Quick! Check under your couch, behind the bookcase, and in the corners of the room. My guess is that there’s a 99.99 percent chance that there’s dust there.
My guess is that if you’ve also got kids, dust may be the last thing on your mind. Feeding and clothing your kids is probably the top of that list, alongside getting them to school on time and making sure their homework is done and they’re not playing with knives or anything dangerous.
Being a parent makes life crazy-busy, and you probably don’t want to spend the little downtime you do have thinking about house dust. I hear you. But house dust is something that you need to be thinking about if keeping your kids safe and healthy is part of your top priority.
Here’s why (the obvious stuff first): House dust isn’t actually made of bunnies. Typically, house dust is composed of stuff like dead skin cells, hair, pet dander, carpet fibers, and particulates that came in through the windows and the soles of your shoes. Gross.
Less obvious but probably more importantly, house dust also contains pesticides, lead dust, flame-retardants, phthalates, PCBs, and dioxins. Scary.
Back in 2003, the Silent Spring Institute studied house dust samples from 120 homes on Cape Cod and measured them for various types of chemicals. What they found was not good. A full 67 chemicals were found that qualify as endocrine disruptors—chemicals that are capable of interfering with the normal function of our hormonal system, which for kids, can spell big, big problems.
Of the homes that Silent Spring tested, 100 percent of them had measurable levels of phthalates (another endocrine disruptor), which is linked to everything from developmental and behavioral problems (some mimic the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder), reduced IQ, birth defects, breast cancer, and obesity.
For babies and young children, who are constantly crawling around on the floor and sticking their fingers in their mouths, house dust ends up being a very real exposure source to these chemicals—and something you do need to address.
Here are some simple suggestions to help you cut back on dust in the home and how to tackle it once it’s there.
Take off your shoes at the door. The soles of your shoes track in all kinds of stuff from outside—lead dust, pesticides, dog poop. Leave them by the door, always, and teach your kids to do the same. Having little cubbies for them to place their shoes in is a good place to start.
Wet dust instead of dry dusting. Dry dusting (with a feather duster, for example) just spreads dust around and can actually make it easier to inhale. Instead, wet dust using a washable cloth or rag and some water.
Do not pull out a product for cleaning and polishing furniture or any unnecessary chemical-laden concoction. Do not use microfiber cloths that trap dust. If you can, opt for the microfiber cloths that are machine washable and reusable. I’m not much into the throwaway nature of things like Swiffer cloths.
Vacuum with a machine that has a HEPA filter. HEPA (high efficiency particulate air filter) is great at trapping most of the fine particulates in the machine, so it’s not spewing them back into the air.
Every three or four months (or more often) pull the couch out from the wall and vacuum there. Also vacuum behind the TV, making sure to pay attention to the wiring. Wires can shed lead dust, phthalates, and even PBDEs—flame-retardants. Dust behind the TV can be extra toxic.That’s it. It’s not a perfect solution because dust is just something we have to deal with, but deal with it appropriately, and you can go a long way to reducing your child’s exposure.
Lara Adler, a certified holistic health coach and environmental toxins expert, helps parents detoxify their homes to protect their children’s health. www.laraadler.com/parents
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