We share our lives and homes with millions of microscopic organisms, some benefit us by eating other nasty things, some do their own thing and leave us alone, and some can be detrimental to our health.
One of the most common miniature housemates is dust mites, in this article, we will explain what they are, where they come from, how to get rid of them, and how to stop them accumulating.
What are Dust Mites?
Dust mites are a member of the arachnid family, closely related to spiders and ticks, that live almost exclusively in human homes. They are invisible to the naked eye with their tiny size, 0.2 – 0.3 millimetres, and translucent bodies. Although numerous, dust mites are fairly short-lived with the male lifespan being 10-20 days and females living for up to 70 days.
Where do dust mites come from?
They come for our skin! Dust mites thrive in warm (approximately 21°C + ), humid conditions and set up home in areas that attract most human traffic such as carpets, rugs, sofa’s, beds and soft toys. This is because their food source is the dead skin cells and flakes we shed every day, one piece of good news is that they are not parasitic in nature and, unlike other types of mites, do bite or burrow into us.
Dust mites enter our homes by hitching a ride on clothing, bird feathers, animal hair and any other travelling surface they can cling to.
Are dust mites bad for you?
In the UK, dust mites are the most common source of allergic reactions and affect much more people than pollen or other common allergens.
Dust mites themselves do not trigger allergic responses and do not carry diseases, allergic reactions are caused by their droppings which contain high levels of protein-based allergens, the body fragments of deceased mites can also trigger an allergic response.
The symptoms of a dust mite allergy are similar to hay fever, watery/itchy eyes, a runny nose, swelling of the sinuses, and rashes. Children are at greater risk as dust mite allergies can develop into asthma and eczema.
How do you know if you have dust mites?
As mentioned previously, dust mites are present in almost every household but if you want to be sure there are a couple of ways of testing your home for their presence.
As dust mites cannot be seen with the naked eye you will need to buy a microscope or a USB magnifier, once you have one of these collect dust samples from around your home.
Focus on collecting on areas that gather a lot of dust and are used by your family on a regular basis, such as beds and sofas. With your samples collected, examine them under 10x magnification and look for small, translucent, eight-legged creatures.
There are also many commercial testing kits available, most kits require you to collect dust samples with a vacuum cleaner and will give results in up to 10 minutes.
Read more about How to know if you have dust mites.
How to Get Rid of Dust Mites in Your Home
Now that we know what dust mites are, where they live in our homes, and the danger they can pose it is time to find out to get rid of them.
- Replace old items which collect dust and provide an all you can eat buffet for dust mites. and provide an all you can eat buffet for dust mites. This may seem like a rather drastic measure to take, but dust mites often live deep inside the fibres and that’s why they’re and are difficult to remove. If you cannot remove all traces of the mites they will quickly re-establish themselves. Common household items such as pillows, mattresses, and blankets have shorter lifespans than most people realise which is why it is better to replace them rather than wasting your time and money on ineffective cleaning methods.
- Spring clean/deep clean your home. Wash or dry clean everything, your bedding, curtains, clothing, children’s toys. Follow this up by cleaning any carpets in your home with an anti-mite carpet shampoo. Be aware though, anti-mite products contain a lot of very strong chemicals and can cause temporary allergic reactions themselves.
- Reduce the humidity and temperature in your home. Dust mites love warm humid environments. so air your home regularly. If you live in a hot area with high levels of moisture consider buying a dehumidifier or an air purifier. This will keep your home dry. You can also use your air conditioner to lower temperatures to about 21 degrees.
- Use a damp rag to clean surfaced which collect dust. Feather dusters are a no-no in this case because they only stir up the dust into the air. Afterwards, it just falls back on the ground again. A damp piece of sloth, on the other hand, removes all the dust it touches regardless of where it is. By eliminating the food source, you have a larger chance of getting rid of dust mites.
- Bathe and groom pets. Mites are not overly picky when it comes to whose dead skin to eat. You’d better brush your pets in the back garden or on your terrace. The point is to keep the old hairs outside of your home. Regular baths are also recommended as well as cleaning the pet beds.
- Allow as much sunlight into your home as possible. Hang bedding and clothing outside or in areas with a lot of direct sunlight, air heavy rugs and curtains as often as possible as direct sunlight kills dust mites.
- Wash bedding in very hot water. Remove all the covers, sheets and pillowcases from your bed. Wash the bedding at a temperature of 60 C (140 F). Any dust mites you may have had will die off instantly. Just to make sure, dry your bedding in a dryer on a hot setting.
- Reduce clutter. More items mean more dust any way you look at it. You can’t clean every item individually every week and frankly, you shouldn’t. Just lose the items you haven’t used in the last year or store them in a box in the attic. The fewer things you have collecting dust, the better.
Hoover with a vacuum installed with a HEPA filter or steam clean your carpets and furniture.
How to Prevent Dust Mites from Accumulating
Once you have rid your home of dust mites, you will want to prevent them from accumulating again so that your hard work wasn’t in vain. Check the tips below to keep your home as dust mite free as possible.
- Clean pillows, mattresses, and bedding regularly. Keeping all sleeping areas in your home clean will prevent a build-up of dead skin denying dust mites their main food source.
- Replace your pillows every 2-5 years and mattresses every 10 years. Dust mites like to live in the deepest parts of your pillows and mattresses so regular cleaning will only achieve so much. Replacing these items may be expensive but it is the best method of preventing dust mites from accumulating over time.
- Invest in a hypoallergenic pillow and mattress covers. These covers present an additional barrier between you and allergens, whether it is dust mites or pollen and as such are a must have for allergy sufferers.
- Use bedding made from synthetic materials. Bedding made from synthetic materials such as nylon and memory foam mattresses create an environment which is unsuitable for dust mites.
- Leave your bed unmade. This isn’t just an excuse to be lazy in the morning! Leaving your bed unmade allows your bedding to air dry and release moisture, this can significantly reduce the number of dust mites calling your bed home.
- Reduce the number of stuffed toys in your home. Stuffed toys provide the perfect safe haven for dust mites as they collect dust easily. Try to cut down the number of stuffed toys to only the favourites. If you or your child cannot bear to part with the toys, freeze them for 24-48 hours every two weeks to kill the dust mites and then wash and dry thoroughly.
- Try not to sleep on the sofa. Sofas are much more difficult to protect from dust mites than other furniture, by sleeping on the sofa you are creating an area which is very attractive for dust mites. Try to always sleep in a bed with a hypoallergenic cover to keep the dust mite population down.
So there we have it, everything you need to know about dust mites, how to get rid of them and how to stop them from coming back. If you follow this guide and keep a strict home cleaning schedule you will not have to worry about developing, or exacerbating, dust mite allergies.
Image source: Dabarti CGI/shutterstock.com
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