Dust Up


It’s everywhere. You can’t escape it; you encounter it everyplace you go. You try to rid yourself of it, but it’s impossible. It refuses to go away, like Bill and Hillary Clinton. It’s dust and it won’t stay away for long, it just keeps coming back. One dictionary defines dust as fine, dry powder consisting of tiny particles of earth or waste matter lying on the ground or on surfaces or in the air. Whatever the heck it is, it keeps coming back no matter how much you use Endust or Pledge.

As far as the fast majority of dust in the house is concerned, humans lose tens of thousands of dead skin cells and hair every minute, as do our pets, which break down into tiny particles. Carpets, furniture, bedding and clothes all release thousands of fibers when they are used, but believe it or not, all that only adds up to less than 40% of the dust in your home. Most dust, about 60%, comes from outdoors, according to a study done by Environmental Science & Technology. It gets in through the air and from tracked-in soil.

But what is dust specifically made of? We know that little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog’s tails. We know that little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. And dust is made out of all that PLUS EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD. Pollen, soil, minerals, volcanic ash, road dirt, cement particles, hair, skin, textile and paper fibers, toenail shards, cooties, all kinds of things form dust. Think of dust as a sort of dirt stew.

If you’re eating right now, this would be a good time to stop reading this article because I’m about to tell you the truly repulsive part. Dust mites. Dust mites are found just about everywhere, and have been found living all over the world, except Antarctica. They are especially attracted to mattresses and pillows, which are warm and moist, and where they feed on shed skin cells. Their fecal matter can trigger allergic reactions in some people, and this matter, along with dead mites, are also a part of house dust – a really big part. Okay, you can go back to eating now, if you can.

So what can we do about it? The short answer is not much. Dusting and vacuuming can take care of particles that have already settled, and an air purifier can help filter it from the air, but you can’t get rid of all of it. You can cover your mattress and all your furniture with dust-proof covers like your grandmother use to do if you don’t mind sitting on plastic. You can seal up your house completely, never open a window, and never open a door. For those who are okay with never leaving their homes ever again, this might be just the ticket.

By the way, why do we call it “dusting” when we mean we are cleaning up dust? We don’t say we’re snowing when we clean up snow. “After I dust the house I have to get outside and snow the walkway.” Ridiculous.

Looking at it philosophically, you might say that dust is the Earth slowly attempting to reclaim its land. And in the war between Earth and humans, we mere mortals don’t stand a chance of winning. Go ahead, the Earth seems to say, use your pitiful dust rags, feather dusters, vacuum cleaners and anything else you’ve got and just try to push back. You might win a little today, but tomorrow the dust will return. It’s the ultimate war of attrition.

Dust is international; as a matter of fact, it’s even intergalactic. Outer space has cosmic dust, and planetary systems begin with gas and dust clouds. The tails of comets are produced by emissions of dust and ionized gas from the body of the comet. Dust also covers solid planetary bodies, and vast dust storms occur on Mars that cover almost the entire planet. I learned all this stuff on the internet site Wikipedia, which I access from my dust-laden computer.

You’ve heard the expression, “He’s as old as dust” used to describe someone who is pretty darn old. Dust is used in that way because there probably aren’t too many things older than dust. Dust is the best simile in that case. You wouldn’t say, “He’s as old as Spandex,” it just wouldn’t have the same impact.

Dust has a long and illustrious history. The Book of Common Prayer first published in the year 1549 gives us what is undoubtedly the most widely known funeral phrase in all of history, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” But dust predates even that. Dust was there at the very beginning of the creation when Adam looking around the Garden of Eden said to Eve, “Don’t you ever clean this place? What do you do all day while I’m out busting my hump to make a living?” I’m kidding. He never really said that. But the dust part is true.

I have nothing further to say about dust.

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