If dust isn’t chometz, just what is it? (Besides gross?!) And how does it just show up out of nowhere, especially after you just finished cleaning?
Don’t Lick the Dust
If you were staring down a giant dust bunny in the murky darkness under your bed, you’d see a hairy gray blob. That blob is actually a combination of many (yucky) parts. Dust is made up of tiny bits of matter. Dust particles come from all kinds of places, from soil and sand to grit carried by the wind, from pollen to pollution, from people and animal hair to fabric lint, from your dead skin cells to dust mites and decaying bugs, and even minute specks of burnt space rock and stuff you track in on your shoes, clothes, and even your hair…
Wanna feel a weensy bit special? The dust in your house is unique, kinda like a fingerprint of your home. It’s a down-and-dirty historical record of everything that’s ever entered and exited your home. It differs according to the local climate and geography, the age of your house, how many people live there, what the occupants cook and do for fun, what their cleaning habits are, whether they have pets, and more.
Okay, that’s not sooo special. But scientists think that one day, they may be able to analyze dust and actually pinpoint the exact neighborhood (or house) it originated in. (Right now, they can only identify general locations.) This could be quite useful in forensics, a branch of science that aids in crime research. Fight dust, fight crime.
Dense or Fluffy?
I’d rather not be described as dense or fluffy. But thankfully, I’m only describing dust, and those are the two main varieties it comes in. Fluffy dust is made up of fibers (your hair, pet hair, lint, carpet fibers, and so on). Fluffy dust is what makes up your dust bunnies (or dust elephants, depending on how often you vacuum). The dense dust is usually what blows in from outside or is tracked in on your shoes. It’s very fine and powdery.
Regardless of its texture, dust sticks around for a long time. If you don’t regularly vacuum or mop, dust can last for years. In fact, scientists who study indoor air pollution have found traces of DDT in house dust. DDT is a toxic chemical that was banned in 1972. So that means those dust particles have been floating around the atmosphere and settling in people’s homes for the past 49 years! Other creepy toxic substances found in dust include lead, arsenic (a kind of poison), flame retardants (that stop fires), phthalates (substances added to plastic), and artificial fragrances. They can creep out of your mattresses, electrical cords, carpeting, flooring, and more. Oh my!
It may not be chometz, but it certain is dirty.
What Else Makes Up the Dust?
They can’t see or hear or drink. They’re microscopic, smaller than a grain of sand. They follow their sense of smell. And they number in the many millions… right in your home. They’re dust mites, and they live wherever people do. These arachnids (uh-rack-nids, joint-legged spineless creatures) eat dead human skin cells. Yum!
Sorry to tell you, but dust mites (and their waste, eww) make up the vast majority of household dust – at least, the dust that’s found on the floor. (They’re too heavy to stay in the air for long.) But if you walk on or sweep up or otherwise disturb dust mites that are on the floor, they get into the air. And it could take 20 minutes to two hours for them to settle back down.
The more dust you have, the more mites you have. Gross but true: A gram (about a half teaspoon) of dust contains as many as 1,000 dust mites and 250,000 dust mite waste pellets. Dust mites love to hang out in mattresses, bedding, couches, carpets, and other warm comfy places. So if you want to get rid of ‘em, those might be some good places to start.
“We left him in the dust!” You may have heard that expression (hopefully not in reference to a high-speed police chase). It means leaving someone far behind due to how quickly one is moving. As it turns out, there’s a lot of truth to this saying, because dust kicked up by traveling cars and trucks can make up a third of all air pollution. What is road dust? A combination of vehicle exhaust, tire particles, pothole and street breakdown, construction dust, and more.
There’s only one kind of dust that I think is cool, and you’ll probably agree. (Don’t tell me if you don’t!) That’s cosmic dust — that is, dust from outer space. Aliens didn’t bring it here. It just kind of falls down to Earth, especially when meteorites (space rocks) break up and fall to Earth. But a lot of it sticks around in space, and it’s what builds planets, nebulae, and stars, and forms the tails of comets. It also hangs around on other planets, like Mars, which has constant dust storms going on. NASA and other space agencies have even sent spacecraft to collect space dust samples. Studying space dust can help scientists get a better understanding of what minerals and other materials build planets and celestial bodies. (Can you tell them we have some great dust samples hanging out under our couch?)
Sneaky Dust Magnets
Want to get rid of some dust vermin? Use the most expert-recommended method for dust removal: Take a slightly damp microfiber cloth or vacuum cleaner and work from top to bottom (highest place to lowest place) so you don’t spread it around again. Be sure to check these less-than-obvious places:
Decorative items on your shelves
Light bulbs and light fixtures
The corners behind doors that are always left open
The top of the refrigerator and freezer
The tops of seforim (and the tops of the bookshelves)
Tops of kitchen cabinets, doors, and window frames
Window blinds and screens
Dust also contains a bunch of other components, including skin cells, fabric fibers, food particles and crumbs, and animal hair. Basically, anything that can be broken down can end up in the dust, both indoors and outdoors. Even if you don’t have a fluffy, fur-shedding pet, other people who come into your home may have one and they could carry that dander inside (or animal fur can blow in through open windows). The body parts and waste matter of insects, especially cockroaches, are also commonly found in dust… especially when those insects, ah, bite the dust. (Pun intended.) Which is just gross. Sorry. Add in some fungi and spores, and you’ve got a real recipe for ewwwwww.
Sit Down While You Eat!
Your mother always warning you not to walk around the house while you’re eating. Turns out there’s a lot more to this than just spreading chometz around. The more you walk and nosh, the more food debris (that’s crumbs and bits) you’ll be dropping on the floor. The more food bits that wind up on the floor, the more insects you’ll attract. And the more insects there are in the house, the more bugs die, decompose, and end up in your dust. So, yeah, listen to your mother. Eat at the table.
The Never-Ending Battle
Some researchers describe houses a little bit like living organisms, saying that once they absorb something, they may never get rid of it completely. That’s why so many old chemicals and particles keep showing up in dust, even if we thought we got rid of them long ago.
Dust not only looks ugly and dirty, it can cause frustrating health problems and make the air unpleasant in your home.
Dust is something we’ll have to keep fighting cleaning until Mashiach comes (and probably even after, too). So, keep fighting the bunnies…. It’s worth it, don’t you think?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 853)
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