Most of us, even those in the professional cleaning industry, may see dust on a surface and think little about it – other than it needs to be wiped away.
But there’s a lot more to dust than we may realize.
Dust in a home or office can carry with it all types of pathogens that can cause health problems. Back in the 1970s, after the first oil crisis, one of the reasons for “Sick Building Syndrome” was the fact that dust, on surfaces and in the air, was trapped inside the building.
HVAC systems at that time were adjusted so that they kept recirculating heated or cooled air. This reduced energy costs, but increased indoor dust build-up significantly. This also increased humidity in these buildings, and because dust is often made up of biological contaminants, the moisture helped the germs and bacteria in dust survive and thrive.
The result was that many building occupants began to complain of headaches, dizziness, nausea, difficulty concentrating, and this could be just the beginning of their health problems.
We should know there are two types of dust.
The first one is called biological dust. This type of dust is made up of bacteria, pollens, molds, allergens, and germs. If you complain about “hay fever,” it's most likely being caused by biological dust. But as we know, hay fever, even though it can cause considerable discomfort, be very bothersome, and produce flu-like symptoms, it really is not a serious health threat, unlike what can be caused by chemical dust, the other type of dust.
Very often, chemical dust contains pesticides, fumes, paint thinner, viruses, bacteria, mold, fungi, VOCs, and a variety of toxins from many different sources. These can suppress the immune system, harm the liver, affect the digestive and reproductive systems, and cause many other health-related problems. And the longer and more often we are exposed to chemical dust; the more serious these issues can be.
And here’s one more problem. Dust likes dust.
Once it’s on a surface like a hard surface floor, it seems to draw more dust to it. So when we walk over that floor and stir-up the dust, all of these nasty pathogens become airborne, putting our health and the health of all those in the building at risk.
While there are many steps building owners and managers can take to help reduce the amount of dust in their properties, some of these require time and planning to implement and can be costly. So here’s what cleaning pros can do right now to address this dusty situation:
• Urge our clients to extract carpet regularly; carpet absorbs dust, but they can become saturated and start releasing dust with foot traffic.
• Stop sweeping or dust mopping. Whenever possible, use a vacuum cleaner to vacuum hard surface floors.
• Use only HEPA filtered vacuum systems and change the filter bag and filter regularly; also damp wipe clean the interior and exterior of the vacuum cleaner.
• Keep cleaning equipment clean. As with vacuum cleaners, dust builds up on floor machines, cleaning carts, and other equipment. Wipe clean with an all-purpose cleaner and for added safety, clean again using a disinfectant
• Avoid damp mopping floors. Yes, damp mopping will collect a lot of the dust, but it will also spread a lot of it around on the floor. And the moisture in the mop will likely help the pathogens in the dust grow and become stronger.
• Finally, switch to “SUV” floor cleaning systems. These systems apply cleaning solution directly to floors. Agitation removes dust and soils, which are then vacuumed up. This entirely removes the dust from the floor surface.
And one more thing. If dust is an ongoing problem, take the time to look for the source. Eliminating the source can save a lot of future problems.
It could be that filters have not been changed on HVAC systems. But dust could also be coming from:
- A nearby warehouse or office
- Dust blowing in doors
- A window open somewhere
- Soiled trash cans and the ways they are emptied
- Activities and equipment used in the facility.
Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor, having owned, operated, and then sold three contract cleaning companies in Northern California.
He is the author of two books about the industry and continues to be a frequent writer for the industry.
Robert is now president of AlturaSolutions Communications, which provides communications and marketing services for organizations in the professional cleaning and building industries.