What are dust mites?
House dust mites are a tiny relatives of the spider measuring just a fraction of a millimetre in length. Despite being barely visible to the naked eye these little critters are one of the most common causes of allergy. You see, a dust allergy isn’t quite what the name suggests; it is actually an allergy to the droppings of the dust mite. Yep, you’re allergic to microscopic poop!
House dust mite allergy isn’t really much of a laughing matter though – I know. As well as the perennial allergic rhinitis it is commonly associated with asthma and eczema, turning the lives of millions into an itching, sneezing and wheezing misery.
Dust mites feed off the flakes of dead skin that we are constantly shedding. They break these down in their gut with powerful enzymes and it is these that causes the allergic reactions we see. With anywhere between 100 and 500 mites living on a single gram of dust, each creating around 20 droppings a day you can see the scale of the problem.
Whilst dust mites are found throughout the house the highest exposure is in the bedroom where they will happily live on mattresses, bedding, pillows, carpets and curtains. In contrast to what you would expect from something that loves dust these mites actually thrive in a relatively damp environment and there is interaction with forms of mould.
How can I get rid of dust mites?
Given that dust mites are the cause of so much potential misery I’m sure we’re all agreed that we would like to be rid of them. Eradicating dust mites completely is not going to happen so instead it is best to focus on controlling their numbers in the parts of our homes we spend the most time (and consequently where there are most dust mites); so starting with the bedroom.
Also dealing with the dust and damp is going to be a more productive strategy than trying to kill dust mites themselves.
Below is a list of the most effective measures that can be taken to reduce the impact of dust mites. Please note, you will have to be quite committed over a reasonable period of time to see any significant improvements.
- Control humidity. As mentioned, dust mites thrive in humid environments. Therefore one way to keep their numbers down is to reduce the humidity. This can be done by increasing ventilation e.g. leaving a window open or using the “trickle-vents” in double-glazing. Where this is impractical or not sufficient consider using a dehumidifier and aim to keep the humidity below 50% which dust mites find intolerable. They also prefer temperatures over 70°F (21°C).
- Use allergen-proof bedding covers. Mite-proof barrier covers are available to go over mattresses, duvets and pillows. These are made from very finely woven, but breathable material, which helps prevent your bedding becoming a haven for dust mites. It is worth looking for certified or approved products to make sure they are effective and also note they are no substitute for regular washing of your bedding.
- Wash bedding on hot weekly. This is one of the most effective things you can do as your duvet and pillows are likely to hold the highest concentration of dust mites. If you suffer from dust allergy then you should buy bedding that can withstand a hot wash as that is exactly what you are going to need. Whilst a cold wash will remove much of the allergenic mite poop it won’t kill the dust mites. To do this you need to wash at over 135°F (55°C).
Any pillows that cannot be hot washed should be replaced when they are around a year old.
If you want to take this a step further you could try a UV light bed cleaner which zaps the mites with ultraviolet light and then hoovers them up.
- Regularly use a high-filtration vacuum cleaner. It is common sense that anyone with a dust allergy wants to be regularly vacuuming to keep the mites at bay. However, it may be the case that your vacuum is helping disperse the microscopic allergens into the air and actually worsening things. In order to prevent this from happening you should use a vacuum with a very fine filter. The most popular system is the HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter which traps particles bigger than 0.3 microns in size, as opposed to around 30 microns for a standard filter. Note: HEPA filters need replacing after around a year.
- Remove carpets from bedrooms. Ideally the dust allergy sufferer should have a carpet free house as they provide the perfect breeding ground for dust mites (along with a host of other allergens). Obviously this will not be practical or desirable for everyone but if possible you should consider at least having a carpet free bedroom. Now, if you don’t fancy bare floorboards or tiles there are more “allergy-friendly” floorings. These would include any carpet that is resilient enough to be steam cleaned.
- Regular dusting of surfaces. Another no-brainer is regular dusting. But, make sure you use a damp cloth or you will be kicking up a veritable dust storm that will make any allergy sufferer sneeze for hours. Another helpful tip is to use a filter mask while dusting – this should be an N95 respirator mask which will filter out all the dust being kicked up.
- Replace curtains with washable cotton ones. Like carpets and bedding curtains can provide the ideal home for any number of dust mites. Whilst vacuuming them regularly is a start the best solution is to have curtains that can be washed on a high temperature, i.e. over 135°F (55°C). This not only removes the allergens but kills the dust mites.
- Freeze cuddly toys and non-washable pillows. If you cannot wash your bedding at the recommended high temperatures there is an alternative method for ridding them of dust mites – freezing. Unsurprisingly, a day or two of sub zero temperatures are pretty effective at killing dust mites. The best way to do this is but the bedding in a sealable plastic bag and squeeze out as much air as possible before placing in the freezer for 48 hours. This method is perfect for cuddly toys too.
- Install an air filter in the bedroom. As part of your plan to neutralize the dust mite you might consider using an air filter. Whilst this is more of a Plan B to try after the rest of this list they are known to be helpful in reducing allergy symptoms in some cases. These air purifiers work in various ways to remove tiny allergenic particles from the air in the room. If you do purchase a filter you should check it will be sufficient for the size of your bedroom and how much noise it makes.
- Reduce clutter. Whilst the ornaments around your fireplace are not themselves responsible for your allergies they are a great place for dust to collect and make cleaning more difficult. Again removing any unnecessary stuff from your bedroom will make the biggest difference. So, if you have any old magazines, ornaments or bits & bobs lying around on your bedside tables etc it may well be worth removing them.