The Toxic Dangers Of Dust Bunnies

dust bunnies, toxic, phthalates, flame retardants

Dust Bunnies. What a cute name for a repository of nasty things. 

House dust and dust bunnies are a combo of dead skin cells, shed hairs and clothing fibers, bacteria, bits of dead bugs, soil, pollen, and yes, dust mites.

Dust mites seem to be on everyone’s mind. There are lots of Google searches on dust mites - how to control them and how to protect yourself from them. And if you’re allergic to them, that’s important.

But there are far more sinister things lurking in your dust bunnies. Things that can disrupt your endocrine and nervous system and cause cancer. Things that are released from the products you use in your home.

Toxic Indoor Air Creates Toxic Dust Bunnies

The air inside your home is ten times more polluted than outdoor air. The products that you use in your home are the source of this pollution.

And a repository for most of the toxins in your home is dust. Air fresheners, cleaning and personal care products, furniture, flooring, carpets, electronics and pesticides contain chemicals that can leach, migrate, abrade, or off-gas into your air and attach to dust.

SVOCs

Many of the chemicals in these products easily evaporate into the air (called VOCs). Once in the air you can inhale them.

While that’s bad enough, some of these toxins are considered semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs). That means they are released into your home’s air but they can also condense and attach to house dust and surfaces in your home.

And while SVOCs are released at room temperatures, heating the product speeds up the process.

For example, when you apply lotions, deodorant and other personal care products that contain fragrance, parabens and phthalates, your body heat increases how fast these chemicals are released into the air.

When they travel to cooler parts of the room they condense and attach to house dust. The heat from your electronics, which contain flame retardants, has the same effect. Bottom line - SVOCs create toxic dust bunnies.

SVOC classes:

Common types of SVOCs found in consumer products include:

Phthalates – added to plastics to soften them, personal care products as a fragrance carrier

Flame Retardants – used in furniture, bedding, carpet padding baby products and electronics

Phenols (BPA, methyl, ethyl and butyl parabens) – used in personal care products

Synthetic fragrance – used in air fresheners, personal care and cleaning products

PFASs (PFOA, PFOS, PFBA, PFBS) – used to make stain-resistant and nonstick products

Dangerous Dust Bunnies

A 2016 review of studies on the toxins found in house dust reported that dust in U.S. homes consistently contains chemicals from multiple classes.

And the class of chemicals that occurred in the highest concentrations was phthalates, followed by phenols, flame retardants, perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs like PFOA), fragrance.

Of the 45 chemicals included in the analysis, 10 were detected in 100% of the samples, indicating that dust bunnies contain a mixture of toxic chemicals.

New research conducted since this review found dust bunnies also contain azo dyes (found in clothing and furniture), surfactants used in cleaners and pesticides like those used in flea treatments.

The Top Ten Toxins Found In Dust Bunnies 

TOXIN

TYPE

HEALTH EFFECTS

FOUND IN

DEHP

Phthalate

Endocrine Disruptor

Vinyl, other plastics

DEHA

Phthalate

Endocrine Disruptor

Vinyl, other plastics

HHCB

Fragrance

Unknown

Scented products

BBP

Phthalate

Endocrine Disruptor

Vinyl flooring

TPHP

Flame Retardant

Reproductive and nervous system toxin

Furniture, baby products, carpet padding, electronics

TDCPP

Flame Retardant

Carcinogen

Furniture, baby products, carpet padding, electronics

DnBP

Phthalate

Endocrine Disruptor

Nail polish, paint

DIBP

Phthalate

Endocrine Disruptor

Vinyl, personal care and beauty products

HBCD

Flame Retardant

Endocrine disruptor, nervous system toxin

Polystyrene insulation

METHYLPARABEN

Preservative

Endocrine Disruptor

Personal care products

The toxins found in house dust are linked to a variety of health problems. Many of them are endocrine disruptors that may mess with your hormones and metabolism, leading to diabetes, insulin resistance, and obesity.

Some damage your reproductive and nervous system and cause cancer. Dust experts believe that hand-to-mouth contact, inhaling and absorption through your skin are important ways that the toxins in dust enter your body.

And once these toxins are in your dust bunnies they provide a constant source of exposure. But there are two ways you can decrease the population of toxic dust bunnies in your home.

Reduce The Toxic Dust Bunnies In Your Home

You can’t kill all the dust bunnies in your home. I know because my mom was a cleaning whiz, and even she couldn’t accomplish this feat.

Plus, people who study dust say that some of it is out of reach, especially in carpets. Older homes contain decades old dust.

What you can do to protect your health from toxic dust bunnies is reduce the toxins in your dust and reduce the dust in your home.

Detox Your Dust Bunnies 

To detox your dust, you need to reduce the sources of the toxins. In other words, stop using toxic products.

Phthalates 

Five of the top 10 toxins in dust are phthalates. And two main sources of phthalates in your home are vinyl and scented products.

So, get vinyl out of your home. Especially vinyl flooring. If your vinyl flooring has been in your home for a couple of years, don't panic. The VOCs emitted from it decrease over time.

But, if you're in the market for a new floor consider installing ceramic tile or Marmoleum Flooring instead of vinyl. 

If you use vinyl pillow and mattress protectors to protect you from mites, replace them with vinyl-free protectors.

Choose personal care and cleaning products that are phthalate and fragrance free. If a product is scented then it commonly has phthalates.

Ditch the air fresheners in your home. Instead simmer herbs in a small simmer pot or make a homemade spray to freshen your home.

For more ways to rid your home and dust of phthalates check out Phthalates Part II 30 Surprising Ways You're Exposed

Parabens
Read the labels on the products you use. Stay away from any product that uses parabens, like propylparaben and methylparaben.

Flame Retardants

Flame retardants have a long history of polluting indoor air and making people sick. These chemicals are not chemically bound to products and are released into your home where they create toxic dust bunnies. 

Furniture is a major source of flame retardants in your home, especially polyurethane foam furniture and beds. Yes beds! Memory foam beds, pet beds and infant and children’s beds contain flame retardants and their concentration in polyurethane foam can range between 4-32% of the weight of the product. 

So, to get flame retardants out of your house dust get them out of your home:

  • For things like upholstery, curtains and children’s items check the labels for any mention of “treated with flame retardants”.
  • Avoid products that have a TB 117 label (“this article meets flammability requirements”) as these are likely to contain flame retardant chemicals.
  • Consider buying pet and baby products and furniture that contain polyester, down, wool or cotton (not polyurethane foam) which are less likely to contain harmful flame retardant chemicals.

  • Choose naturally flame resistant fabrics and fill like wool, cotton or jute. 

PFOA, PFOS etc.

Avoid stain resistant treatments on furniture, carpets and clothing. Replace nonstick cookware with stainless steel, cast iron or ceramic.

Reduce Your Dust

The second way you can reduce your exposure to toxic dust bunnies is to the reduce the amount of dust floating around in your home. So dust and vacuum often. But do it right.

Trap it don’t spread it – The best way to catch a bunny is with a trap. And you won’t do that with a dry dust cloth.  Instead, dust with a damp microfiber cloth. And if you have wood floors clean them with a damp mop.

And use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to capture the smallest particles. There are also hepa vacs for furniture and beds.

But, if you have a lot of carpeting in your home, even the best vacuum won't help much. Experts believe carpet fibers permanently trap 90% of the dust that lands on them.

Wood and ceramic floors, which can be easily cleaned with a damp mop, are better.


As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, your home will get dusty. And the dust bunnies that are created absorb toxins like a sponge.

To protect yourself from dangerous dust, take steps to reduce both the toxins in dust and the amount of dust in your home.

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