your own natural dishwashing soap to a toilet bowl cleaner.
2. Use a HEPA Filter to Vacuum
HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air, and it’s a special filter you can attach to your vacuum cleaner to trap dust and other pollutants, such as mold, tobacco smoke, and pollen. The benefit of using HEPA filters over regular vacuum filters is that they can trap microscopic particles that regular filters can’t suck up.
3. Regularly Damp Dust Surfaces
Skip the feather duster and opt for a damp cloth, a microfiber duster or an electrostatic cloth. Regular feather dusters tend to spread the dust even further, rather than picking it up. Some major dusty culprits include:
- Electronics: Even when your flat screen doesn’t look too dusty, pull out a microfiber cloth and dust it off anyway. Electronics are a major source of the flame retardants linked to hormonal imbalances and impaired cognitive function in babies, and they “release” these chemicals over time into the air in your home. Dusting your electronics at least once a week is an easy way to keep toxic dust to a minimum. Note: Just make sure to unplug them first!
- Baseboards: It’s incredible how dusty these can get without us noticing. Since these are so low to the ground, baseboards are big collectors of toxic dust. Spray them with a natural all-purpose cleaner and wipe with a damp cloth.
- Behind microwaves, fridges and stoves: Crumbs, insects (yikes) and spills tend to accumulate behind kitchen appliances, so make sure to regularly give these a good cleaning. For hard-to-reach areas like behind the fridge, use a sponge mop with a long handle.
- Ceiling fans, vents, window sills, etc.: Remember, dust can collect almost anywhere, so make sure to clean your home regularly to keep you and your family healthy!
4. Wash Your Hands with Plain, Natural (not Fragranced) Soap and Water Before Eating
Although it may sound simple, washing your hands before every meal is something everyone in your family can start doing right now – especially children, who are at a higher risk for developing health issues from dust, and unfortunately spend the most time playing in areas where dust accumulates.
Washing your hands thoroughly with a chemical-free soap before you eat or prepare a meal is one of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of toxins you and your family are exposed to each day.