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Dust: You can’t defeat it, but can control it

Once a week, Diane Foernssler takes arms against the dust that invades her Darien, Ill., home, using a vacuum cleaner, a special mop for blinds and baseboards, and other tools.

On those other six days, however, the dust wins.

“It’s everywhere, and it never goes away,” said Mrs. Foernssler, a fitness trainer and mother of two. “It’s a losing battle.”

She’s right.

Professionals say dust’s constant accumulation on all those books, clothes and knickknacks has nothing to do with poor housekeeping. It’s a naturally and continually forming collection of some pretty gross stuff.

This 2012 photo released by Mission: Allergy, Inc. shows a house dust mite as seen with an electron microscope, enlarged about 200 times. Experts say dust's constant accumulation has nothing to do with poor housekeeping. Dust is a naturally and continually forming collection of some pretty gross stuff. (AP Photo/Mission: Allergy)

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This 2012 photo released by Mission: Allergy, Inc. shows a house dust ... more >

“It has nothing to do with being dirty,” said Dr. William Berger, a Mission Viejo, Calif., allergist and author of “Asthma and Allergies for Dummies.” “You can leave your house closed for two or three weeks and come back and there will be dust.”

A whole lot of it. Dr. Berger said the average six-room home in the United States collects 40 pounds of dust each year.

The main contributors to all that indoor dust are microscopic dust mites; the breakdown of fibers from household fabrics and furniture; and human and animal dander (the nice name for skin flakes).

The dust mites, which have a taste for human skin, come in “countless numbers” in your bedding alone, let alone other spots around the house, Dr. Berger said. Getting rid of them is impossible; female mites lay 20 to 50 eggs every three weeks.

Dust and dust mites are large parts of “indoor air pollution,” a leading environmental health risk — primarily because people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, said Molly Hooven, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency. Dust and dust mites can trigger asthma attacks and allergies.

That’s one reason for keeping dust to a minimum that is far more important than maintaining appearances, she said.

Although eradicating dust altogether may be a pipe dream, there are steps you can take to mitigate its accumulation in your home.

The first is the same old trick that shows up on housekeeping tip sheets again and again: Get rid of all that stuff.

“The more clutter there is, the more dust there is,” Dr. Berger said. Things like books, clothing and toys such as stuffed animals are prime collectors of dust, he said. So are the pennants and posters that youths like to hang on their walls.

Dr. Berger suggested concentrating dust-fighting efforts on bedrooms because we spend about one-third of our lives asleep.

“The bedroom should be as bare as possible,” Dr. Berger said. That means having an uncarpeted floor, minimal furniture and only the current season’s clothes in the closet.

For walls, using paint that can be cleaned with water is helpful. So are HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arresting) air filters.

Occasionally using those old standbys — a vacuum and a can of spray cleaner — provides at least temporary relief, Dr. Berger said.

For those looking to keep allergens, not just unsightliness, at bay, Dr. Berger suggested encasing mattresses, box springs and pillows in allergy-proof covers.

With summer approaching, Dr. Berger said, use air conditioning over fans, which simply blow dust around the house. Remember to change filters on air conditioners.

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