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FAQs about dust and dirt

What is dirt and where does it come from? When we hear the word dirt, we tend to think of the soil that is in our yard or garden. While this kind of dirt can be tracked into the home, it is only a part of what makes our home dirty.

The dirt in our homes is actually dust and grime that’s made up of all kinds of things, including particulates from soil and rock erosion; volcanic ash; microscopic meteorite particles from space; carbon soot from the burning of fossil fuels; human and animal hair, oil, and skin detritus; insect waste; textile, carpet, and paper fibers; plant pollen; and chemical aerosols from household products or industrial pollutants.

A very dusty hardwood floor.

Why does my house get so dirty? Doctor Edmund Locard defined what is now known as the Locard Exchange Principle, which, in very simple terms, states that when two object come in contact with one another, they cannot separate without leaving something of themselves behind on the other object. (While this principle is usually used in forensic science, I'm going to take some liberties here and apply the concept to cleaning.)

We all know this to be the case: If you walk through dirt it sticks to the bottom of your shoes. Now when you walk into your home it is transferred to the floor. Take your shoes and socks off and at the end of the day the bottom of your feet are dirty. Wash your feet and the dirt is transferred to the water, where it readily sticks to the side of the tub.

Luckily, we can also rely upon Locard’s Exchange Principle to get our homes clean by using cleaning products to transfer the dirt and grime to sponges, rags, and mops which can then be washed or thrown out.

What are dust mites? Dust mites are microscopic arachnids that are, unfortunately, everywhere humans live, and there is no getting rid of them. Dust mites do not live on people and do not bite people. The feed on human detritus—shed skin cells—and prefer to live in our bedding, upholstery, and carpet. They are not much of a problem unless you are allergic to them. It is actually not the dust mites themselves that people are typically allergic to, but rather a protein enzyme in their feces that causes the reaction.

How can I cut down on the number of dust mites in my home? Install hard surface floors; vacuum carpet often; wash small rugs; wash and change your bedding weekly, including the mattress and pillow covers; have your carpet steam cleaned regularly.

Why is dust and grime a problem? First and foremost because it’s unsightly, but also because it can be unsanitary.

Is there a difference between clean and sanitary? Most definitely. Clean usually describes something as being ‘free of visible contaminates,” while sanitary means “free of dangerous pathogens.”

Why are people so bothered by dirt, dust, and grime? Most of us find these things disgusting because it is part of our nature to do so. The exact number of basic human emotions (such as anger, love, etc.) is part of an ongoing debate, but the emotion of disgust always makes the list.

Many things cause us physical disgust, most notably decay and excrement, and for good reason: these things are harmful to our health and, quite naturally, we wish to distance ourselves from them.

This is a basic instinct to many living creatures. Even ant colonies have designated graveyards and dumping grounds for refuse, and they are always located at the furthest points away from the heart of the colony itself.

The bottom line is that there’s just no getting around it: To the human mind, cleanliness is associated with virtue, prosperity, success, popularity, desirability, and worthiness. We don’t just like to have a clean home, we need to have a clean home.


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