Finding dust mites in bed and bedding is an unfortunate but common occurrence. In fact, while we are used to associating these microscopic parasites with our bedroom, the fact of the matter is that you can expect to find dust mites in carpets and drapes as well, especially if you haven’t washed them in a while. Dust mites in clothes are not uncommon either, especially if you have the habit of leaving clothes to gather dust on your chairs and furniture instead of putting them away in your wardrobe or closet.
So, where are dust mites most common and what attracts them to such places? Does the type of fabric play a role in the dust mites’ choice of habitat or are they just attracted to any place that gathers dust? And if the former is true, what fabrics are most attractive to dust mites and should you avoid them?
What fabrics attract dust mites and why?
It is easy to make the mistakes that the fabrics are what attracts dust mites but that’s actually the wrong question to ask. What dust mites are attracted to is dust and more specifically – the dead human or pet skin that makes up for a lot of the household dust in our homes. Dust mites feed on this dead skin and need it to procreate. As institutions such as the National Allergy Supply tell us, other factors for the well-being of dust mites are temperature and humidity with dust mites preferring temperatures of around 21 °C or 70 °F and an average humidity of 50% to 70%.
Why does this matter? Because dust mites can be attracted to essentially any fabric, furniture or place that meets the optimal requirements of temperature, humidity and dust presence. So, the right question to ask is:
“What fabrics are most attractive to dust, which in turn risks attracting dust mites?”
And the answer to that question is: Any fabric with large pore size.
What does that mean? As we know from studies such as these from the Journal of National Fibers and the Trans Tech Publications, the pore size of a fabric refers to the size of the pores that form between the threads of the fabric. A large pore size means that the fabric has a lot of large air pores within it, while a small pore size means that the fabric is more homogeneous and doesn’t retain much air.
Large or small pore sizes are neither objectively bad nor good – they have both positives and negatives, depending on the situation that you are in. For example, large pore sizes that retain more air are better for keeping you warm during the winter as air is a great isolator of temperature. Additionally, fabrics with a large pore size such as wool tend to gather less lint and wrinkle less, which is why a lot of men’s wool business wear is preferable to its cotton alternatives.
But as far as dust and dust mites are concerned, large pore sizes definitely pose a problem. There are two reasons for this:
- Large pore sizes retain more dust. And since dust mites are attracted to dust, such fabrics become a bad choice.
- Large pore sizes give dust mites more space to move through. Instead, fabrics with small pore sizes can restrict the movement of dust mites and even prevent them from moving through the fabric at all. Additionally, such small pore fabrics can even prevent the movement of dust mite waste and corpses, this stopping those from reaching you.
So, what is the ideal pore size for dust mite prevention?
Any pore size that’s less than 10 µm is good for the prevention of dust accumulation and thus – is good against dust mites. Ideally, you should be looking for a 6.1 µm pore size or even 3.5 µm pore size and below. Such pore sizes are typically achieved with precision micro-weave technology which is most commonly used on fabrics such as cotton, linen and polyester. This, in turn, is what makes these fabrics the best ones against dust mites and the most commonly used fabrics for dust mite protectors and covers.
With all this out of the way, which fabrics can we say are the most attractive ones to dust mites?
The easy answer is fabrics such as wool that tend to retain more dust and require more frequent cleaning. The more accurate answer, however, is – Any fabric with a high pore size (higher than 10 µm) which can include even fabrics such as cotton or linen in some cases.
What should you do?
As we mentioned, high pore size fabrics aren’t “All bad” and they do have their purposes. So, if dust mites are a problem for your home here are some steps you should take:
- Limit your use of large pore size fabrics such as wool only to things you actually need them for and use hypoallergenic fabrics with pore sizes of less than 10 µm for anything else.
- When using a fabric that attracts and retains dust make sure to wash and clean it properly and frequently. Things such as drapes, curtains, and carpets need to always be clean and dust-free as they can’t really be “covered” with anything.
- Use dust mite protective covers on any fabric that retains dust and that can be practically covered up. Mattresses, pillows, cushions, couches or suitcases can all retain a lot of dust and can all benefit from a protective dust mite cover.
- Keep your home clean and well-maintained. Frequent vacuuming and mopping, as well as making sure that there is no unnecessary clutter in your home are great ways not only to prevent the spread of dust but to also improve your quality of life.
- Keep the relative humidity below 50% of you can. Things such as AC units and dehumidifiers can help you with that. Remember that dust mites don’t thrive well in environments with humidity of less than 50%.
- If you can, make sure that any fabric or piece of furniture that’s at risk from dust mites receives at least 3 – 4 hours of direct sunlight per day as this, too, tends to drive dust mites away.