Dust Mites and Allergies

It's tough to get away from dust mites, no matter how much you clean and scrub. One gram (1/2 teaspoonful) of dust can contain up to 500 dust mites! In addition to the millions of dust mites that inhabit your home, each female mite can lay 25 to 50 eggs every 3 weeks.

Dust mites live in pillows, bed covers, mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpeting, even clothing. One of their favorite places is a mattress. An average mattress contains 10,000 to 100,000 dust mites.


They love warm, moist places. Newer homes and offices with low ceilings, small rooms, and lots of insulation create poor air circulation and high humidity - perfect conditions for dust mites. If dust mites trigger your allergies, take steps to reduce dust in your home and prevent or minimize allergic reactions.

Dust-Proof Your Environment to Reduce Allergies

Control the humidity. Choose a house or apartment that's dry, away from open water and underground streams. Keep the humidity below 50% throughout your house. Ensure good ventilation, especially in your bedroom. Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner, but clean them thoroughly according to the manufacturer's directions, especially if you're also allergic to mold.

Consider using special air filters. Electrostatic or high-energy particulate absorption (HEPA) filters added to your furnace or air conditioner help remove dust mites from the air. If you have asthma, however, talk with your doctor before using electrostatic filters. If they don't work right, they can emit ozone, an environmental pollutant, that could harm your lungs.

Keep furnishings to a minimum. This reduces the number of surfaces where dust mites collect. Weed out knickknacks and other "dust catchers." Avoid upholstered furnishings and venetian blinds because they tend to collect dust. Instead of heavy draperies, opt for lightweight curtains that can be washed every week or two in hot water (130 degrees F or higher). Or use shades or vertical blinds that can be wiped with a damp cloth. Especially in the bedroom, avoid stacks of newspapers and piles of papers, books, or magazines in open cupboards because they collect dust.

Only keep clothes that you regularly wear in your bedroom. And put those in vinyl, zippered bags. Don't store a lot of other clothes in your bedroom.

Go without carpets. Hardwood, tile, or linoleum floor coverings are easier to clean. Removing carpeting in the bedroom is the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your exposure to dust mites. Shag is the worst type of carpeting for a person allergic to dust mites.

Vacuum regularly. Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture at least once a week. Vacuum the bedroom every day. Using high-efficiency filters on your vacuum helps pick up more dust mites. Avoid using brooms and dry dust cloths because they stir up dust.

Keep toys that gather dust, such as stuffed animals, out of your bedroom. Use only washable toys made of wood, rubber, metal, or plastic. Store them in a closed toy box. Regularly wash stuffed toys in very hot water (130° F or higher), and spin-dry in the dryer. Placing a beloved stuffed animal in a plastic bag and putting it in the freezer overnight every few weeks also helps kill dust mites.

Encase your mattress in an airtight plastic or polyurethane cover. Ask your doctor where these types of covers can be purchased.

Use only washable materials on your bed. Avoid pillows or comforters that are filled with feathers or down as well as wool blankets and comforters.

Wash your sheet, blankets, mattress cover, and bed cover in hot water (130° F or higher) at least once a week. If you have your hot water heater thermostat set lower for safety and energy savings, consider washing your bedding at a commercial laundry where the water is hotter. Also, washing clothes in hot water gets rid of more dust mites than dry cleaning.

Clean the entire house weekly, the bedroom daily. Always wear a face mask when cleaning or, better yet, leave the house while someone else cleans for you. If you must do the cleaning yourself, use a damp cloth or an electrostatic cloth, which are specially treated to attract dust. Use them to wipe the furniture, tops of doors, window frames, windowsills, and so forth. Clean floors with water, wax, or oil. Air out the room completely. Then close the doors and windows until you're ready to occupy the room.

Keep furnace filters clean. Hot-air furnace systems not only warm the air but also carry dust and mold spores throughout your house. Be sure to clean the furnace filters every 3 to 6 months.

Avoid using fans, especially where you sleep. Fans stir up dust. Air conditioners, both central and window units, can help keep the air cool, dry, and free of airborne allergens such as dust.



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Written by Karen Serrano, MD Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Reviewed by Lisa V. Suffian, MD

Instructor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Pulmonary Medicine at Saint Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine

Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, Saint Louis University

Board certified in Allergy and Immunology

Last updated June 2008