Dust mites are microscopic arachnids that live in abundance in people’s homes. They are ideally suited to home life because they consume the skin particles shed by humans and animals. These tiny bugs also tend to make their home in places like pillows and mattresses and, in fact, a typical mattress can contain as many as 100,000 dust mites. Stuffed animals, carpets, and stuffed furniture are also key mite habitats.
It is not possible for people to completely eradicate dust mites from a home. This is unfortunate, since many people are allergic to their excrement. About 10% of the population is significantly allergic to this waste product, which causes some of the worst allergies — in particular, childhood asthma.
Though people cannot completely get rid of these tiny bugs, it is possible to reduce their population. A number of steps can be taken to help make the home a less friendly place. Probably the single most important thing a person can do is to use plastic coverings on mattresses. There are many special covers available that can help reduce the number of mites by providing a barrier between them and the mattress. This is effective because mattresses are where most of them live, and they may spend about a third of their life cycle there.
Blankets and sheets should also be washed at least every two weeks in hot water. Bedding made from natural fabrics are most prone to infestation, which is unfortunate for people who prefer to use such materials. When shopping for new pillows and blankets, people who are allergic to dust mites might want to look for synthetic fabrics and fillings, and look for those that are marketed for this problem.
For children’s rooms, parents should look for washable stuffed animals. Toys can also be frozen in plastic bags for a week to reduce the number of dust mites. This may be challenging if a child has a lot of stuffed animals, however. Some parents find that it's best to talk a child who is particularly allergic into letting go of all but a few favorites.
Getting rid of dust by daily damp cloth dusting or vacuuming also helps. Carpets should be vacuumed regularly with machines that include a HEPA filter, which keeps the mites and their excreta from circulating back into the air. Vacuuming around and under beds and stuffed furniture once a week can also help control this problem.
Dust mites also seem to thrive in humid and warm conditions. As a result, their numbers decrease during winter months, and increase during summer months. Keeping household humidity low — less than 50% — is often helpful. Air conditioning also helps keep the home cleaner during the summer months.
Carpeting is often an ideal home for these arachnids, so where possible, people who are sensitive to them can replace it with wood, tile, or linoleum floors. If a person can’t get rid of carpeting, then he or she should thoroughly vacuum at least every other day. Hard floors should also be vacuumed instead of sweeping, which will just push the mites and their excretions around and into the air.
It’s important for people to remember that allergy to dust may also include a reaction to other things in the dust or the air. Cigarette smoke or pet dander, for example, tend to make people sick as often as dust mites.