Harvard Health Letter

Tiny specks may add up to heaps of trouble

Household dust may contain toxic chemicals and all sorts of allergens. Regular housekeeping is still the best defense.

Anyone who has yearned for a clean house can attest to the seemingly supernatural properties of dust. No sooner have you banished it from the bookshelf than it peeks out from under the bed, shape-shifting from powdery and puffy to sticky and stringy. But the menace of dust can extend beyond the realm of housekeeping and damage health in serious ways.

What's it made of?

Household dust is an amalgam of biological and nonbiological substances that either migrate from the outside environment or are generated by the human — and animal — residents of the home. About 60% of household dust comes from soil tracked inside on the bottoms of shoes or the paws of pets or as airborne particles that have wafted through doors, windows, and other openings. The remaining 40% is a hodgepodge of substances that originate inside the dwelling, including skin cells, pet fur, insect residue, carpet fibers, and kitchen grease.

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