Three out of five people around the world are cleaning their homes more often than they did before. The pandemic has become a harbinger of sorts for cleaning habits of a lot of people. If washing your hands for 20 seconds and carrying hand sanitizer in your pocket is the first line of defence against the COVID-19 pandemic, then this increased cleaning is being adopted as the first line of defence for homes.
The first ever annual global dust study conducted by Dyson reveals how human behaviour around cleaning at home has evolved due to the pandemic. Let me say that this is true not just about the study involving 10,754 respondents from 10 different countries. It is true about my home as well, where we clean our home more often. The study not only sheds light on human response to the pandemic but raises the fundamental question about whether this response is the right one.
What is the Dyson Global Dust Study?
Before we get to the behaviour of humans and their response to germs, let’s understand about this study. The Dyson Global Dust Study aims to investigate the cleaning habits of people and understand household dust. The reason Dyson studies the dust at home is not only to make its home appliances such as vacuum cleaners or air purifiers better, but also to understand how these dust could impact human health.
“If you can’t see dust on the floor, it doesn’t mean dust is not there,” Dennis Mathews, Research Scientist in Microbiology at Dyson, told the media.
With the Global Dust Study, Dyson is trying to drill down on the invisible component of dust. Alongside this study, Dyson also collaborated with FICCI Research and Analysis Centre (FRAC) to collect dust from Indian households, including mine, collecting dust from four different areas – sofa, mattress, carpets and car interiors.
For the study, FRAC executives, fully dressed in PPE kit, visited my home. While I don’t own or drive a car, the FRAC executives focused on collecting as much dust as possible from other areas. The dust collected was studied and analysed by FRAC in their laboratories as part of Dyson’s Global Dust study.
Needless to say, the results shared with me was a curtain raiser for the dust that was at my home but especially the one that remains invisible to the human eye. While this part of the exercise was separate from Global Dust Study, it painted a clear picture of how dust remains for me and my family.
“Beyond the visible components of dust, our general understanding of its invisible make-up is relatively limited,” Mathews said on the study.
Dyson Global Dust Study: what did the study find?
The Dyson Global Dust Study found that 59 percent of people around the world are cleaning their homes more frequently since the outbreak of COVID-19. It notes that 1 in 4 respondents are “extremely worried” about the dust in their home. The study also notes that people don’t give second thoughts about dust at home but dust remains a cause for concern. The respondents noted that few people really understand what makes up the dust in their home.
The microbiology lab at Dyson has found that household dust is made up of a complex matrix of particles. These include dead skin cells, hair, dust mites, dust mite faeces, bacteria, viruses, mould, small insects and other fibres.
A study named 360 Dust Analysis in 2019 found that about one-third of household dust is created inside your home. What makes this dust really harmful is that many of these dust particles are only visible under a microscope. You can’t get rid of what you cannot see with your naked eye. The study zeroes in on the fact that traditional methods of cleaning – sweeping, mopping and dusting – are not the most effective ways to fight dust inside your home.
“1 in 5 were surprised to discover that viruses can be present in household dust and less than 5 percent know that dust mites and their faeces are constituents of dust at all,” the study concludes. A third of the respondents also stated that the main reason they clean up dust is to “ensure the people in their homes stay healthy”.
Dyson Global Dust Study: what did the study find inside my home?
As I mentioned earlier, my home was part of a separate study looking at how Indian households have reacted to the pandemic. FRAC provided me with a report offering a breakdown of domestic dust. The study concluded that dust in my home contains bacteria, fungi spores, human hair, dust mite allergen, cockroach allergen, cat allergen and dog allergen. The report also remarks that the major source of indoor hidden dust is through the settling of outdoor dust inside our houses.
The report also notes that the presence of cockroach allergen in the quantities mentioned in the report was unique to my residence. This is inline with the Indian Household Hidden Dust Study 2018 which also revealed how cockroach allergens were commonly found inside the traditionally cleaned Indian homes. This is dangerous because the saliva, faeces and shredding body parts of cockroaches can trigger both asthma and allergies.
The study notes that cockroach allergens were found across surfaces including mattresses at traditionally cleaned Indian homes. Most houses also showed presence of dog and dust mite allergens, the latter being the major cause of allergic reactions worldwide. Since I received this report, we have taken measures to eliminate cockroach allergen from my home. However, the presence of cat and dog allergen was shocking since we don’t have any pets at home.
A theory suggests that these allergens could have come via outdoor dust settling inside my home or through people visiting our home. Even FRAC and Dyson agree that it is impossible to have a dust free environment but preventing their ill effects on our health should be our immediate step.
What can you do to keep your homes clean and safeguard against hidden dust?
There are a number of things that you can do to safeguard yourself and your home against the hidden dust. While dust free homes are a myth, the goal for most homes should be to remove as much dust as possible. While understanding how dust settles in your home will help, there are external factors as well.
For example, if you dry your clothes outdoors, the invisible pollutants could settle on your clothes and eventually find a way inside your home. There might not be a simple solution existing to such issues but staying sensitized about the fact that there are ways in which we can minimize this, is very important. Here is how you can create a clean and safe environment within the four walls.
- Use Natural Cleaning Products: Dyson study has found that some of the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) found in Indian homes can come from the chemicals in cleaning products we use on kitchen surfaces, bathrooms, and windows. Limonene is one of the compounds that makes cleaning products smell like citrus, but it can react with naturally occurring ozone in the home to create formaldehyde. The research shows that using natural cleaning products can help lower the amount of VOCs in your indoor air.
- Vacuum regularly to deal with pet shedding: Dyson is a company that makes some of the highly rated vacuum cleaners. So, it is no surprise that the company recommends vacuuming regularly but the company told me that it is not recommending its own product here. The company says the most effective way to keep your carpets, hard floors, upholstery and surfaces free of dust and pet hair is by vacuuming at regular intervals. Dyson has launched a new vacuum cleaner called V15 Detect that uses lasers to illuminate the dust invisible to naked eye.
- Ventilate and clean frequently to get rid of dust and pollen allergens: The study looking into the source of dust inside homes has revealed that flowers and scented candles, used to enhance the environment, are also the source of indoor air pollution. While you cannot avoid them completely, it is recommended that you light candles only in moderation. Another effective practice would be to ventilate your room or use an air purifier to remove any remaining VOCs or particulate matter from the air.
- Monitor the fresh air: For Indian homes, in particular, it is recommended that you stay wary of letting in “fresh air”. For those who live next to a busy road, train line or a construction site, opening the window can allow outdoor pollution and dust, gases like NO2 and SO2, into your home. In such a situation, you can try not to leave the windows open for too long.