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What’s in House Dust?

dusty attic; dust in the home; house dust

House dust can contain many different particles and contaminants.  The type of dust and the composition can vary depending on climate, region, the number of occupants, and the activities performed in the space.  Researchers estimate that one-third of dust originates from indoor sources such as fabric fibers, human skin cells, animal fur, decomposing insects, food debris, and lint.  Approximately, two-thirds come from soil and particles from the outdoors.  I also found out that household dust may also contain several dangerous chemical contaminants.

In one study, researchers found multiple types of plasticizers and flame retardants in 90-100% of the dust samples taken.  Plasticizers are used to soften plastics in vinyl flooring, food containers, and cosmetics.  Phthalates are common chemical compounds that makeup plasticizers.  Different types of phthalates were found in the dust samples.  This result is concerning because phthalates are known as endocrine disruptors.  The human endocrine system regulates hormone levels inside the body.  The endocrine disruptors negatively affect the body by causing developmental problems, cancer, and birth defects among other issues.  

Research is still being conducted on the chemicals that can be found inside of dust but I think the evidence so far shows how common house dust can be a real problem in terms of indoor air quality.  In a future blog post, I’ll cover the most notorious contaminant in dust… dust mites.


Layton, D. W., & Beamer, P. I. (2009). Migration of Contaminated Soil and Airborne Particulates to Indoor Dust. Environmental Science & Technology, 43(21), 8199–8205. http://doi.org/10.1021/es9003735

Consumer Product Chemicals in Indoor Dust: A Quantitative Meta-analysis of U.S. Studies  Susanna D. Mitro, Robin E. Dodson, Veena Singla, Gary Adamkiewicz, Angelo F. Elmi, Monica K. Tilly, and Ami R. Zota Environmental Science & Technology 2016 50 (19), 10661-10672 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b02023

Ian Cull

Ian Cull is a nationally recognized expert in the field of indoor air quality. He is the Chief Science Officer of Indoor Science, a company he started in 2004. He speaks around the world on air quality topics and is a training provider of the Indoor Air Quality Association. Mr. Cull is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). His degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign. Mr. Cull has developed 50 air quality related courses for the IAQA University and is the author of the book, “Fundamentals of Mold Remediation”. In his words… “Besides being passionate about indoor air quality, I enjoy cycling, music, the Chicago Bulls, and having fun with my three kids.”