Despite being microscopic in size, dust mites can cause big problems for allergy and asthma sufferers. These small creatures are the leading cause of year-round allergies and can be found in almost every home environment. Although it is nearly impossible to completely rid your home of dust mites, it is entirely possible to lessen your exposure and your allergic reaction to them.
What Are Dust Mites?
Dust mites are microscopic bugs that, when viewed under a microscope, resemble tiny, cream-colored spiders. They are very primitive in nature and content with a life of eating, producing waste, and reproducing. Dust mites primarily feed on dead skin cells, the kind shed by people every day. In fact, an average person sheds enough skin cells every single day to feed 1 million dust mites. These organisms thrive anywhere that their food source can be found, including upholstery, carpet, mattresses and pillows. They also love tepid temperatures (68-77 degrees F) and high levels of humidity. Moreover, they are rapid reproducers, with each female dust mite producing up to 100 eggs in her lifetime, which spans 2 to 4 months.
What Are Dust Mite Allergies?
Dust mite allergies are actually reactions to the waste products of the dust mites, not the mites themselves. These bugs are efficient waste producers, and their waste products can be found in the dust around your home. While many dust mites will die in low humidity or extreme temperatures, their waste products are left behind. Of course, in many homes that are kept comfortably warm throughout the year, it is possible for dust mites to live year-round.
How to Attack Dust Mites
Although the idea of having tiny bugs crawling around your home is cringe-worthy to say the least, it is nearly impossible to eliminate them entirely. And while the presence of dust mites does not mean that your home is not clean, just a few basic products and cleaning techniques can help to lessen your exposure:
- First Step: Protect Your Bed. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to address dust mites is to buy hypoallergenic bedding products. Dust mites love living in pillows and can quickly turn an everyday pillow into an allergy nightmare. Mattress and comforter encasings are also great products to protect yourself and to improve your sleep. Covering your pillows and bedding keeps the dust mites, and more importantly, the dust mite allergens, from invading. Dust mite covers (in addition to your sheets and comforter) should be washed often in high temperature water.
To add to your protection, you may want to invest in a mattress that is made using dust mite-resistant materials. Latex mattresses, for example, are naturally resistant to dust mites. Silk sheets are also a good choice for bedding, as silk is naturally dry and moisture-wicking. Lastly, a dry vapor steam cleaner can help reduce dust mite populations without dampening your bedding materials.
- Next Step: Target the Entire Bedroom. Once you have addressed the bed, look at all the other soft, porous areas of the bedroom. Because carpet is another attractive home to dust mites, hardwood flooring is a great alternative in the bedroom. To control infestation in carpeted bedrooms, it is important to vacuum very often with a HEPA vacuum. Use a vacuum with a filtration system specially designed for allergen removal, and wear a filtering mask when vacuuming.
Reduce any other dust collectors in the bedroom, such as stuffed animals, dry flowers, and knick-knacks. Draperies and rugs are also common allergen collectors. They should be laundered in hot water if possible as well. Steam cleaners are a great cleaning tool in the bedroom for killing dust mites in your mattress, bedding, curtains, rugs, clothing, and carpets. A dry vapor steam cleaner can clean even delicate materials and surfaces and can be used for bedding and drapes in-between launderings. After you have addressed the surfaces in the bedroom, a high-quality air purifier with a HEPA filter will clean out the allergens floating around in the air.
- Lastly: Protect Your Entire Home. As mentioned, dust mites love high levels of humidity. In summer months, it is particularly important to monitor the humidity levels in your home. If your air conditioner is not keeping the humidity levels low enough, use a dehumidifier. Humidity levels need to be kept consistently below 50 percent humidity to have the best chance of controlling dust mites. Most dehumidifiers contain internal hygrometers that will allow the unit to keep the household humidity within a set range.
Some areas in the home, such as basements, may benefit from year-round dehumidification. For basements, you can use a specialized basement dehumidifier to control excess moisture and curb dust mite reproduction. Many of the other principles of the bedroom techniques apply to the whole home as well, including installing hardwood floors, reducing dust collectors in the home, and using a steam cleaner to kill dust mites on contact. Using an air purifier will not only help with dust mite allergens, but can also help with a host of other indoor allergens.
There are an estimated 20 million Americans with dust mite allergies. Fortunately, with a little dust mite education and just a few special products, your allergic reactions to dust mites can be greatly reduced. This is good news for anyone wanting to improve chronic allergies or who just wants to maintain a clean indoor environment.
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