Where there is dust in a home, there are almost always dust mites: tiny insects (spider-like arachnids) that feed off the dead skin flakes we shed every day. Invisible to the naked eye, dust mites don't bite like head lice or bed bugs. They don't spread disease, but they do leave droppings that can aggravate allergies and asthma, leaving the sufferer with a stuffy nose, itchy eyes, a cough, and other symptoms.
Dust mites are found in the highest concentrations in areas of the home where we spend hours and on surfaces that trap dust, like mattresses, fabrics, and carpeting that can't be washed regularly. Dust mites thrive in warm, humid environments and multiply quickly and easily. Frequent cleaning, including doing laundry, can reduce dust levels in your home.
1. Clean Bedding Frequently
Warm, moist, and an endless source of food, our beds are just as warm and cozy for dust mites as they are for us. This is why changing bed linens frequently and cleaning the bedding properly is so important for dust mite control.
All washable bedding should be changed and cleaned at least weekly in hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit) to remove allergens and kill dust mites. Items that cannot be washed should be placed in a tumble dryer on high heat for at least 15 minutes weekly. Another method for killing dust mites is to place the non-washable item in a plastic bag and freeze it for 24 hours. This does not remove the allergens but will kill the dust mites.
To help reduce allergens for children, choose stuffed animals and toys that can be washed in hot water, and limit the number of stuffed toys in the bedroom. If the toy cannot be washed, bag it in plastic and freeze for 24 hours to kill the dust mites.
2. Add Protective Coverings to Mattresses
One of the easiest ways to control dust mites is to add protective coverings to your mattress, box springs, and pillows. These zippered covers are dust mite-proof and create a barrier between you and the mattress or pillow. Since the dust mites can't get to their food supply of dead skin cells, they will eventually die off.
Even with protective coverings, mattresses should be steam cleaned at least twice per year to kill dust mites.
3. Remove Wall-to-Wall Carpeting
Wall-to-wall carpeting is a playground for dust mites. The fibers attract and hold onto the dead skin cells that settle on it, and carpet is much more difficult to clean thoroughly than hard surface floors. If someone in your home has a severe dust mite allergy, wall-to-wall carpeting should be removed if possible. Replace the carpet with wood, laminate, tile, or vinyl that can be dry mopped daily. Washable area rugs can be added for underfoot comfort.
If the carpeting cannot be removed, vacuuming should be done daily with a vacuum that uses a HEPA filter. Done seasonally, steam cleaning will kill the dust mites if the steamer reaches at least 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Lower Room Temperatures
Keeping a cool temperature in your home won't prevent dust mites but it will keep them from breeding and multiplying quickly. Since they thrive in temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, set the temperature in your home no higher than 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Reduce Humidity in the Home
Dust mites love humidity. While a steamy bathroom can usually be cleared quickly with a venting fan, other factors contribute to the level of humidity in a home—leaky windows, damp crawl spaces, improper ductwork. To help control dust mites, use a hygrometer to determine the humidity level and keep it below 50 percent.
Humidity levels can be reduced by using a dehumidifier, opening windows on dry, breezy days, treating damp basements, installing moisture barriers, checking clothes dryer vents, and using fans or venting systems when cooking and bathing.
6. Remove Heavy Window Coverings
Fabrics attract dust and that attracts dust mites. Heavy drapes or other window coverings that cannot be washed frequently should be removed, especially in bedroom areas. A good substitute for heavy drapes are curtains that can be machine-washed or wooden blinds that can be dusted regularly.
Upholstered fabric furniture also attracts dust and dust mites. To reduce the level of mites, choose hard surface furniture or use washable covers. Remember to vacuum upholstery at least weekly and use a steam cleaner seasonally to kill dust mites. Always test the steam cleaner in an inconspicuous spot to make sure it is safe to use on the upholstery fabric.
7. Reduce Clutter
We love our things, but the more of them that you have on display means more surfaces to collect dust. Keep collectibles in covered boxes or glass-enclosed storage cabinets to keep them dust-free. Or, rotate only a few items out for display to make dusting easier.
8. Improve HVAC Air Filters
A home's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC) has a huge effect on the amount of dust in a home as the air is circulated through the system and its filters. One way to reduce dust and dust mites is to replace or clean the filters often. Using a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter can remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns.
9. Use Natural Oils to Kill Dust Mites
Research studies have shown that clove, rosemary, eucalyptus, and caraway oils can help control dust mites. However, the effectiveness is based on the concentration used and the length of time it is left on the dust mite-infested surface.
The oils can be diffused into the air or combined with water and sprayed on a mattress, carpet, or fabric surface. Always test in a small area to make sure the oil solution doesn't leave a stain. Another option is to combine a few drops of oil with baking soda and sprinkle it over the fabric surfaces, leave for at least an hour, and then vacuum the baking soda away.
Never allow any type of essential oil to come into direct contact with your skin. Before using essential oils, consult with your doctor if you have any respiratory or health conditions. If you have pets, also check with the veterinarian as some oils are toxic to pets.