Dust mites are microscopic creatures inhabit just about anywhere people and their pets hang out: beds, furniture, carpeting, drapes and stuffed toys. Dust mites got their name from their habitat, household dust.
The main component of dust is shed dead skin flakes, which is the mite’s preferred food source.
The house dust mite is a common problem in homes all around the world; their presence can exacerbate allergies and generally compromise respiratory health.
Symptoms associated with dust mite allergies include sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, nasal stuffiness, runny nose, stuffy ears, respiratory problems, eczema and (in severe cases) asthma. You can notice these symptoms when you stir dust during cleaning activities. In fact, the dust mite allergen is their tiny feces and body fragments which are components of dust. These particles are so small they can become airborne and inhaled when dust is disturbed.
House dust mites have eight legs and come in two basic North American varieties. Both types of house dust mites are virtually unapparent to the human eye, but neither type burrows into skin, is parasitic or bites. Instead, these critters survive by absorbing water from the air. Female mites lay cream-colored eggs coated with a sticky substance so eggs will cling to the substrate. Under optimal conditions, the entire life cycle from egg to adult takes three-four weeks. To thrive, dust mites need very warm temperatures (75-80 degrees F) and high humidity levels, 70-80% relative humidity. One study showed when humidity is 60 percent or lower, the mite population stops growing and dies out.
What Can You Do about Dust Mites?
1. Pet dander. Pet dander is a major source of nourishment for dust mites. If you do have pets, do not allow them in the room where you sleep.
2. Lower humidity. Reduce humidity levels to less than 50% inside your home, especially in the bedroom. Studies have shown air-conditioned homes have ten times fewer dust mite allergens than non-air-conditioned homes. In addition to cooling the house, air conditioning reduces the humidity dust mites need to thrive. A study has shown using an electric blanket for eight hours each day reduced dust mites by 50 percent in one month.
3. Mattresses. Enclose mattresses with a plastic covering that keeps dust mites away from one of their primary sources of food – the human body. Dust mite-proof fitted sheets can also be used. Such barriers can also be used for the baby’s crib and pillow cases.
NOTE: Any barrier that can protect you from dust mites can also protect you from bedbugs!
4. Bedding. Wash bedding at a minimum of 55 degrees Celsius (131 degrees Fahrenheit). High water temperature is capable of killing dust mites; it is not possible to rely on detergent alone. However, if you prefer cold washes, dry in direct sunlight. Wash blankets and non-encased Donnas every two months.
5. Vacuum weekly. You should vacuum weekly, including the seams of mattresses and upholstered furniture. Vacuuming can causes house dust mite allergens to become airborne for up to 20 minutes, so if you are allergic to dust mites, you should wear a mask or ask someone else to vacuum. You may air the house for an hour or so after vacuum cleaning to help clear the air.
6. Pollen. Keep your home as well-sealed as possible in order to reduce the amount of pollen that gets in. Dust mites love pollen.
7. Synthetic. Only use synthetic fabrics or cotton in pillows, blankets or even stuffed toys, so they can be washed regularly.
8. Toys. Children’s soft toys attract dust mites, so wash them regularly in hot water or, better still, stick them in the freezer for 24 hours, before washing them.
9. Air purification. Beyond dusting, vacuuming and cleaning, HEPA air purifiers are the absolute best way to reduce the amount of dust and dust mites in the home. HEPA air purifiers, which bring allergy, sinus and asthma relief to the table, are the best products available today.