The Surprising Chemicals Riding on Common House Dust

If you’re like most people, you probably see common house dust as more of a nuisance than a threat. But the very familiar practice of “routine dusting”, properly done, can actually transform your life! 

Why Should We Care About Dust?

Dust particles in the air are not only a vehicle for the spread of airborne disease, they are also a major cause of many allergic, neurological, and respiratory reactions. How? Dust is typically a cocktail of biological contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, mold, mildew, animal dander, cat saliva, dust mites, cockroaches, and pollen. 

Unfortunately that is not the end of the list. Heavy metals and harmful chemicals called SVOCs (semi volatile organic compounds) ride on dust in our households!

The Toxins Riding on Common House Dust

Per a collaborative study from researchers at Silent Spring, George Washington University, Harvard University, and University of California—San Francisco, 1 and other sources2, 3common house dust in addition to biological contaminants contains the following toxins:

  • Heavy metals such as mercury, lead, chromium, and cadmium.  Levels vary based on many factors, such as the age of the home, whether shoes are worn indoors, and location. Heavy metals are not only carcinogenic but also disrupt nervous system function, brain function, childhood development, and many other bodily systems. These can come from paint in old houses, pesticides, and sources outside the home such as dirt, soil, and industrial air pollution.
  • VOCs may be endocrine-disrupting, organ-damaging, carcinogenic chemicals found in fragranced products, cleaning and personal care products, paint, and other building materials4.
  • SVOCs are odorless chemicals that ride on dust. They have been linked to cancer, reproductive health, thyroid and endocrine disruption, asthma, obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, fetal and child development, and neurologic dysfunction5
    • Phthalates found in soft plastics, vinyl flooring and wallpaper, food containers, children’s toys, laundry products, air fresheners, scented candles, personal care products, cookware, and cleaning products.
    • BPA found in hard plastics, can linings, children’s toys, toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, cosmetics, can liners, etc..
    • Flame retardants found in upholstered furniture, children’s sleepwear, baby products, drapes, carpets, rugs, electronics, and insulation.
    • PFCs and PFASs which are fluorinated chemicals used in non-stick cookware, popcorn bags, pizza boxes, water repellent clothing, camping gear, etc. and as stain-repellents in upholstery, carpets, etc.
    • Biocides such as methylparabens and the isothiazolinone family of chemicals found in building materials such as flooring, paints, grouts, thinsets, caulks as well as household cleaning and personal care products. 
    • Pesticides – avoid using exterminators and pesticides in the home.

Dust acts like a magnet for these toxins, drawing them into its small particles and depositing them on various surfaces like furniture, bedding, carpeting, etc. 

The Safest Ways to Remove Dust Without Breathing in More Chemicals

If this list of chemicals seems overwhelming, take heart because you can easily remove and reduce them from your home by following these best dusting practices. You don’t want to use paper towels, typical cloths or towels that smear the dust and dirt around on a surface and throw dust into the air. Using the right tools for dusting is critical.

The Best Ways to Remove Dust From Surfaces

  • A “Certified Sealed” HEPA Vacuum is one of indoor air pollution’s worst enemies since chemicals ride on dust. Your air should be cleaner after you vacuum rather than more polluted. Be aware that even vacuum cleaners with a “HEPA” filter,  if not properly sealed, will spew dust back into the air during vacuuming making the area more contaminated than before! “Cleaning” with the wrong vacuum can actually contribute to allergic reactions, asthma, and other illnesses.   Our best recommendations are the abatement rated GM80 by Nilfisk and  Miele vacuums in the C2 and C3 series which are completely sealed.
  • Microfiber Cloths and Mops – Don’t worry if you don’t have a good HEPA vacuum cleaner. Good microfiber cloths and mops are one of the best reusable and affordable cleaning tools money can buy! They do an amazing job of picking up and holding on to tiny particles and mechanically remove up to 99% of germs without the use of harsh chemicals. This is especially valuable at this time when we are all trying to improve our family’s immune systems! They are super effective when used damp with a good non-toxic cleaning product. Note: Please use a product called guppy friend to wash your microfibers and synthetic clothes to reduce microplastic pollution. 
  • Disposable Unscented Microfiber Wipes are a wonderful inexpensive way to remove dust. The Swiffer® Microfibers (only dry and unscented!) or generic unscented dry disposable wipes should be readily available at your local supermarket, hardware, box store or via the internet. These can be used once, but durable enough to rinse out or launder and keep on cleaning.

More Ways to Reduce Dust

Increase ventilation—the researchers in the studies listed above found that homes with better ventilation had less toxins overall. Our favorite free way to increase ventilation is to open your windows at least 10 minutes twice a day, when possible! Also, having a vent hood over your stove when cooking that vents directly outdoors will be a big help.

Purify your air—high-quality air purifiers can really help cut down on the amount of dust in your home while improving overall indoor air quality. But not all air purifiers are created equal (in fact, some can even increase the amount of dust on surfaces)! To learn more, check out: How to Choose the Best Home Air Purifier.  Consider making your own inexpensive air purifier with a 20 inch box fan and a  20 x 20 x 1 Filtrete air filter for dust and/or allergen removal.  Turn the fan on, just drop the filter on the back of the fan, and the suction from the fan will hold the filter without tape or mechanical fasteners.

Clean air filters regularly—since quality air filters collect dust, it’s best to swap them out often (every 1-3 months).  We recommend  Filtrete air filters.

House Plants – add plants that have been shown to purify the air, stabilize humidity and reduce dust levels by 20%, according to a NASA study. 

Dust regularly – How often should you dust? At least once a week, more if you see dust starting to build up.

Finally, address the source

The tips above will go a long way in helping reduce your exposure to dust-based toxins. However, the absolute best way to protect yourself long-term is to eliminate as many sources of these chemicals as you are able. If that seems overwhelming, know that you can start slowly and take it a step at a time. For example, purging conventional cleaning products and replacing them with safer alternatives offers incredible health benefits for minimal investment. Learn how in our #TossTheToxins tutorial and be sure to explore our blog for more step-by-step advice on everything you need to learn how to start creating a healthy home today.


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  1. Hi!
    Great to see you recommending the Filtrete air filters which are CERTIFIED asthma and allergy friendly® by Allergy Standards Ltd and AAFA. Allergy Standards also CERTIFIES vacuum cleaners and this certification includes an assessment of any leakage via filtration, seals or other components that may contribute to an increase in airborne allergen. Certification is independent and means the product – air filter, vacuum cleaner, air cleaner, cleaning product – is scientifically proven to reduce your exposure to allergen. Have a look at for more details,


    Anna O’Donovan

  2. Hi! I am wondering if there is an opinion on Rainbow vacuum cleaners. This is the type I have used for years and it filters with water, virtually eliminating all dust. No bags to buy just have to dump the dirty water after. I would be curious to know if any of these VOC’s and other contaminants can escape that water bath. I also remember when I bought it (over 30 years ago!) that the salesperson told me if I just let it run for 15 minutes in a room it would purify the air.

    1. Hello Adriene. Thank you for your question. We know that these vacuums were shown to release ultra fine particles and newer models now have HEPA filters that filter them out. You may want to reach out to Rainbow and see if they have a modification for your old machine.

  3. I your dust article you recommended The Swiffer® Microfibers dry and unscented. I looked at the ingredients and they list:

    “Wax-Based Finish for
    Dust Retention”

    “Light Coating On The Cloth Fibers Used In The Trap And Lock Mechanism To Help Pick Up And Retain Dust, Dirt And Hair In The Mopping Cloth.”

    I wrote to Proctor & Gamble to ask what the wax is made from, but then thought since you guys do extensive research you might know.

    1. Good question. We believe it’s bees wax, but are reaching out to them as well to see if we can get a definitive answer. Thanks!

  4. Hi,
    I’m wondering what kind of chemicals are in the Swiffer microfiber clothes that make them work so well? I’m chemically sensitive and so have learned that replacing one chemical with another is not always the answer for me.

    1. Hi Karen. We completely understand. We’re digging in to find out more from Swiffer, but have had others who are chemically sensitive use these clothes without issue.


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