Keep Dust Down

Does dust settle on surfaces minutes after you've cleaned them? Tips for getting rid of dust — not just moving it around.

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Sweeping the Hardwood Floors

Dust is a breezy word for some yucky stuff: sloughed-off skin cells, animal dander and hair, dust mites and their feces, and decomposing bug parts — and that's not counting the fabric fibers and tiny particles of soil, wood, sheet rock, plaster and paint. Besides not wanting to live among such detritus, many people are allergic to dust mites and pet dander. You can't avoid having to dust — two of the biggest components are skin cells and fabric bits — but you can reduce the amount you have to do. Donna Smallin, author of The One-Minute Cleaner Plain & Simple: 500 Tips for Cleaning Smarter, Not Harder offers some suggestions:

  • Dust cloth or duster? Instead of using your husband's old T-shirt or a mod feather duster, use a microfiber or electrostatic cloth to capture dust, not just move it around. "Nothing beats it. It attracts dust like a magnet," says Smallin. "And the best thing is when you're done dusting, you can just throw it in the wash, let it air dry and use it again." Microfiber dusters, with loops or strips of microfiber to trap even more dust, also come in various shapes and lengths for reaching blinds and ceiling fans. If you don't use microfiber, dampen your cloth. Damp microfiber cloths are excellent cleaners — a mirror will come out streak- and dirt-free without any cleaning solution.

  • Wet or dry mop? A damp mop will clean better than a dry one, but water is hard on some surfaces, such as wood. Microfiber mops come in both dry and wet varieties. And, although it may sound like overkill, Smallin says that if you dry mop your wood floors every day, you'll pretty much nip dust in the bud stage.

  • Which comes first, vacuuming or dusting? This is akin to the boxers/briefs debate: There's evidence for both choices, and often it comes down to personal preference. Smallin prefers vacuuming first because vacuums can blow around small dust particles, which you can get rid of by dusting post-vacuuming. But the many dust-first aficionados point out that gravity is on their side; even lightweight dust will eventually end up on the floor — where you can vacuum it up after you dust.

  • Vacuuming matters. Use a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, which traps more of the tiny stuff, and run it once a week on trafficked areas. And take care of your vacuum: Empty the canister and change bags and belts when needed, keep the brush wheel free of hair and other material, check for cracks or loose hinges, and get it serviced every so often to keep it running smoothly.

  • Stop it before it starts. Change the air filters in your heat and air conditioning system once a month — or even more often. Pleated air filters catch more dust particles, and some are electrostatically charged to attract pollen and other allergens. Make sure the filter is ranked for the blower capacity of your system. Use the air conditioner to reduce humidity; dust mites love a moist environment.

  • Cut down on textiles. Whether on your floors, furniture, windows or in your closet, textiles not only trap dust but they create it as they shed and disintegrate. Leather, wood, acrylic and plastic leave dust no place to hide and are easily cleaned. Consider going with bare wood floors with washable scatter rugs. If you must have carpet, opt for shorter pile.

  • Declutter and streamline. Books, knickknacks, artwork — the more you have, the more nooks and crannies for dust to accumulate. Smallin suggests keeping books at the front of the shelf to rob dust of a place to settle and keeping items such as shoes and purses in plastic bins. Plastic bins are also a good idea for kids' stuffed animals, a prime dust-breeding ground. Consider putting collectibles under glass.

  • Closet clean-up. Put your off-season clothing in plastic bins or hanging bags to limit its shedding, and keep the floors of your closet clear so you can zip the vacuum cleaner or dust mop over them as you do your regular cleaning.

  • Sweep it away. Don't overlook your old friend, the broom. If you have tile floors that have uneven surfaces, Smallin recommends an angled, synthetic-bristle broom because it can get into corners and picks up smaller particles than a natural-fiber broom. Then damp mop to seal the deal.

  • Dust culprits. The amount of dust in your home is as variable as dust itself, depending on the number of people who live in the house. Human skin and textile fibers are major offenders, and there's only so much you can do about either of those. If your house is a dust magnet even with regular and efficient cleaning, check your ductwork and caulking to make sure you're not importing dust from the garage or from the outdoors.

  • Trust your dusting instincts. Figure out what works for your own house. Vacuuming the hallway daily may cut down on the amount of dusting you'll have to do.

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