Ask the Expert

Dust-free home

Q: As allergy sufferers, we need to keep our home as dust-free as possible. What are the best tools for keeping indoor air as clean as possible?

Dust mites are a common trigger of year-round indoor allergies and asthma. Environmental controls to reduce exposure to dust mites have been demonstrated to significantly lessen allergy and asthma symptoms.

Dust mites are microscopic and cannot be seen by the naked eye. We all have dust mites in our home, so they are not a measure of cleanliness. They do not bite or cause harm, unless of course you are allergic to them.

Dust mites require humidity, since they absorb moisture from the ambient air. Alaska has fairly low humidity, so dust mites are most common in our bedding where we provide warmth and increased humidity with our breathing and sweat.

There are several things that you can do to significantly reduce dust mite exposure. The most effective is by encasing your pillow and mattress in a barrier protective cover. Plastic sheeting is inexpensive, but hot, crinkly and uncomfortable. Plus, plastic should never be used in a crib or child’s bed. There are special made covers that are simply tightly woven fabric, with pores sized less that 6 microns. This keeps the mite away from you, while letting the air pass freely. These covers/encasements can be purchased at a mattress store or online. Dust mites can also be eliminated by washing linens and blankets in warm water with detergent and drying on the hot setting.

Dust mites are more problematic on surfaces, such as bedding, carpeting and upholstered furniture. When these surfaces are disturbed, such as changing linens, the dust mite will become airborne. Using a High Efficiency Particle Air (HEPA) filter in the room can remove these dust mites from the air. HEPA filters can be purchased at most home improvement stores. Since dust mites are small, they can blow out of the exhaust of a standard vacuum. This can be reduced by vacuuming with a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter.

You can further reduce dust mites by dusting regularly, especially in the bedroom, and reducing the number of throw pillows and stuffed animals may also be helpful.

I certainly hope these suggestions are helpful and that your allergy symptoms improve with these simple steps.

Jeffrey G Demain, MD, FAAAAI, is the Founder of the Allergy Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska. Visit