Dust in the Wind

Dusty BlindsI have always been fascinated by dust. I literally have books on the subject, and more on my wish list. These tomes have fed my fixation and provided lots of trivia, both useless and unsettling, like the fact that the average home accumulates about 40 lbs of the stuff every year. Stats like these make my relationship with dust into a love-hate thing. I'm mesmerized by the nature of this microscopic wonder but I can't stand it in my house and am forever waging a battle to keep it at bay. A recent piece in Time magazine suggests that my desire to live dust-free may not be a bad thing. It points to studies that have found lead, arsenic, and even DDT in household dust. Dust, it turns out, is the place where toxins tend to settle and accumulate, which makes it something that can do more than just make us sneeze. Dusting, therefore, is about keeping things not just clean but healthy. Yet traditional techniques don't help much. Dusters just stir the stuff into the air, and vacuums (unless they're HEPA) blow it back into the room. In order to dust so it matters, you need my personal Rules for Dusting. Mind you, these are not rules for everyday dusting. They're a spring cleaning type of thing you do a few times a year on a nice sunny day. But in my experience, they work better than anything else to get dust out of your home.

  • Rule #1: Slow and steady wins the race. I dust a room or two at a time, which is all I have patience for. But I'm thorough, so when a room is done, it's done for a long time. Might take me a week or two to dust the whole house, but it's worth it.
  • Rule #2: Whatever I can carry gets dusted outside. I set up a folding table in the yard and bring out all the pictures, knick-knacks, and other dust collectors. I dust each thoroughly with a cheap paintbrush, which is perfect for getting into all the nooks and crannies. I like breezy days because the wind carries the dust away.
  • Rule #3: Dust clear surfaces. With everything removed from a given area, I dust the surface itself. For this, I use a barely damp washcloth. This is crucial because if the dust is too thick and the cloth is too wet, you create a dust-mud slurry that's even harder to clean. A very slightly damp cloth, however, does the trick. To achieve this state of dusting nirvana, take your cloth and twist it as tightly as you can. Keeping the cloth very tightly wound, slip it under running water for a quick second then remove. Unwind the cloth, and roll it in a big wad back and forth between your palms to distribute the moisture. Now you're ready to dust.
  • Rule #4: Books get the hose. Books are a dust magnet, but you can't damp cloth them, and carrying the bazillions I own into the yard would take forever. So I use the vacuum, but not before placing a damp paper towel inside the external filter housing on the exterior side of the filter itself. This catches the dust my non-HEPA vacuum so very much wants to blow back into my house. Note that warm vacuum exhaust will dry the towel out fast so you'll want to replace it frequently.

These Rules and some patience will give you a house that's largely dust-free and healthier for it. Of course, those 40 lbs are always lying somewhere in wait. But it will take them awhile to find their way back indoors, and until they do, you and your brood will breathe a whole lot easier. What dusting techniques do you prefer? photo: clare savory

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the Inkslinger

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!

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