Dust Mites and Carpet Cleaning

These microscopic dust mites can cause allergic reactions - from inside your vacuum bag.

By Ed Crawford

If you could take a close look at the carpet you're cleaning, you might be surprised at what you'd find. Out of sight and harmless to most of us, microscopic herds of dust mites live deep in carpet fibers and may number in the millions.

Facility managers and contract cleaners -- at least who clean buildings or homes that have tenants or residents who are allergic to indoor allergens -- need to know how to combat these unseen pests to keep the indoor environment as allergen-free as possible.

Dust mites are linked with dust allergies and have caused significant health problems. Humans are not allergic to mites but to the protein in their fecal pellets and the body parts of dead mites, which are small enough to become airborne. Approximately 70 percent of people who have house dust allergies are sensitive to "mite components" in airborne dust.

Dust mites are less than 1/2 millimeter long (approximately 10 could fit on the period at the end of this sentence). Mites belong to the same family as ticks and spiders. Hundreds of different species are found in nearly every habitat of animal and plant life.

House dust mites live in bed mattresses, carpeting and soft or upholstered furniture. They seek these protected environments and are rarely found in other parts of a building or residence.

Water To Grow

Dust mite population levels are normally determined by humidity in a building. Mites require moisture in their environment, and it is the most important factor in determining their survival and growth.

A humidity level of 65 to 75 percent and temperatures between 72 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit are optimum conditions for dust mite survival. Mite population densities rise and fall with natural seasonal changes in relative humidity and temperature.

In buildings -- where it never rains -- dust mites are living in a veritable desert and are under a constant threat of dying of thirst. Because they cannot find liquid water in indoor environments, their food has to be moist enough to provide them with the minimum water required for survival.

Dust mites feed on microscopic fragments of human skin cells, and fungi and bacteria. Because each of us sheds approximately 50 million skin cells a day, dust mites have an abundant food supply.

They have a life span of 40 to 60 days, and in vacuum bags -- which are stocked with ample dust mite food -- they can breed for hundreds of generations. Unless you have high filtration (capable of filtering particles between 1 and 5 microns) on your vacuum bag, dust mites that are vacuumed up from carpets will be emitted back into the air and into carpeting.

Many people are affected by dust mites, and everyone has some kind of reaction to dust. This is a significant concern to building occupants and should prompt you to develop a routine preventive maintenance program.

This will depend on the concentration of people in the facility and the use and condition of the building. Daily and weekly dusting, vacuuming and cleaning of upholstered furnishings or carpeted flooring -- combined with periodic carpet pre-conditioning, shampooing and/or extraction -- should be performed.

Installing inside and outside entry mats will also help reduce the amount of dirt particles that enter the building, which cause soiling of carpet fibers and higher levels of dust in the air. Applying a preventive maintenance program will help control household dust and mites that inhabit our homes, diminish indoor air quality and contribute to allergies.

Ed Crawford is president of Core Products Co., Inc., in Canton, TX.

Copyright© 1996 National Trade Publications, Inc.

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