Dust bunnies and dust mites are very different. Dust mites are neither cute nor harmless. The peak season for dust mites in Illinois is approaching. They thrive in warm and humid environments like we experience in July and August. These ugly little creatures prefer temperatures above 70° F and humidity levels higher than 50%, ideally around 75% to 80%. They can cause diseases and are a major cause of allergy symptoms. Thankfully they do not bite, as bed bugs do, but they do cause problems by producing allergens. A mite produces many times its weight in excrement, and this mite dung is a powerful allergen. Constant exposure to allergens like these can cause chronic diseases such as asthma, conjunctivitis, hay fever (chronic rhinitis) and even eczema. If you have awakened with congestion, sneezing or other symptoms that you associated with high pollen counts, the problem may be in your home, not outside.
Do you have dust mites? Absolutely. There may be up to 1 million of these creatures in your home and in your bed right now, even before the peak season arrives, because 500 dust mites can live in a single gram of household dust. Household dust consists largely of dander (dead skin cells). Dust mites feed on pet and human dander. They need no water because they absorb moisture through the air which is why they need high humidity. Though eliminating dust mites is difficult, drastically reducing their numbers is not. Your health depends on knowing what to do and doing it.
To reduce the numbers of dust mites in your home apply a twofold strategy:
1) Make your home less desirable for their living and breeding.
2) Destroy them!
Consider their ideal living conditions. Control temperature and humidity inside your home. Reduce their food supply. Vacuuming eliminates sources of food and even some of the mites, especially if the vacuum has a HEPA filter. Destroying the little monsters directly is even more satisfying. They cannot tolerate temperatures above 140° F. Cleaning by the hot water extraction method, often called “steam cleaning”, is one of the best ways to remove food sources while killing and removing mites at the same time. Mites live on beds and other soft furnishings, in carpets, rugs, curtains and even stuffed animals. Clean mattresses, curtains, carpets and furniture on a regular basis using hot water extraction and vacuum in between these deep cleanings. Wash and dry bedding in hot water and dry in the dryer. Put plush toys in the freezer overnight if they will not survive the washer. (Steam-Green cleaned an elephant once!)
There are products available that kill dust mites. Try an internet search. Some use essential oils such as eucalyptus or lavender mixed with baking soda. Mix about 30 drops of essential oil with one cup of baking soda in a food processor and sprinkle under or on sheets and pillowcases. Two commercial products you might try (we have not yet) are both low toxicity, low odor ‘green’ products. One is borate based CYMEX. The other is a product from The Ecology Works™ that comes as a mixable powder (Dustmite and Flea Control) and as a premixed spray (Dustmitex).
Dust mite allergies are on the increase already and will peak in July and August so implement these healthy strategies now!