Despite their name, dust mites don’t restrict themselves to dusty homes. Even a home that looks sparkling clean can have problems with these microscopic insects. If you want to cut down on the dust mites in your home to ease your allergy or asthma symptoms, or just enjoy cleaner air, there’s a lot you can do.
How a Dust Mite Infestation Gets Started
Before you create your plan of attack for getting rid of dust mites, it helps to understand what these mites are and how they behave. Dust mites are tiny relatives of the spider, too small to be seen with the naked eye.
They exist in nearly every home and, to most people, they’re completely harmless. For those with allergies, asthma, eczema or certain other sensitivities, however, dust mites can cause worsened symptoms.
Dust mites feed on the scales of skin that people and animals, including dogs and cats, shed every day. Before the mites can process these scales, the scales must be broken down by bacteria and fungi that are commonly found in the home. These microorganisms thrive in dark, warm, and humid conditions.
This means any soft place, particularly those where you spend time lying or sitting, makes an optimal home for dust mites. Your bed, pillows, soft chairs and sofas, carpets, and curtains can all collect skin scales, absorb humidity, and provide dark spaces between the fibers where microorganisms can thrive.
The mites themselves rarely become airborne, so you’re unlikely to breathe them in. The problem, particularly for those with allergies or asthma, is dust mite droppings and body parts from dead dust mites. These dry particles can float around in your air and are small enough to enter your airways when you breathe.
To solve your dust mite problem, you need a two-pronged approach that includes taking steps to:
- Get rid of leftover dust mite debris
- Prevent the dust mites from reproducing
Take an Extra-Thorough Approach to Cleaning
To keep the dust mite population down and get rid of lingering debris, clean your house at least once a week. Before you start, put on a dust mask and turn your air condition to the “fan on” setting. Running the A/C fan keeps air moving through your HVAC system’s air filter, which helps pick up any dust mites or other debris you’ve kicked up while cleaning.
Start cleaning by using a damp cloth or microfiber cloth to dust your hard furniture. Avoid using a feather duster, which just redistributes the dust instead of picking it up. Then vacuum your soft furnishings and, finally, vacuum or mop your floors. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to ensure the mites and debris don’t find their way out of the vacuum again. These filters are often available at allergy care supply stores or specialty vacuum stores. On hard flooring, use a microfiber mop.
When you’re done cleaning, let the air conditioner fan run and stay out of the rooms you’ve just cleaned for around 20 minutes. This allows time for any contaminant particles floating in the air to settle or be caught by the air conditioner’s filter.
Killing Dust Mites with Temperature Control
Once a week, wash your sheets and blankets in water that’s at least 130 degrees. That’s the lowest temperature hot enough to kill dust mites. Once every other week, wash your machine-washable rugs at the same temperature.
To kill dust mites on non-washable items, such as children’s stuffed animals, put the item in a plastic bag or wrap it in plastic and place it in the freezer overnight.
Create Conditions That Inhibit Dust Mites
When possible, have your bedroom on an upper floor of your home. Because air contaminants settle at lower levels, the upper floors tend to have cleaner air and fewer dust mites.
Cover your mattresses and pillows with zippered allergen-proof (anti-allergy) covers. These covers are made of material impenetrable to dust mites and their debris. You can find these at allergy care supply stores as well as many bedding stores.
Before you cover the mattress you’re using now, vacuum it thoroughly. Use a HEPA-filter equipped vacuum if possible. Alternatively, invest in a new mattress and put an allergen-proof cover on it before you use it to prevent the dust mite infestation from even getting started. This is an especially good idea if your current mattress is more than five years old.
Dust mites and the other microorganisms that aid them prefer high humidity levels ranging between 70 and 80 percent, although they can live in anything over 50 percent. The ideal indoor humidity varies with the outdoor temperature, but most of the time, between 40 to 60 percent works well.
If your home has high humidity, you’ll notice signs like condensation on the windows and patches of mold in the corners of the ceilings, behind furniture, and under rugs. You’ll feel sticky in summer and clammy in winter. To more accurately measure your indoor humidity, hang a hygrometer on the wall. If you find your indoor humidity is consistently above 50 percent, taking steps to reduce it will help you get rid of dust mites.
Take shorter, cooler showers and keep pots and pans covered while you cook. After you shower or cook, run your bathroom or kitchen vent fan for around 15 minutes, but not longer. Any longer and you’ll let in more humidity than you let out. Cut down on the number of house plants you have and try to keep them all in one room. If these steps don’t get your humidity down into a healthy range, you could benefit from having a whole-house dehumidifier installed in your heating and cooling system.
Good ventilation helps reduce the amount of debris in your home that feeds dust mites. Opening the windows is the simplest approach, but it also lets in pollen. For year-round ventilation that won’t let in outdoor air contaminants, talk with a ventilation technician about having a whole-house ventilation system installed.
Temperatures between 68 to 77 degrees are ideal for dust mites. While this also the temperature range most people prefer, it you don’t mind keeping your home a little cooler in winter (around 65 to 67), it can help inhibit the growth of dust mites as well as keep your heating bills down.
A little redecorating can make your home a lot less hospitable to dust mites. Start by getting rid of all fabric items you can’t wash frequently in water of at least 130 degrees. Choose tight-weave fabrics whenever possible. If you have wall-to-wall carpet, consider tearing it out and replacing it with hard flooring, such as wood, stone or tile. Replace plush high-pile area rugs, such as shag rugs, with low-pile rugs.
To make dusting easier, keep your tables and shelves free of small knick knacks and clutter. Switch from drapes, curtains or blinds to vinyl roller shades, which are the easiest to keep clean. Avoid upholstered or fabric-covered furniture and opt for wood or plastic instead. If you really don’t want to give up fabric-covered furniture, choose fabrics with a tight weave. While down pillows can harbor dust mites, they’re fine to use with allergy-safe covers.
Keeping down the dust mite population in your home isn’t guaranteed to ease your asthma or allergy symptoms, but it will give you both cleaner air and cleaner places to sit and sleep. That’s a benefit everyone in your family can enjoy.