How to Prevent and Control Dust Mites
By Mercia Tapping
Dust Mites are live microscopic insects from the spider family. They travel through the air and are not visible to the human eye. Their primary diet is the dead skin flakes of both humans and animals, and can even feed off mold spores. They flourish more easily in warm, moist environments above 75 degrees Fahrenheit and are found almost everywhere in your home. Estimates are that they can be found in nearly all US households in warm climates, with less in households in cool, dry climates. As a result, they are a major cause of indoor air pollution, and cause a number of seemingly endless health problems, including running noses, dizziness, congestion, sleeping problems, and watering eyes. Doctors see dust mites as a major health hazard, and recommend to anyone who is having allergic reactions, to try and eliminate or at least control the dust mite population in their home.
The combination of warm, moist home environments with humidity levels over 60% and where pets and people live is the recipe which dust mites need to thrive. They are found through out the world, and there are at least a dozen species of them which can be found burrowed down into your furniture, carpets and bedding. They are persistent, resilient and invasive. Their feces and body parts float around in the air where you breathe them in, and they jump from place to place in their search for food.
Given the right environmental conditions, dust mites reproduce every thirty days and have a life span of about a month, during which time the busy female lays about one egg a day and like all living things, produces feces and dead body parts; it is the feces and body parts to which many of us are allergic. Dust mite populations usually peak in summer months in humid climates, and then are reduced in dryer winter months when they go dormant, but spring into life when the season changes. The only real way to find out how bad a dust mite infestation is in your home, is to use a dust mite test kit and take samples from bedding, carpets, and upholstered furniture.
- Bedding: your pillows, comforters, mattresses and sheets. You enjoy the company of many thousands of dust mites in your bed every night. The moist, warm environment of a bed is a perfect breeding ground. It is said that the dust mite feces in an unprotected pillow can weigh up to a couple of pounds after two or three years. A single dust mite produces over 200 times its weight in fecal matter before it dies, so it is easy to see how this problem increases exponentially.
- Carpeting: with nearly 100,000 dust mites potentially living in every square yard of carpet, is the reason why doctors recommend that allergy sufferers rid themselves of carpeting in their homes.
- Couches and cushions especially the ones where you sit the most.
- Upholstered chairs
- Stuffed animals
- Clothing - even in your closet.
- Dust bunnies have a lot of dust mite fecal matter
Medical researchers hypothesize that it is the growing population of dust mites that is in part responsible for the increasing incidence of asthma and allergy related health problems. The chemical in the dried dust mite feces is called glycoproteins. There is a higher incidence of dust mite allergies in the South East part of the USA estimated to be as much as 25% of the population, whereas in dryer climates researchers put the incidence of dust mite allergies to be as low as 5%.Now you know why some people more to Arizona and feel better as a result!
The allergy related health issues stemming form dust mites include:
- Allergic Rhinitis - sneezing, stuffed noses and congestion
- Asthma - related breathing difficulties like cough and congestion
- Conjunctivitis - Red Eye or weeping eyes
- Dermatitis - skin rashes or itching
The sad news is that it is well nigh impossible to eliminate dust mites from your home, but with some determination and persistence, you can control them and greatly reduce their population, to the point where they no longer present a health hazard.
Relative humidity in your home should be between 30 to 50% and the temperature below 75%.When the humidity is dryer the dust mites do not get enough moisture, so they shrivel up and die. You can monitor the humidity in your home with an inexpensive portable hygrometer. We believe in prevention rather than cure so there are several actions you can take. Such as:
- Encase your existing bedding- mattress, duvet cover and pillows if they are worth preserving with a good quality dust mite encasing. Dust mite covers are an essential part of your dust mite control program and are the action recommended most frequently by doctors. We often get asked how does this cloth protect you against dust mites? This is simple. If dust mites are in your mattress or pillow, and you encase them in a dust mite barrier cloth, then you are cutting the dust mites off from their food source- you and your dead skin flakes! They literally starve to death. Dust mites cannot squeeze though fibers with pores less than 10 microns. Impermeable [plastic membrane]encasings exist, and like a plastic bag nothing gets through them. However, the problem is many people find a fabric which has a membrane, plasticized backing to be both noisy and increases their perspiration levels. For that reason, we have favored very tightly woven cotton encasings which allow you to breathe, while still providing an effective barrier against dust mites. These cost a little more than the membrane kind, but people find them far more livable, especially on their pillows. They also tend to be lighter in weight, which is also preferable for encasing comforters. Our Solus organic dust mite encasings have the smallest pore size at 6.5 microns of any encasing we sell. Cotton Fresh a European organic product is a close runner up at 8 microns and the fabric is particularly fine and silky.
- Repairs -search out any leaks and damp spots in your home and take remedial action as they contribute to increasing the humidity in your home.
- Exhaust Fans - Use them in kitchens and bathrooms to decrease indoor humidity levels. The bathroom is a big culprit here.
- Dehumidify - your whole home and install a humidifierand follow the manufacturers' instructions for emptying out water extracted so that it does not become a source for mold to grow. For that reason we prefer constant dumping of the water extracted through a pump. Delonghi sells a quiet dehumidifier with a convenient built in pump, but for sheer water extraction and reliability, the Comfortaire is the best choice in our less expensive dehumidifier models. The whole home Santa Fe is a very effective dehumidifier but is more costly, although to our minds worth it.
- House Cleaning: This is a very necessary chore if you are serious about keeping the dust mite population at bay. The tools you need in your dust mite control arsenal are a vapor steam cleaner, a hepa vacuum cleaner and an air purifier. A hepa vacuum cleaner will pick up surface dust mites feces found in house dust and lying on the surface of your furniture and carpets, a steam vapor cleaner will kill dust mites on contact using a chemical free process of very hot steam. You can use a vapor steam cleaner on all your bedding including your mattress, which can double in weight over 10 years hosting dust mite feces. You can also use a steam cleaner to kill all the dust mites in your carpets and upholstery. Lastly, you can trap and kill the remaining dust mite feces still floating around your air ready for you to breathe them in with a hepa air purifier. Just keeping the surface dust down with a slightly dampened microfiber cloth is helpful. If you are the allergy sufferer, we recommend that you do not do all this cleaning yourself.
- Reduce Dust Collecting Objects: This includes all knick knacks, carpeting, drapes, upholstered furniture[leather is a good alternative]
- Freeze stuffed toys to kill dust mites.
- Steam clean your clothing in your closet. Besides freshening the clothes, making them smell fresh and taking out wrinkles, it also kills any dust mites that are so happy to nest in your clothing and munch merrily on your skin flakes during the day.
- Wash bedding in water that is 130ºF or above. The newer washing machines have a "sanitizing" cycle especially designed to cope with this problem. Cold water washes will not rid your bedding or clothing of dust mites, but eco friendly dry cleaning is effective at removing dust mites. Sheets should be washed weekly and other bedding about once every month or two if not made out of dust mite resistant fibers, and fabrics which have not been protected by dust mite encasings.
- Replace Bedding- the ideal solution is to replace your bed and bedding with all elements being composed of dust mite inhospitable fibers. This gives you a running start in your fight against dust mites. Down comforters, feather and down pillows, conventional innerspring mattresses are the worst offenders, and are a breeding ground for dust mites. If you can afford it, replace your mattress as soon as you can with one made out of rubber latex mattress or memory foam. The same applies to your pillows. If you do not like the feel of rubber then wool, silk or cotton pillows make an acceptable substitute, as they wick away moisture fast but they do not dry out nearly as fast as natural rubber or latex. The newer latex rubber pillows are far more comfortable than they used to be, and now many people swear by them even for pure comfort reasons. Silk filled comforters are ideal especially in warmer climates while wool comforters in cooler climates are a runner up, since neither hold moisture very long.
- Air out Bedding. We perspire during the night. To help with the drying out of moistened bedding after a night's sleep just throw back the bed covers and leave them to air out for an hour. Just like your grandmother taught you!
- Replace carpets- with hard wood or marble for easy cleaning and replace with washable or cleanable area rugs. Using a steam vapor cleaner on the remaining rugs will keep the dust mite population down. Be wary of powdered dust mite products as they can contain toxic chemicals and cause other health problems.
- Basements- neither work or live in a basement if at all possible, as basements tend to be the dampest area of a house and where the concentration of dust mites to be the greatest.