Home Guru

The Inescapable Reality of Dust in the Home

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By Bill Primavera

My first household chore as a five- or six-year-old was to crawl under the dining room table at my mother’s request to dust the table stretchers. I suppose I was the only one in the family small enough or limber enough to accomplish that task, and I really felt quite accomplished at it. 

Maybe it was the seed planted for my development into The Home Guru and, ultimately, into a realtor who shows and sells homes. In the latter capacity, I always check to make sure that a house is impeccably clean before it is shown, and the basics of cleanliness is a good dusting.

My early experience as the family duster for low-lying surfaces probably made me more aware of dust than most people. While dust is inevitable, it horrifies some of us, as though its presence on our furniture and floors tells the world something unflattering about us, not only as housekeepers but as human beings.

Some of us just don’t give a damn. I’m somewhere in between. If there were anything of which I might be accused of being obsessive-compulsive about, it certainly wouldn’t be involved with housekeeping.

I remember an interview long ago in The New York Times in which an eccentric artist said she hadn’t dusted her apartment in over 30 years, saying that “after the first two years or so, you really can’t tell the difference.” That kind of empirical research really impresses me.

In that wonderful HBO movie “Grey Gardens,” Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and cousin, Edie Beale and her daughter, Little Edie, are depicted as living in squalor in a neglected ramshackle house, with garbage strewn throughout and a hoard of cats and raccoons relieving themselves on the floor. When Jackie arrives to help remedy the situation and registers her shock at the condition of the property, Big Edie dismisses the condition of her living environment by saying simply that her daughter “hasn’t been keeping up with the dusting.” 

Is inattention to dust the first degenerative step to chaos in the home? Maybe for some, depending on their mental attitude about it, and in turn, how unkempt homes can affect its occupants.

A recent survey revealed that 83 percent of us are happier in a clean house. The act of cleaning itself gives 57 percent of the population a feeling of satisfaction. Further, it shows that 38 percent of women and 24 percent of men experience real stress living in a messy environment.

It would seem that dusting and cleaning can be therapeutic. Psychologists have found that there is a marked difference in mood before and after doing cleaning, just as with a therapy session.

For those who don’t mind living with a coating of dust on their furniture, floor and appliances, it may be motivating to know that dust is composed largely of our own flaking skin cells! Now that we know what it contains and that it can cause real stress, does this explain the expression “uncomfortable in our own skin?”

Add to our skin cells other flaky stuff like fabric fibers, dust mite excrement, hair, pet dander, pollen, regular dirt, debris and microparticles, and you have a pretty nasty brew that can give people with allergies and breathing problems a real hassle.  

But beyond the psychological and unhealthy effects of dust, it can do real physical damage to most everything it lands on, from furniture surfaces to those things it clogs up like computer keyboards and vents.

There are both fancy and simple ways to get rid of dust. The fancy way is with an air purifier of which there are two types: those with fans that pull air through filters that trap the dust and those called electrostatic precipitators in which an electrical charge is applied to the dust drawn into the device and captured on oppositely charged plates. Both are available as either portable units, which offer varying degrees of effectiveness, depending on the model, or as whole-house systems.

Among the houses I’ve listed or sold, I was aware of only one that had a whole-house air purifier system. So, unless people are plagued by allergies, I suspect that most of us dust with old-fashioned elbow grease, using either regular rags or one of those new magic dusters to which particles cling. Because the latter option can be expensive, a regular rag can be made just as effective if dampened before use and shaken out frequently.

I definitely do not recommend a feather duster because it merely spreads the dust around until it lands again on the surface of things.

It’s funny how the exploratory process can affect you. As I sit at my computer, I’m very aware and uncomfortable in the knowledge that between the keys of the keyboard is a lot of trapped dust. Are the raccoons soon to follow?

Bill Primavera is a licensed realtor affiliated with William Raveis Realty’s Yorktown Heights office and a marketing practitioner. For questions or comments about the housing market or selling or buying a home, Bill can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.


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