Dust mites are known by different names to some people – bed mites, house mites, dust bugs, and more – but they are always a nuisance regardless of how you call them. These microscopic organisms may be invisible to the naked eye but they can cause a myriad of respiratory issues. An allergic reaction to dust mites includes coughing, sneezing, allergic perennial rhinitis (runny nose), eye redness, sore throat, and more, plus they can also worsen your asthma and other preexisting respiratory conditions.
The dust mites symptoms are unfortunately often mistaken with signs of other conditions which causes them to be overlooked. That, together with the fact that s dust mite allergy reaction can range from severe to mild, results in thousands of households that are left needlessly infested with dust mites.
In this article:
- Signs of dust mites
- Dust mite identification
- Primary control steps – Sanitation
- Dust mite control methods
- Hiring a professional dust mite exterminator
- Prevention steps to avoid a future infestation
Signs of dust mites
Finding house dust mite signs in your home can be tricky at times because they are often mistaken with other problems. Additionally, a lot of people attribute the signs of dust mites to mere dust and don’t realize that there’s more going on. There are lots of signs of dust mite presence that sites such as the Mayo Clinic point out so let’s try to summarize them here – to properly identify the presence of dust mites in your home you’ll need to pay attention to several things:
- Perennial rhinitis or runny nose
- Itchy nose
- Congested nose
- Swollen eyes and skin around them
- Red or itchy eyes
- Facial pain
- Coarse throat
Most of these seem mild but they are annoying irritations nonetheless. A lot of them can have drastic effects on the quality of your sleep (and of those around you) which in turn can have its own set of unfortunate health consequences. Still, because of their mild expression, most of these symptoms are often left unanswered. However, there is a whole other set of dust mite allergy symptoms that are significantly more severe, particularly when they are contributing to an already existing asthma or another respiratory condition:
- Difficulty breathing
- Audible whistling when breathing
- Chest tightness and/or pain
- Insufficient breath and severe coughing
- A significant worsening of other respiratory problems such as colds or the flu.
This second set of symptoms is not just unpleasant but can lead to significant health problems and is more than enough reason to address your dust mite problems immediately.
Dust mite identification
Proper dust mite identification is the first vital step to dealing with these pesky critters. However, it’s often complicated by the small dust mites size and the fact that there are not many good ways for how to see dust mites. To properly execute an effective dust mite allergy treatment you’ll first need to know where they live, what causes dust mites and how to find them. To get rid of dust mites you’ll first need to get to know them.
Dust mite characteristics
As dust mites are invisible to the naked eye there’s little reason to try and “see” them. Not to mention that when they can become so numerous in the right conditions that you really wouldn’t want to “see” them. It is worth it to spend a minute on their appearance nonetheless so that you know what you’re dealing with.
A part of the arachnid family, dust mites are actually close relatives to fleas and ticks even though they are much smaller. Unlike fleas and ticks, dust mites also don’t feed on our blood. Instead, they feed on the dead skin we’re shedding every day and which comprises a significant percentage of household dust. This is why you really won’t see any dust mite bites or a dust mite allergy rash on your body. If you do see bites they are from another insect such as bed bugs or mosquitoes.
If you’re wondering just how small dust mites are they are less than half a millimeter in length. In other words, while they can technically be seen with a naked eye, it’s really hard to do and not worth bothering with. Additionally, they have light-colored bodies which blend really well with standard beddings and makes them even harder to spot. They have oval and wingless bodies so they don’t really fly but that doesn’t really hamper their ability to spread all around your home in a manner of weeks.
The typical lifespan of a dust mite is about 2 months. A female dust mite will lay 1 to 3 eggs at once every single day. These dust mite eggs take between 6 and 12 days to hatch into a dust mite larvae. The larvae go through two nymph stages before growing into an adult. In this process, the dust mite nymph will shed its skin and said skin, together with the rest of the dust mite waste, goes into the dust and air that we breathe in.
What causes dust mites?
The causes of a standard dust mites infestation are two:
Bringing dust mites home yourself
Dust mites don’t enter our homes the way mosquitoes or roaches do. As microscopic and wingless insects they instead hitch rides on us and enter our homes this way. You can get dust mites on your clothes from any other home, hotel, public transport, restaurant, movie theatre or other similar places. There are ways to prevent this such as using protective dust covers on your luggage and washing your clothes when you get home, but chances are that some dust mites will enter your household every once in a while.
Giving dust mites welcoming conditions to breed in
This is the main reason why so many households are constantly infested with dust mites – we tend to give them a great living and breeding environment. A dust mite needs several things to thrive:
- Ample food source. As dust mites feed on the dead skin that’s in household dust, leaving enough dust laying around is a great way to make your home welcoming to dust mites.
- The right temperature levels. Dust mites thrive in temperatures of around 20 and 25 degrees Celsius (or 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit) as sources such as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America point out. Dust mites don’t really spread well in temperatures above or below this range but, unfortunately, these are the temperatures which we prefer as well, so there isn’t much to be done here.
- Humidity. This is a major factor that often gets overlooked. As dust mites are comprised of about 75% water and they need to keep this balance in check to survive, lowering the humidity in your home is a good way to make it unwelcoming for dust mites. 50% to 70% humidity is the preferred humidity range for these critters so if you can lower your home’s humidity below 50% with an AC unit or a dehumidifier this is a great prevention method against dust mites.
- Lack of direct sunlight. Sunlight is very effective at dehydrating dust mites to death so they don’t really thrive in well-lit areas and homes.
Common dust mite living places
So, where in your home exactly can you expect to find dust mites?
- Dust mites in bed and bedding. Finding dust mites in mattresses is among the most common things once you start looking for them. Dust mites in pillows are a common occurrence as well. That’s because our beds offer everything a dust mite needs to survive – lots of dead skin and dust, warmth, decent humidity, and lack of direct sunlight. This is why dust mite mattress protector and cover items are a great tool for dust mite prevention.
- Dust mites in upholstered furniture. For many of the same reasons, upholstered furniture is a great breeding ground for dust mites as well.
- Dust mites in soft stuffed toys. Your kid’s plush toys can easily be filled with dust and dust mites. That’s why it’s important to always buy toys that are washable and to wash them frequently.
- Dust mites in carpets and drapes. Thick carpets often house a lot of dust mites if they are not washed often enough. Curtains and drapes can also house dust mites, especially if they are thick enough to block sunlight sufficiently.
- Dust mites in clothes are a common occurrence as well if they are left to gather dust. That’s one of the many reasons why leaving unused and unwashed clothes on chairs and furniture for days or weeks is a bad idea.
How to see dust mites?
As dust mites are more or less impossible to see with a naked eye, it’s best to look for other ways to spot them.
- Using dust mite tests. As studies such as this one from the US National Library of Medicine show, using a dust mite test kit to quantify the dust mite allergen levels in a home can help you to spot, recognize and deal with dust mites. Such tests are also good to use during the whole dust mite control process and not just to identify them.
- Viewing under a microscope zoom. Dust mites may be nearly impossible to see with a naked eye but a good microscope zoom can easily help with that. If you have access to such a device you can use it to inspect your bed, furniture or other materials that you suspect might be infested.
Primary control steps – Sanitation
When we set out to perform a good dust mites treatment in our homes, the first and most important step is sanitation. All the effort and methods for killing dust mites can and will go in vain if you keep giving the little critters a comfortable environment to breed and thrive in. Even if you manage a successful and efficient dust mite removal, keeping your home poorly sanitized and rich in dust will likely result in the same problem in no more than a few months.
Clean household clutter
Household clutter is probably the most ignored cause for infestations of insects such as dust mites. As these insects need dust, shade, warmth, and humidity to survive and thrive, an abundance of household clutter is the best way to give them all four of these things. Household clutter such as clothes left lying around, books gathering dust on the tables and furniture, unwashed dishes and bags of food left on the table, are often the first places where dust mites start breeding before they move to your bed and couch.
What’s more, household clutter also makes the daily and weekly cleaning of your home much harder and less efficient which can cause you to leave corners and pieces of furniture not vacuumed and not cleaned for long stretches of time.
Cutting household clutter is surprisingly difficult for a lot of people, however, because it’s often both born out of our habits and reinforcing them. Most households have so much household clutter in them that managing it can feel daunting and impossible. We can’t possibly fix this for you with one quick segment in an article, but here are some key steps to start cutting your household clutter:
- Do it step by step. If there is so much clutter in your home that you don’t know what to do with, instead you can focus on just one room at first. If even that feels daunting – start with just one corner. Spend 10 minutes later today to remove, clean and put away the clothes from one chair. Tomorrow – just do the same with another chair, a piece of furniture, corner of your home or room. In just several days of spending 10 – 15 minutes, you’ll start noticing a significant difference.
- Stop gathering household clutter. Just cleaning your house once won’t be enough to deal with the problem if you don’t change your habits. Once you’ve cleaned a spot from household clutter make it a point to not let it get cluttered again. After all, you don’t want to have to clean it again, do you?
- Free places for things that don’t have a set place in your home. One main reason for household clutter is that we often don’t have places for the things we bring in. If you don’t have enough place for books on your bookshelf it’s normal for them to start piling on your table or in the corner by your couch. So, the smart thing to do here is to get a second bookshelf. The same goes for clothes, dishes jewelry and other such things that comprise most of the household clutter.
- Throw away the things you don’t need. This is the hardest step for most people but the reality of it is that if a thing doesn’t have a designated place in your home then you probably don’t need it. People tend to get needlessly attached to their belongings and we’re not saying that you should throw away everything, but it’s a good idea to remove the things you don’t need from your home.
Going through these steps and reducing the household clutter in your home can remove both a lot of the existing dust mites and dust mite allergens around you. More importantly, however, it will also make it much harder for future dust mite infestations to spread.
Clean household dust
Probably the best dust mite controller method you can employ is to simply keep your home clean of dust. Removing the household clutter eases dust cleaning by a lot but it’s still an annoying task that needs to be performed regularly.
There are multiple ways to clean your household dust, each suitable for different situations but each essential for depriving dust mites of their food source:
- Dust cleaning with a damp cloth. This is often skipped by a lot of homeowners who just leave dust on their tables, desks, nightstands, bookshelves and other wooden furniture. As these places tend to gather a lot of dust, however, it’s always a good idea to give them a pass with a damp cloth once per week. It doesn’t need to be a time consuming and extensive cleaning and it can take you just several minutes per week to clean your wooden furniture this way. If you’ve made sure that there isn’t much clutter on it, this process will be even easier.
- Dust cleaning with a steam cleaner. Steam cleaners are a great way to thoroughly clean your upholstered furniture, carpets or floors. They will both kill the existing dust mites and dust mite allergens, as well as remove the dust on which they feed. Steam cleaners can be tricky to use as they operate under a high temperature but as long as you follow their instructions everything should be fine.
- Dust cleaning with a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. The best vacuum for dust mites should always be equipped with a HEPA filter. A good weekly pass of your home with such a vacuum cleaner will easily remove a lot of the dust mites and dust mite allergens in your home, as well as the dust which they need to survive.
Dust mite control methods
Sanitation is vital, but if you are looking for how to kill dust mites, there are multiple other steps you can take as well. There are lots of methods for dealing with dust mites, some more preventive, and other – more reactive. Most of these are effective in different situations so which ones you choose to use will be dependent on your particular situation. Keep in mind, however, that in all cases it’s important to use several dust mite control methods at once for maximum results.
Use dust mite proof covers
Dust mite proof bedding such as dust mite proof pillow and mattress covers is one of the best ways to keep your bed free of dust mites. These bedding covers have multiple purposes – they protect your mattress and pillows from getting infested with dust mites, they make sure that the dust mites that are left inside (after you’ve done your best to kill most of them by cleaning the bedding) won’t be able to feed and procreate anymore, as well as protect you from the leftover dust mite waste that’s inside.
Additionally, dust mite proof covers have a lot of other uses as well, which leads to significant diversity in the dust mite proof covers on the market – some are waterproof, some retain heat, some are full 6-side encasements while others are just covers, and so on. This means that there is quite a bit of research involved in choosing the perfect dust mite proof bedding but it’s generally worth it.
The major pros of using dust mite proof covers are that they are great prevention against future dust mite infestations. By keeping your mattress and pillows free of dust mites you will guarantee yourself a comfortable and pleasant sleep for years to come. This method can even kill dust mites and encase the dust mite allergens by trapping them all in your mattress and keeping them away from you and your family.
The one key con of dust mite covers is that they are not a full solution in and of themselves and are more of a preventive measure for once you’ve done most of the cleaning. If your mattress is already buzzing with dust mites simply putting a cover on it is not a good idea as you’ll need to clean it first.
Dehumidifying the air and lowering air temperature
As we mentioned above, high humidity is an often overlooked factor for the spreading of dust mites. These little insects thrive in humidity levels between 50% and 70% but die very quickly below or above this range. And as people can feel just fine in drier air, there is little to no drawback to lowering the humidity of your home below 50% to make it unwelcoming for dust mites. This can easily be done with an AC unit but is even more efficient and effective to do it with a dedicated dehumidifier. Lowering the humidity in your home can quickly kill most dust mites in it.
Lowering the temperature in your home below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) is also an effective method for killing dust mites, however, doing this for your entire home can make it uncomfortable for you and your family as well.
The pros of this dehumidifying your home are summarized by its effectiveness and there really isn’t much more to say about them – keep the air in your home dry and the dust mites in it will dehydrate and die very quickly. Lowering air temperature is similarly effective. You can also use thing such as air purifier for dust mites – these devices can work both for dehumidifying your home’s air, as well as purifying it by capturing over 99% of the airborne particles down to 0.1 microns in size in their HEPA filters.
There are cons of dehumidifying your air as well, however, chief among them being the fact that dry air can be unpleasant for some people as well. Especially people with respiratory problems tend to prefer higher air humidity as it eases their conditions. In fact, dry air can even damage your property as it will suck the moisture out of your home’s floors, walls, and foundations. This can make floors creak, doors harder to open and form holes in wooden furniture.
Additionally, if you live in an area with high air humidity it can be expensive to constantly use a dehumidifier in your home. Keeping the air temperature low can also be a problem for some people as most humans prefer temperatures of above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit).
Laundering in hot water
Dust mite proof covers may be a good way to prevent future dust mite infestations, but to get rid of an existing one you’ll need to kill the dust mites that are currently in your bedding, clothes, toys, carpets, etc. This is easily done by laundering them in hot water as hot water can quickly kill dust mites and remove dust mite allergens. As long as you make sure not to wash things that aren’t meant to be washed in hot water, and you use laundry detergents that are designed to kill dust mites, this is an effective method to deal with a dust mite problem.
The pros of this method consist of how quick, easy and effective it is. If you find out that there are dust mites present in your home, laundering everything you can get rid of a significant portion of these little critters.
The cons of laundering in hot water are that not everything can go through such a treatment. There are plenty of materials and pieces of furniture that can’t be laundered in hot water (or at all). Fortunately, there are other ways to clean them of dust mites. Another con of this method is that it too isn’t self-sufficient. If you have dust mites in your home then they will be present in much more than just several pieces of clothing.
If you’ve managed to localize an infested piece of clothing, bedding or a toy, laundering it in hot water and with an anti-dust mite laundry detergent is a great way to kill lots of dust mites at once. Just make sure that you don’t damage some fabrics by washing them at higher temperatures than they can take.
Hot drying – whether machine tumble drying or just drying in direct sunlight – is a great way to get rid of dust mites, as sources such as The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology make clear. The reason behind this method’s effectiveness is very clear – dust mites need high humidity to survive. Drying them off together with the pieces of fabric they inhabit is a quick and efficient way to kill them.
Machine tumble drying and direct sunlight drying can both be very effective methods for this and which you choose will mostly fall to the specifics of the items you want to dry. Some pieces of fabric are suited for tumble drying while others are not. Additional factors may be that sunlight drying isn’t often easily available for people who live in apartments, as well as that sunlight drying can be bad for some colored fabrics. Either way, if you follow the instructions on the label of each item you should be able to dry it off safely and effectively.
The pros of this method are that it is safe, effective and efficient. It’s usually quite easy to hot dry clothes, plush toys and even pieces of furniture in accordance with their safety instructions.
The cons of this method are that not everything can be easily dried off completely. Large pieces of furniture or mattresses are best cleaned in other ways, so while employing the hot drying method in some instances is a great idea, you can’t rely solely on it.
Freezing is another good answer to the “How to eliminate dust mites from your home?” riddle. Items that can’t be laundered or hot dried are often best cleansed of dust mites with the freezing method. This method relies on the fact that dust mites can’t survive below temperatures of 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). This is excellent for things that can’t be washed or hot dried as all you need to do is put them in a cold environment – even if it’s just outside during the winter months – and in a matter of hours or up to a day the dust mites in them will be dead. The colder the temperature is the quicker this process will be but be mindful not to damage the items themselves. Fabrics too can be damaged by extremely low temperatures so don’t ignore this.
The pros of the freezing method are that it’s often very easy to do. You can do it naturally by just using the winter weather or you can bag certain items in plastic containers and put them in the freezer. As long as you make sure that you do so safely, you should be able to eliminate large quantities of dust mites and dust mite allergens very quickly.
The cons of this method are that they can’t deal with 100% of the dust mites in your home. You’ll still need to clean other parts of your home and furniture in different methods and you’ll still need to employ good prevention to make sure that dust mites don’t spread again after the fact.
Things you shouldn’t use to eliminate dust mites
Just as there are some great ways for dealing with dust mites, there are some bad ones that for some reason get advertised and spread among us. Some of these are simply pointless, while others can be outright damaging to you, your family or your environment. Let’s take a look at the main offenders:
- Pesticides. Dust mite spray products with pesticides are actually known to work when applied directly over dust mites. Dust mites are, after all, living insects, and as such can easily be killed when dosed with pesticides. The problem with this method is that it’s both pointless and damaging. When dust mites spread they spread all over the place – in our bedding furniture, carpets, drapes, clothes, bookshelves, and so on. And as such, it’s not feasible to apply a dust mite pesticides all over your home. If instead, you employ any of the other dust mite control methods we mentioned and reduce the number of dust mites in your home, then you don’t need to use pesticides at all.
- Air humidifiers. The reason why air dehumidifiers work well for getting rid of dust mites is the same reason why air humidifiers are a horrible idea. Dust mites need a highly humid environment to live and breathe so using an air humidifier in your home is one of the worst things you can do for dealing with dust mites.
- Negative ion generators. These devices are not just ineffective when it comes to dealing with dust mites but they also have negatives effects with their ozone emissions as is made evident by research such as this by the International Journal of Medical Sciences.
Hiring a professional dust mite exterminator
Professional exterminators are rarely employed for dealing with dust mites. The reason for this is that unlike a lot of other insect pests, dust mites don’t directly harm us. Where bed bugs, fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and others feed on our blood, dust mites feed on dust and don’t really spread diseases. That, together with the fact that dust mites are most easily dealt with using simple sanitation and washing or drying your home and belongings, is usually reason enough for people not to call a pricey, professional exterminator.
All that being said, a dust mite infestation can easily be left to get so much out of hand, that dealing with it can be troublesome. If you realize that you are dealing with a severe dust mite problem and that getting rid of the pesky insects will take you an awful lot of time, effort and money, it may be a good idea to contact an exterminator and see if he or she can’t save you the trouble in a more efficient manner.
Prevention steps to avoid a future infestation
Given the dust mite control measures that we listed above it should be relatively clear which are the best prevention steps to avoid future dust mite infestations. Still, let’s be thorough and list them here:
- Control the air humidity in your home. Dust mites require an air humidity of over 50% and thrive best around the 70% range. Keeping the air humidity of your home below these values is a good way to make certain that you’ll never have dust mite problems in the future.
- Household dust cleaning may be annoying but it’s another great way for dust mite prevention, as well as for the generally healthy and pleasant living. Making sure that you clean your household dust regularly (once per week on average) will eliminate the food source of dust mites so that they can’t spread in your home.
- Minimize decorations at home. Decorations may be pretty but they also retain a lot of dust and are impractical to clean. Households with lots of decorations are impractically difficult to clean of dust which makes them suitable places for a dust mite infestation.
- Avoid carpeting. Carpets may be pretty but they retain so much dust that they either need to be washed frequently or they will become an excellent breeding ground for dust mites.
- Wash children and pet toys. Plush toys are excellent dust retainers and as such make for great breeding grounds for dust mites. If you don’t want your child or pet to be breathing in dust mite waste it’s smart to only purchase washable toys and to wash them frequently.
Dust mites are a major annoyance for a lot of households today. And while they don’t really spread disease or feed on human blood, they do have a myriad of negative health consequences that they bring to our lives. The first – and often hardest – step of dealing with dust mites is recognizing the fact that you have them. A lot of people falsely mistake the symptoms of a dust mite infestation with other respiratory problems and don’t do anything about the dust mites in their homes.
Once you’ve identified the dust mite problem, the next two steps should go together – elimination and prevention. There are multiple ways to kill dust mites and remove dust mites allergens from your home such as hot water laundering, hot drying, freezing, steam cleaning and controlling air humidity. However, all these need to go hand in hand with prevention such as dust mite proof bedding, long-term humidity control, and household dust cleaning.