Quentin Crisp once (in)famously stated that dust doesn’t get any worse after seven years if you have the strength of mind to leave it alone, or words to that effect. While this statement has been used by a few lazy so-and-sos to justify their sloppy housekeeping, most of us agree that dusting is an important part of the domestic cleaning work. And, Quentin, it does so get worse – I’ve had to clean out the den my late grandmother left untouched for over seven years before her death.
Why dust at all? Is dusting just an aesthetic thing designed to make sure that all your surfaces and ornaments are seen at their best (and windowsills are safe from folk who try writing their name or the words “Clean me” in the dust)? While this is an important part of dusting – after all, can you really appreciate the beauty of a lovely finish or the delicate details of a sculpture if it’s covered in an ugly patina of grey – there’s more to dusting than that.
The importance of dusting is seen when you consider what dust actually is. Most people can probably guess that dust is made of bits of fluff and the like that gets rubbed off clothing and carpets, mixed with bits of windblown dirt from outdoors. However, dust also contains skin flakes shed by you, your visitors and your pets. As everyone who’s ever watched a cop show on TV, one of the basic premises of forensics is that everywhere we go, we leave minute traces of ourselves. Every time you make the slightest move, you shed a small avalanche of microscopic skin particles. (As an aside, if you ever have the misfortune of having to call the police in because your home has become a crime scene, resist all impulses to tidy up, even though your instincts say that the house should be orderly when important people come to call. Do not straighten a cushion; definitely don’t vacuum.)
And microscopic animals live on these skin flakes: dust mites. While these little beasts are insignificant, they can have a devastating effect. The droppings of dust mites are one of the most powerful allergy triggers we know, and it is widely thought that these droppings are responsible for triggering asthmatic attacks. If you dust (and vacuum) your house regularly, you remove the food source of these mites and thus reduce the likelihood that a family member or a guest will have an asthmatic attack.
So how do you dust? The blatantly obvious answer is “with a duster, of course.” The whole aim of dusting is to collect the dust so it can be removed from the place you don’t want it and get it into a place where it can be washed away or dumped into the compost heap. Dusters that simply flick the dust up into the air do no good at all – the dust will merely resettle.
The best sort of duster is a soft cloth, preferably one that’s slightly damp (it should not be dripping). A soft cloth will not scratch delicate surfaces while you are dusting, and it will hold enough water to really stick the dust to itself. You can use paper towels for dusting, but these are more expensive and can’t be reused; they also have a tendency to disintegrate after a few minutes of dusting. If you are doing a heavy duty session of dusting, you will need several dusters, as the one you start off will turn black before very long.
The best thing about dusting is that everybody agrees that it is one household chore that doesn’t require chemicals. If you hear anyone saying that dusting does, ignore them. And you don’t have to bother about buying a fancy cloth to use as a special duster, either. Old sheets, towels, T-shirts and tea towels make excellent dusters, and is a good way of recycling these once they have worn too thin to be used as they were intended.