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A long, long time ago, the infamous house dust mite was born.  Originally they lived in colonies scavenging on decaying organic matter.  Today, house dust mites found their way indoors by hitching a ride on modern man.  They decided to set up tent in the warm, humid, cluttered environment we call “home.”  In doing so, dust mites have caused all types of maladies, especially asthma and allergies.

What exactly are dust mites?

Dust mites are tiny scavengers closely related to spiders and ticks.  They are made up of 75% water in weight.  They eat dead skin cells and hair covered in bacteria, pollen, mold, fungi, and yeasts.  They can live up to three months in damp, warm environments.  Female mites lay about 60 eggs in that time.  Mites produce about 20 droppings a day, which for them, is considered their source of food because the droppings are filled with leftover food and enzymes.

In our homes, dust mites live in clothing, carpets, bedding, and even our baking flour.  They travel by attaching themselves to material, fur, feathers, socks, pajamas, and soft toys.  They prefer light material items because they can hide in them.

Why do they trigger allergies?

Mites are usually associated with allergies because the body parts from dead mites are so small they become airborne and get inhaled.  The mites also produce powerful enzymes that are strong enough to break down delicate cells.  They are known to cause hay fever, asthma, sinusitis, eczema, skin rashes, wheezing, sneezing, itching, watery eyes, allergic and migraine headaches, urticarial dermatitis, and certain gut disorders.

Because house dust mites are so tiny — about 0.3 mm — they are not visible to the naked eye.  They may be visible through a magnifying glass.

Ick! What do I do about them?

It is impossible to get rid of dust mites completely, but there are ways to keep them at a minimum in your home and your bed:

  • Keep your bedding clean.  People spend a lot of time in their beds and lose a lot of dead skin while they’re there. Wash your bedding at least once a week and wash the bedding in hot water. Cold water will not kill every dust mite.  Cover your mattress, pillows, box springs and duvet covers with micro-porous material.  Remove clutter near your bed.  Before making your bed in the morning, air it out to reduce moisture buildup.  Make sure your mattress is made from latex.  Freeze all stuffed toys that cannot be washed for about 48 hours to kill dust mites.
  • Also, get your pet its own bed. A dust mite is just as happy to eat pet dander as human.  Remember to wash your pet’s blankets and bedding weekly too.
  • Carpeting is a dust mite magnet because there are so many places to hide in it!  Even when you vacuum, most dust mites stay alive by grabbing onto the carpet fibers.  If possible, remove as much carpet as you can and switch to wood, linoleum, or laminate flooring.  If flooring is not an option, have your carpets steam cleaned on a regular basis.
  • Keep your home free of clutter as much as possible.  Everything in the home should have a place.  Clean your home.  Wearing a dust mask, start high and work your way down.  With a dry microfiber cloth, dust walls, fan blades, tops of shelves, tops of picture frames, and anything else that might collect dust. Don’t forget to clean the draperies.
  • When vacuuming, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.  Vacuum upholstered furniture, floors,  and carpets.  Mop floors with a damp microfiber mop.
  • Since dust mites thrive in a warm and humid environment, lower the thermostat below 70 degrees and install some air conditioners. Air conditioners are really good at lowering the humidity levels of a home. So are dehumidifiers. Ideally, keep the humidity level below 35%.
  • Keeping a clean and clutter-free house is just one of the ways you can prevent house dust mites from taking over your home.

Remember, dust mites can never be fully eliminated, but these basic tips will help you suffer less because of them.