How to deal with dust in your home if that dust mite allergy just won't go away

The invisible enemy: Microscopic view of a dust mite collected from inside a New Zealand home.
The invisible enemy: Microscopic view of a dust mite collected from inside my home. Photo credit: Dyson / Newshub.

Recently, technology company Dyson got me to use one of their vacuums to collect up some dust from my home and send it off to their Australian lab for analysis.

That might sound weird, but it is particularly interesting for me as the father of someone who suffers a dust mite allergy and asthma.

I thought I had the dust in our home well under control after taking a number of steps to attack it, but Dyson's lab found that in the sample I sent them contained 1535 dust mites per gram.


Ever since my family learned one of its youngest members suffers a severe dust mite allergy, we've waged war on dust. This has meant buying and using special mattress and pillow protectors which are washed once per week along with the sheets, vacuuming two times per week, continuously using an air purifier and often complementing that with a dehumidifier, as well as frequently wiping down of all surfaces.

Those techniques are encouraged by both Allergy NZ and the international Allergy & Asthma Network.

There's a few other things we do regularly to keep on top of dust management, like cleaning soft toys and cushions, but all of this is focused on the bedroom where our toddler sleeps.

The dust sample was taken from both a couch in the lounge along with our cat's bed - areas we've been less aggressive with the dust mite management, but obviously need to start addressing more.

A Dyson scientist working on dust research.
Photo credit: Dyson

"A high percentage of dust is actually human skin cells. An average person will lost about 28g of skin per week," James McCrea, a senior mechanical engineer at Dyson, told Newshub.

"That's quite a lot. It's probably the equivalent of a small bag of crisps. That's the number one food choice for dust mites: Skin flakes or dander.

"So you have to think about where we find the most skin flakes in our home. It's not just our floors, it's anywhere we sit or lie like sofas, beds. Also wherever pets sit or lie, so pet beds are breeding grounds for dust - they can contain between 100,000 and 1 million dust mites."

Each of those dust mites generates around 20 droppings per day and it's that excrement that gets in the air and affects our health, including triggering allergic reactions like skin rashes, sneezing, coughing, a runny nose, a scratchy throat and puffy, swollen eyelids.

In Aotearoa, this ties into a very serious issue. Respiratory disease is the country's third-leading cause of death and accounts for one in ten of all hospital stays, and we have the second-highest rate of asthma in the world, according to Asthma NZ.

Other allergens Dyson found in the dust collected from my home were mould and fungi spores, which suggests we need to crank up the dehumidifier more often at the very least.

Microscopic images of mould spores and pollen taken from a New Zealand home.
Mould spores and pollen found in my home. Photo credit: Dyson / Newshub.
Mould types found in New Zealand house dust sample.
Photo credit: Dyson / Newshub.

But aside from extending the rigorous cleaning campaign from our child's bedroom to more of the house, there is more we can do to better control dust mites and air quality in our home.

One of those things is addressing what scientists call the indoor/outdoor continuum. We're a shoes off indoors home, but I hadn't thought about other ways we're bringing in pollutants from outside that can be mitigated.

"It's really important to think about not just the dirt, but also the invisible dust and particles being brought back into the home," said McCrea.

"It makes sense people take off their outdoor shoes when coming inside, but other particles are latching onto their other clothing and that's then spread around the home. Dust and other particles also come into the home through windows and doors."

You can wipe down your clothes when you arrive home to reduce the dust and particles you bring in from outside, but cats and dogs aren't very good at wiping themselves down when they come in. They usually don't even bother to wear shoes outside, either.

After getting the analysis of dust from my home done and chatting with the Dyson engineer, there are extra steps I'm taking in our home's war on dust mites and air quality.

Advanced steps to take in combatting allergens like dust mites:

  • Pay special attention to anywhere furry pets hang out: Vacuum a lot, take off and clean covers if possible
  • Frequently groom and clean cats and dogs, removing as much loose hair as possible
  • Ensure regular removal of pet hair from floors and furniture - this may mean getting a specialised vacuum attachment designed to collect hair
  • Vacuum or wipe down couches and sofas
  • Vacuum or wipe down curtains and drapes
  • Wipe down clothes when coming indoors from outdoors
  • When vacuuming carpet, do it slowly and cover the same areas in different directions.

It's impossible to eliminate dust from one's home and controlling both dust and other particles is all the more difficult if you share your home with pets.

But there are scientifically proven ways to reduce those allergens in the home.

As we approach midsummer in Aotearoa and many of us emerge from COVID-19 lockdown, it's a good time to think about this stuff, especially for those of us with family members who suffer allergies.