How to Prevent and Control Dust Mites
What are Dust Mites?
Dust Mites are microscopic insects from the spider family. They travel through the air and are not visible to the human eye. Their primary diet consists of dead skin flakes from both humans and animals, and they 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: runny noses, dizziness, congestion, sleeping problems, and watering eyes. Doctors see dust mites as a major health hazard and recommend eliminating or at least controlling the dust mite population in allergy sensitive homes.
Where are Dust Mites in your Home?
The combination of warm, moist home environments with humidity levels over 60% and where pets and people live is the recipe that dust mites need to thrive. There are at least a dozen species of them that 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 they have a life span of about a month, during which the busy female lays about one egg a day. Like all living things, they produce feces and dead body parts; however, it is the feces and body parts that many of us are allergic to. Dust mite populations usually peak in summer months in humid climates, and then are reduced in dryer winter months where they lie dormant until the season changes.
The only real way to find out how bad a dust mite infestation is, is to use a dust mite test kit and take samples from bedding, carpets, and upholstered furniture.
Dust mites in your Home can be found in:
- Bedding: This includes your pillows, comforters, mattresses, and sheets. You might be sharing 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 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, it’s 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
- Dust bunnies
Dust Mites, Your Allergies, and Indoor Air Quality.
Medical researchers hypothesize that the growing population of dust mites 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 Southeast 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%.
The allergy related health issues stemming from 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.
Eliminating Dust Mites in your Home
The sad news is that it is almost 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
- This includes your 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 methods and are recommended most frequently by doctors. We often get asked how does this cloth protect you against dust mites? If dust mites are in your mattress or pillow, and you encase them in a dust mite barrier cloth, you are cutting off their food source. This causes them to starve to death.
- Dust mites cannot squeeze though fibers with pores less than 10 microns. To combat the issues of noisy, sweat-inducing covers, we have favored very tightly woven cotton encasings that allow you to breathe, while still providing an effective barrier against dust mites. 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, with fabric that is particularly fine and silky.
- Seek out any leaks and damp spots in your home and take remedial action as they contribute to increasing the humidity in your home.
- Use them in kitchens and bathrooms to decrease indoor humidity levels. The bathroom is a big culprit here as moisture is excessive here.
- To treat your whole home, install a dehumidifier and follow the manufacturers’ instructions for emptying out the water extracted so that it does not become a source for mold to grow. Delonghi sells a quiet dehumidifier with a convenient built in pump, but for sheer water extraction and reliability, the Comfortaire is the best budget choice.
- 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: 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 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, carpets, and upholstery. Lastly, you can trap and kill the remaining dust mite feces still floating around your air with a HEPA air purifier. If you are an 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 your clothing in your closet. Besides making them smell fresh and taking out wrinkles, it also kills any dust mites that are nesting in your clothing.
Wash Bedding with HOT Water
- Using water that is 130ºF or above will kill any dust mites during the cycle. 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 ecofriendly 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 from dust mite resistant fibers, and fabrics which have not been protected by dust mite encasings.
- The ideal solution is to replace your bed and bedding. This gives you a running start in your fight against dust mites. Down comforters, feather and down pillows, and 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 from rubber latex mattress or memory foam. The same applies to your pillows. If you do not like the feel of rubber, wool, silk, or cotton pillows make an acceptable substitute. 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
- Everyone sweats during the night. To help with the drying out of moistened bedding after a night’s sleep, simply throw back the bed covers and leave them to air out for an hour.
- Replace carpets with hard wood or marble for easy cleaning and replace it 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.
- Neither work nor 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.