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Tajinder Panesar Kingston University UK

Dust mites need a particular environment in which to flourish, unfortunately, it's the same kind of environment that we ourselves seem to prefer in our modern homes. So a lot of research has been conducted to look at the effects of different temperature and humidity levels on dust mites, and how their colonies can be reduced, such as the use of dehumidifiers, steam cleaners, electric blankets, vacuum cleaners and sunlight.

A recent study conducted to show the effect of high temperature steam treatment of homes revealed a sustained reduction in house dust-mite allergen compared to un-treated homes. A single steam treatment reduced the mite allergen concentration to levels below the risk of sensitization and improved bronchial hyper-responsiveness by a fourfold over a 9-month period (1), supporting the concept that the prevention of asthmatic reactions should be possible by the limitation of exposure to allergens.

The dust mite allergen are the tiny faeces and body fragments which become components of dust around the house, and because these particles are microscopic in size, they become airborne and get inhaled when dust is distributed. Many areas around the home including carpets, furniture, clothing and other garments get infested with these allergens and increase your chances of getting allergic reactions at home. There are several ways to tackle or neutralize these allergens but one of the most effective ways to get rid of dust mite allergens and other harmful particles in dust is to use heat treatment.

Dust mites use their hooked legs to cling to surfaces, so they can be hard to remove by vacuuming alone. Repeated vacuuming on an area has shown to decrease the number of mites present, but it does not remove all living individuals. Therefore combining vacuuming with high temperature steam cleaning is the most effective way to ensure dust mite and their allergens removal and neutralisation. When washing items, the benefits of higher temperature are clear. Studies have shown that washing bedding at 55ºC killed all mites present whilst reducing the temperature to 50ºC killed only half of the mites (2). Live mites can also be extracted from textiles by sticking an adhesive film to one side of the surface area and heat applied to the other. As the temperature increases mites will migrate away from the heat, since it decreases humidity, and towards the adhesive surface, where they will get stuck.

Throwing your bedding, blankets, mats and throws out of the window is another good way to help reduce the dust mite population. Dust mites don't like cold air, as they need a cosy environment, but also they don't like hot dry days either. Dust mites avoid direct sunlight as it can dry them out which kills them and neutralizes the allergens. Dust mites need to maintain their water weight at 75%, so if the sun causes their environment to heat up above 20° C they can loose moisture and die. It has been shown that if carpets are exposed to sunlight for a about 6 hours daily for a month, they show a significant decrease in dust mite numbers compared to carpets that have never been treated with sunlight. If a carpet has no dust mites, and it is exposed to sunlight each day, it has been found that it is very hard for dust mites to colonise the carpet.

So it can be seen that heat can be a valuable tool to eliminate dust mites and their allergens. So airing out furnishings to reduce their moisture levels, effective use of Steam Cleaners around the house on surfaces and by using a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner known to eliminate 99.97% of particles, it can be simple and effective to avoid the worst effects of dust mite allergy. Also Air conditioning is valuable for reducing dust mite populations, as dust mites love warm damp places, and an air conditioner can filter particles, reduce humidity and keep temperatures low. Studies have shown air conditioned homes have ten times fewer dust mite allergens than non-conditioned homes.

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1.Crowther D, Horwood J. et al. House Dust mites and the Built Environment: A literature review.2000.

2. Nam HS, Park CS et al. Endotoxin and house dust mite allergen levels on synthetic and Buckwheat pillow. J Korean Med Sci 2004; 19: 505-8.

3. Park JH, Szponar B, et al. Characterization of Lipopolysaccharides Present in Settled House Dust. Applied and environmental biology, Jan. 2004, p. 262267

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