What’s the big deal about dust mites?
Do you have mold in your home? Do you know how to check for mold in your home? If yes, you could be living with a real threat. Read on to find out why. If you followed “my story,” you know our home was built in a high-humidity zone with an incorrectly built attic and a poorly constructed HVAC system. The attic was vented and should have been “foamed.” The HVAC was, in the words of our forensics consultant, “the worst job [he had] ever seen.” It was a recipe for mold and mold is what we got. What we didn’t know is that with mold, comes a world of toxins.
You should be wondering now, “what kind of toxins?” For one, dust mites—microscopic creatures that proliferate like crazy in the presence of mold. Dust mites cause illness. For this reason, you need to know how to rid of them. They are the most allergenic indoor allergen with approximately 1/6th of the population having allergic symptoms, asthma and even skin conditions due to their presence. A new development in the research on dust mite related illness links them to be the causative agents in some cases of leaky gut. If you are one of the unlucky few with leaky gut due to dust mites and mold toxins (like me), you will never get well unless you learn how to get rid of household dust mites.
Can you get rid of dust mites?
When I say “get rid of” I mean you’ll want to clean them up and keep them out. Indeed, it’s possible. Our home, post mold-remediation and dust clean-up, is proof of that. The best line of defense is to combine several tactics and use them continuously. If you are strategic about it, as my husband and I have been, you can get control over these critters. Controlling the critters means helping your symptoms; runny nose, itchy eyes, wheezing, diarrhea and stomach cramping—you name it! So, let me outline your dust-mite-removal game plan.
- Make your home environment non-dust friendly
- Attack the bedroom (where dust mites like to hang out the most)
- Remove the dust
- Kill the dust mites!
Reduce the dust, and you’ll reduce the dust mites. There are many ways to lessen dust in your house. A good place to start is your flooring. Carpet is one of the best dust collectors. A professional deep steam cleaning will kill dust mites, but it’s just a matter of time until they come back. Therefore, avoid wall-to-wall carpeting if possible. Hard floors are the easiest to clean whether it is tile, wood or laminate. A good compromise is to select a hard floor and use area rugs. An area rug can be steam cleaned too. However, it also can be a place where you can make a “dust-mite kill” (more on this to come).
It is also a good idea to examine your furniture. Analyze what sort of fabric is covering your chairs, couches and even the sheets on your bed.
Good properties of anti-mite fabrics have been identified:
- Thread count greater than 246
- Pore size of between 2-10 micron
- Allergen impenetrability >99%
- Dust leakage <4%
- Breathability between 2-6 cm3/second/cm2
The translation here is leather or leather-like couches harbor fewer dust mites and are much easier to clean. High thread count sheets are not only more comfortable, but they’re less likely to harbor as many dust mites. A rule of thumb is you need to be able to clean it with a dust-rag filled with dust-mite-killing (non-toxic) liquid, throw it in the washer with hot water, or steam clean it frequently. Lastly, you need to think about energy efficiency and the environment of course. Notably, the more warm and humid your home is, the more likely you have dust mites.
Dust mite proliferation diminishes at a temperature of 71.6F or less and 45% humidity or less. There is also an issue with pet hair and “dander.” Dust mites consume animal dander which is found in their hair, in your bed, on your furniture, and on your floors. Your first task is to groom your pets continuously. Brush them outside and once a week, rub them down with eucalyptus oil. Yes, eucalyptus oil kills dust mites. My dogs love their rub-downs. The oil makes them smell good, too! Now, let’s get into some specifics about the room where most of your dust mites reside.
You sleep here and shed your skin here. Your skin cells are what dust mites love most (ew!). So, first, do make sure to remove all carpets. You need dust-mite resistant pillows. The mattress needs to be vacuumed each month and covered with a dust-mite cover. Get covers for all pillows too. Sheets must be washed weekly in “very hot” (120F or higher) water. In addition, I like to add 10 drops of eucalyptus oil for good measure. The sheets will smell great, too. Vacuum your comforter or bedspread 1-2X per week and once weekly, use the dust-mite killing spray (I’ll provide the recipe for in the “kill ’em” section). When you come to bed, if you have been sitting on a fabric covered couch, don’t get into bed with those PJ’s. Be mindful of the dust mites’ habitats and you’ll be one jump ahead of them.
Other ways to get rid of house dust mites in the bedroom
I’ll talk about dust removal methods and cleaning supplies in a bit. Filters will be discussed at length by my husband (in the next article) who has faithfully done the research for our own home. Here are his findings on how to get rid of dust mites; allowing us both to breathe easier in our bedroom.
Use a portable air cleaner in your bedroom:
As a reminder, of all the rooms in your house, your bedroom is probably the one where you spend the most time (unless you work from home). Having a standalone air cleaner unit close to your bed is an effective way to minimize your intake of contaminants.
The market is flooded with a myriad of air cleaners with every imaginable type of design. There are air cleaners which employ ionizing devices as well as an array of filtration units. Filtration ranges from inexpensive air filters to high-end units using true HEPA filters. The problem with air cleaners is that few people have the equipment and knowledge to actually be able to measure the efficiency of an air cleaner. So, we are left with no other option than to trust the manufacturer unless we really do our homework. My husband, Gilles, has done this and I’ll share that knowledge.
Choose a unit that has been tested and is certified by a credible organization. Remember the adage: “You get what you pay for.” This is particularly true in this case.
There seems to be a consensus among experts that one of the best (if not the best) units are made by the company IQAir.
We are using this brand in our house. They use a true HEPA filter, and some models can also be fitted with an activated charcoal cartridge to remove VOC’s. Each unit is individually tested at the factory and comes with the test results certificate. The filtration system traps dust mites. Yes, I’m sure. Here’s how we know.
Dust and dust mite removal
How big is a dust mite?
House dust mites are barely visible to the naked eye due to their very small size and translucent bodies. A typical dust mite measures between 200-300 microns (0.008″- 0.012″) in length (a micron (µm) is 1millionth of a meter or 0.001mm).
As a point of comparison, regular letter paper is about 100µm thick and a human hair, between 40 to 120 µm thick.
This is small, but it is still large enough to be captured by most decent air filters. For sure, dust mites will be trapped in the one just mentioned as a stand-alone unit for your bedroom.
Even though they don’t fly, dust mites tend to collect in dust (who would have thought, right?), and dust does become airborne at least temporarily (example: air blast when opening or closing a door). Do take a peek on top of your kitchen cabinets if you’re skeptical.
Home filtration filters
When we had to reconstruct our HVAC, we were asked questions we lacked the knowledge to answer. Indeed, there are many things to consider. Do you want charcoal? What “MERV” do you want? Where do you want filters? Since there is so much information on this topic, I’ll publish an article and add a link here soon. Meanwhile, you can do the rest of these things below. Let’s continue with what you’ll wear if you have to do your own cleaning.
Your cleaning “haute couture”
Even if you have a cleaning service once weekly, the dust and, therefore, dust mites will collect. If you can get your spouse to do the cleaning, great! Let me give big props to Gilles here for stepping up to the cleaning-plate. However, for those who have to clean up the dust mite issues alone, here’s how to protect yourself. Wear an apron you can remove after cleaning. Wear gloves. Please, wear a mask—a “P95 mask”. Even if you use a HEPA-filtered vacuum (a must), there is still air flow around it.
Your cleaning supplies
As I just mentioned, you need to have a HEPA-filtration system on your vacuum. You need cloths for dusting and wiping that you can wash in hot water. What you don’t want are “dusting wands” because they just move the dust instead of cleaning it up! Consider purchasing a Roomba; we got a high-quality model and use it daily. If you have pets you need to get the pet hair up, apart from using the Roomba. Cleaning solutions for the floor and to dust will be all-natural and will kill the dust-mites. Recipes are coming!
A last word about pets
Yes, we discussed pet hair, grooming, and the essential oils once a week. If you have cats, check with your Vet as I don’t know how much eucalyptus oil a cat “can take.” If you have a small dog, use the watered down, essential oils spray I’ll describe below. One of the best ways to get rid of house dust mites is to realize that your pet is a walking dust mite farm. Many people think they are allergic to their pet, when in fact, they have dust mite allergies. How could this be? Where does your pet spend most of his/her day? Lying on the floor, on the couch, maybe on your bed or in their dust-mite ridden bed. So, unless you treat the floor, their bedding, and them, you are getting a face full of dust mites with each doggy-kiss.
How to get rid of household dust mites for good—just kill ’em!
There are precisely six different ways to kill household dust mites. Heh Heh Heh. You can freeze them, boil them, microwave them on high for 5 minutes, poison them, use sunlight to dry them up like raisins, or put them in a hot wash and/or dryer for 20 minutes. However, it’s not practical to use any of these methods other than the washer/dryer, sprays I’ll describe to kill/poison them or putting things (like doggie toys) in a ziplock-bag and freezing overnight.
If you are still using “regular” household cleaning supplies, you notice a pleasurable difference in your lovely-smelling non-toxic environment by using essential oil-based cleaning products. I felt a major improvement in my symptoms when I did the big switch. I thought this would be a major time-killer to maintain my own cleaning products, but it’s so easy and it really worth the (literally!) 10 minutes every 2-3 weeks. My cleaning service women use these products and have even stopped using “dust-wands.” They love the smell and so will you.
Eucalyptus and clove oil are the best studied essential oils for killing dust mites, but clove oil can be a little toxic for some people. There’s decent evidence that tea-tree oil is synergistic with the eucalyptus oil too. So, 10 drops of eucalyptus oil in the bedding wash and then you’ll want to make these two products which will clean everything but mirrors and glass.
An important Note about Essential Oils
Make your concoctions in dark or opaque bottles to save the efficacy of the essential oils. Buy high quality essential oils. You want pure essential oils. If you get diluted oils, they won’t be effective. Buy a bottle of eucalyptus oil, tea-tree oil and the S formula oil available in our store to make it smell heavenly.
Dust mite-killing Spray Polish
This works for all wood and laminate surfaces, leather, non-fabric couches and chairs, kitchen tables, vanities, granite, marble and so on. You can obviously double or triple the amount of product. My suggestion is to start with small quantities so you can “tweak” for smell. Don’t diminish the amount of eucalyptus or tea tree oil, but use the S formula liberally if you want more of an “aromatherapy” type smell to linger.
1 cup of water
1/4 cup of white vinegar
2 tsp “non-stinky” olive oil (Extra Virgin)
10 drops eucalyptus oil, 5 drops tea tree oil, 3 drops (or more) S formula blend
Directions: Using a funnel, place into a spray bottle and shake. Start wiping surfaces. Don’t forget the tops of paintings and cabinets!
Dust mite-killing Floor and Bedding Spray
This is great for tile, wood, laminate and, vinyl. It can be used to spray your bedding, your dog’s bedding, probably your cat’s bedding (check!) and your dog! I even use it as an air freshening spritz.
2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp eucalyptus oil
1/2 tsp tea tree oil
1/4 tsp S formula oil (more as desired)
Directions: Using a funnel, place into a spray bottle and shake. Again, start spraying! Spray this on a Swiffer and go around to nab the loose dust bunnies and animal hair. Don’t touch what the Swiffer collects.
Who would have thought dust mites could be so threatening? Well, the good news is that we can fight back. Just remember, you’re dealing with critters. When you are picking up this “house dirt”, use gloves and a mask. Even if you are doing the Swiffer routine as I described above, don’t touch! Wash your hands thoroughly too. When you clean the Roomba, use the HEPA-vacuum or (better yet) have your wonderful spouse do it for you! And speaking of wonderful spouses, here’s Gilles take on putting a filter in your HVAC system.