What is dust made from?

dustingWipe a finger across any rarely used household surface and the chances are your finger will pick up a fine coating of dust (at least in my house!). Look around and you can find the stuff everywhere – from the particles that dance in the sunlight to the fine layer of grime that’s coating the TV screen.

The ingredients to make dust can come from lots of places and like most things to do with cleaning – you just can’t avoid it! When everyday objects such as shoes, rocks, plants, and your clothes get old and begin to break down, they release very tiny pieces of themselves into the air. These microscopic fragments can be blown through the air and eventually settle on the ground clumping together to form dust. Since most objects around you are degrading and falling apart, dust production is a never-ending process (a bit like the cleaning!).

Of course it’s slightly more complicated than this. The dust’s composition will change considerably depending on where you actually find it. “Outdoors dust”, for example, is commonly made up of microscopic pieces of sand, dirt and earth, pollen grains from flowers and trees, spores from mould and fungi, as well as pieces of rubbish and plant litter that have started to rot and degrade. The dust inside our homes, however, is slightly different and varies from home to home. While it will still contain some “outdoor dust” (brought in when we open the door or collected on the bottom of our shoes), “indoor dust” contains fragments of dead skin that we naturally shed, as well as fabric from rugs, clothing and upholstery… and maybe even small bits of food.

The dust inside our homes often contains dead dust mites. This can trigger an allergy in some people, making regular cleaning more than just a chore but a necessary task. And while ensuring that our homes are relatively-dust free might be annoying, spare a thought for NASA’s office of planetary protection. They are responsible for making sure that every satellite, rover and probe they send into space is practically dust and microbe-free to prevent accidental contamination of the intended target in space. Heaven only knows what they would find on the moon had had I been given the job of cleaning the Apollo lander. (Last night’s pizza? – Ed)

Answer by Nathan Beal

Photo Credit: Chiot’s Run via Compfight cc

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Article by Nathan Beal

December 5, 2014

Nathan is currently in the throes of a PhD in Computational Chemistry at the University of Manchester. When he’s not behind a computer, he’s outside enjoying the sights of the city. A fan of The Walking Dead, he has a strange apathy to all things football-related.

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2 thoughts on “What is dust made from?”

  1. Most people have probably been told by that weird kid in grade school that dust was made from dead skin. I know I was and it freaked me out back then. However, it is really a natural thing and like you said dust can be made of just about anything. For example, most of the dust in my shop is wood from sawdust. Not really all that gross, especially if you are good about cleaning it up. That is the only part I don’t like, the fact that I will always have to dust.

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