Feature Articles - Housing
Are dust mites a problem in your home?
It may be surprising to learn that dust mites are part of everyday life and can be found in virtually every household. High humidity increases the presence of dust mites. Often they are most prevalent during the summer months when the humidity and heat are increased. “However, dust mites can also be problematic in the winter months,” says University of Missouri housing and environmental design specialist Marsha Alexander.
Although mites live in many homes, only people who are allergic to them will know they are there. Dust mites are second only to pollen in creating allergic reactions. When dust mites grow, they shed their skin and feces causing allergic reactions. Allergic reactions range from sneezing, itchy noses and watery eyes to severe asthma attacks.
The humidity level in a home can have a significant impact on dust mite populations. Immature mites can be dormant during long periods of low humidity, maturing when environmental conditions are more favorable. The presence of dust mites increases when the relative humidity reaches 55 percent and rises as the humidity level goes up.
In Missouri the indoor relative humidity of a home should be maintained within a range of 30 percent to 50 percent. When kept within these ranges, the problem of dust mites will be minimized. If your home does not have a relative humidity gauge to monitor inside humidity levels, purchase one. Having one on each level of the home can be very helpful.
The pinhead-sized mites live in carpets, bedding and upholstery. They can be found particularly in textured upholstered furniture and long pile carpet and area rugs. Bedding is also a location where they can often be found. Combining high relative humidity levels with the moisture from a sleeping person can be enough to support the mites. In fact, a typical used mattress may have 100,000 to 10 million mites inside, depending on the age of the unit.
To control dust mites enclose mattresses, box springs and pillows in zippered allergen and dust-proof covers. Wash bedding materials, including pillow cases and sheets, weekly in hot water at 130 degrees. It is also suggested that blankets and mattress pads be laundered frequently in hot water. Avoid using curtains, drapes or fabric blinds on windows. Use plastic shades instead. Remove carpeting from the bedroom of the allergic person and replace it with tile or wooden floors. Vacuum often with a vacuum cleaner that has a high efficiency purifying air (HEPA) filtration system. Replace vacuum bags frequently because dust mites can leave the bag.
For more information on controlling dust mites contact your local University of Missouri Extension Center or visit http://extension.missouri.edu/.
Source: Marsha Alexander, Housing and Environmental Design Specialist, University of Missouri Extension
Last update: Tuesday, June 14, 2011