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That spring cleaning classic of dusting shouldn’t just be a spring thing. Did you know there are chemicals in dust? Read on to see why dusting is a great way to get chemicals out of your home!

Most people think of dust as just dirt, dander, and dust mites. If you have a pet. there is pet hair and pet dander in there too. If you’re thinking, ‘wait a second, my house dust contains skin flakes and tiny critters???,’ well then buckle up for what’s next!

While dust DOES include all of those things, as gross as it may seem, it likely also contains a few more nefarious things. Chances are your dust contains chemicals that you don’t want hanging around your home.

What are these chemicals and where do they come from?

Dust contains a variety of chemicals, but I’m going to focus on flame retardants today. Flame retardants are in most of our furniture. Pretty much all furniture (think couches, mattresses, etc) are made with foam.  Foam is cushion-y, but also flammable. So, back in the day, folks got worried that the foam within furniture represented a major fire hazard. Of course, there *were* fires that started that way. For instance, if someone falls asleep on a couch holding a cigarette, the couch could set on fire if the cigarette drops out of their hand and onto the couch. I’m honestly not sure how common furniture fires were, but it was concerning and manufacturers made changes.

To counteract the flammability of the foam, manufacturers added flame retardant chemicals to the foam. These were chemicals called PBDEs for short (polybrominated diphenyl ethers for long). There were different formulations of these chemicals, so in practice they were used in a mixture. As it turns out, these chemicals are very bad for us! They have been linked to a variety of health problems, including hormone disruption, developmental problems, and they can even have a carcinogenic effect (AKA possibly lead to the development of cancer).

Yikes, right?!

The good news: The US started phasing out these in 2004, and in 2009 another phase out began.

And some bad news: If you have older furniture, like I do, it may contain some of those older chemicals. More bad news: Even if your furniture is newer, there are new flame retardants being used that are not fully tested and look less-than-healthy too.

Are you thinking, ‘how is this post about dusting?’ Well, here’s the connection:

Flame retardants come out of furniture over time and end up in our house dust. So, keeping our home dusted can actually lower the amount of these chemicals that we come in contact with.

Here are some dusting best practices:

– Use a slightly damp cloth so that dust doesn’t float back into the air after you brush it off a surface. Alternatively, use a feather duster which captures the dust particles in the fine feather structures. Feather dusters are also awesome for getting into crevices (like window blinds, or among small objects). Another option is a microfiber towel.

-If you have carpet, don’t neglect vacuuming. If you have hard floors, sweep and/or mop floors. This is especially important if you have small children, since they touch the floor all the time and put their hands in their mouth.

-If you are feeling motivated to upgrade your home, look for pillows and other furniture with cotton or wool fill rather than foam. Cotton and wool are naturally less flammable than foam, and there are cotton filled mattresses, crib liners, pillows, etc. If you have old furniture, make sure any holes are patched so that the foam isn’t exposed.

-Wash your hands after dusting!

Dusting alone can really help lower the amount of these chemicals you might come in contact with! So, beyond keeping allergies to a minimum, dusting has amazing benefits!

Want to learn more non-toxic tips? Read my posts on water filters, microwaving in plastic, and disposing of prescription drugs.

Here are some of the resources used for this post:

Flame retardant exposure linked to house dust

Technical fact sheet for PBDEs

Associations between brominated flame retardants in house dust and hormone levels in men 

Flame retardant associates between children’s handwipes and house dust.