Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Dust Bunny Mystery

For the past several years, I've been mystified by the amount of dust in my house. I'm not a white-glove cleaner by any means, but it seemed like we had much more dust than when all my five sons were home. How could that be? There are only two of us here now, with the occasional weekend visitors. So why is there so much more dust?

I'm not talking about a little film. I could dust off the top of my wood jewelry box in the morning, and the next morning it would be coated again. Give it a week and you could write your name and read it from across the room.

I blamed my husband. "You're not being careful enough taking the ashes out of the stove," I accused with a pointed finger. He admitted that maybe he hurried too much. "Slow down!" I barked, perhaps giving him reason to think me a female dog.

My allergies often flared up, but were always worse in winter. I blamed it on dry heat and the wood stove. What else could it be? I was not in such misery at work or anywhere except at home.

He tried to be more careful. He swore that little wood ash was lost when he took the ashes out of the stove. Our stove isn't easy to clean out--all the ashes must be shoveled out through the front doors and if you do it while the stove is hot, ashes and smoke are bound to escape into the house. It's better if you let the fire die down some, but there is no escaping the entry of some ashes into the house atmosphere. Still, it can be kept to a very small amount by someone who does the job carefully when the fire is low.

Then I blamed the ceiling fans. Larry likes to keep them on, even in winter. I hate them in winter. He claims they bring the heat back down from our high ceilings. I disagreed. All I felt was a draft and it made me colder. My sons found the disagreement high sport and loved to egg us on when they came in. I pointed out that the blades of the fans were always coated thickly with dust even if we'd just cleaned them a few days before. The fans had to be causing the problem I was having with my allergies. There was no winner in the argument, and never will be. But after a particularly bad weekend with the allergies, Larry agreed to leave the fans turned off for the winter. It helped, but...

I think we've discovered the real culprit, and it was completely by accident--and it was no human's fault.

Recently I wrote about our lower electric bill, the result of taking out the dishwasher and using the dryer only occasionally. Even in this cold and snow, we're still hanging out the wash, and you haven't smelled sunshine until you've smelled clothes that have freeze-dried on the clothesline. The smell is heavenly, that's the only way to describe it. I said we, but I should have said Larry. I hung out one load on Sunday and about froze my fingers in the process--having frozen them and my feet for real as a child, I do not tolerate cold in my extremities at all, and have to be pretty careful or I'm in misery pretty quickly. But Larry faithfully hangs out each day's wash, bringing it in to the drying rack to complete the process. It's funny to see frozen jeans stand up by themselves!

I began to notice that there was less new dust. There was still plenty of old dust around, and as we cleaned for Christmas--and continue cleaning now since it's too snowy for outside work--we noticed that surfaces weren't getting covered as they had in the past few years.

The dryer. Of course. If you are thinking the vent pipe is loose, you'd be wrong. We checked that several times and although we did find it loose once last year, it's been tight ever since. I am not sure why so much dust is coming from my dryer, but it is about 20 years old and my son Aaron said that dust can get on the outside of the drum and then fly off when the dryer is running. That might be true--we haven't checked it yet, but it sounds quite plausible.

The house is looking better. Even the air inside looks cleaner, if that's possible. My allergies are at an all-time low except for when we embark on a new cleaning project and stir more dust. Eventually we will get it all. Keeping the ceiling fans off is keeping the dust from being stirred up so we can get it all cleaned up.

We will pull the dryer out and check on the drum as Aaron suggested. Buy a new one? Maybe, although that will be later in the year and only if we find that this one really is not being good for our indoor air quality.

All of this makes me wonder: how many other people are taking allergy medications and asthma medications because of their dryer? Almost every house has one, and many houses are pretty airtight in the interest of conservation. Are our breathing problems being caused by our clothes dryers? It certainly seems to be the case for me. While I may have to take Singulaire anyway, I have already seen huge improvements in my breathing--I can walk up stairs and hills without huffing and puffing except for that caused by a too-big behind. I feel better all the time. I sing better too because I have more breath.

Was the dryer really the reason for my sudden development of asthma and allergies? Stay tuned...


Anonymous said...

Provocative thought Sue. Our dryer died last year (along with the washer and dishwasher) and we replaced it, I am not one to hang out clothes, summertime or winter. I tend to hang them out and then forget them for days! But, I do wonder now, seems like after we got a new dryer the dust issue wasn't as bad. Course I would nicely tell (I'm sure it was nice) to please change the filter on our furnace...never thinking about the dryer. tm

Granny Sue said...

That's funny, Theresa! We don't have a furnace so that wouldn't be a cause of dust for us. I'm curious if others have had similar problems with their dryers, though.

Joycee said...

This makes sense. Our house is only 5 years old and same thing, loads of dust. We use the high efficiency filters, have heat pumps and don't burn any wood...yet the tables look terrible in no time. Love your thoughts on freeze-dried clothes! Growing up in Missouri Mom always hung our clothes outside and the smell was winter fresh...hey I think Glade has one of these in a spray can!

Granny Sue said...

I'll let you know what we find when we check our dryer, Joycee. And sunshine in a can? They do think of everything :-)

The Weaver of Grass said...

I laughed at your jeans standing up by themselves! I do not have a drier and I always peg my washing on the line - the smell of freshly dried clothing particularly when it has been frozen is wonderful. Interesting about your dust source too. Happy New Year.

Angela said...

Hey Granny Sue!

I'm not sure if it would be the dryer or not. I do know that if I hung my clothes out to dry that my allergies would be worse because of all of the pollen and lady bugs. My downstairs is way dustier than my upstairs is. A lot of my dust is from our gas log fireplace. It does put off an ash in the Winter when we use it. We have free gas and it runs hotter where it comes directly from the well.

The other dust we get in our house I've often thought it was from the kids bringing it in from outside.

It would be nice to find a solution to dust wouldn't it!

I'm going to email you a warning about taking Singular.

Are you ready for this storm today?
I am!

Granny Sue said...

Weaver, I like the expression "peg my washing." It's so much more descriptive than just hanging it out. I have been very glad to have my clothesline again. The whites are whiter, the colors are brighter and the electricity bill is lower. All good things.

Granny Sue said...

Angela, thank you for the warning about Singulair. I've been taking it for 4 years with no problems but it is good to know it can cause those issues.

I'm ready for the storm now that I'm home! I got stuck twice on the way--in one place because a neighbor had left his truck in the road at the top of a hill, with a trailer hooked to the back. I had to back down the hill and was more sideways that straight but finally got to the bottom. He came and moved the truck a few minutes later. Country living has its interesting moments.

The second stuck-up was in my own driveway.There's this turn at and a sharp uphill bit, not long but pretty steep, to where I park. The car slid sideways, so I backed down and hit it again. And got even more stuck this time. So I got Larry out to help and he pushed it sideways while I backed. Then we got buckets of wood ash, shoveled off the snow and put down the ashes and the car went up without even spinning. We've got about 2 inches already and it's snowing like a heavy rain. I don't know if I'll get to work tomorrow, but at least I'm home and we're stocked up so I'm not worried!

Cathy said...

I've noticed the same with our dryer. We got a new one 4 years ago and the dust is so much worse now. I've cut back on using it all the time and had Al put up drying lines in our laundry room. It's helped somewhat but Al really loves using the dryer. I swear he's addicted to dryer sheets.

Susan at Stony River said...

Congratulations on clearing the air (so to speak!) and finding the culprit. It's amazing what's in our own homes that can make us sick! For a while I was a research assistant on a project dealing with causes of chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, etc, and at least half the patients involved had developed symptoms after a home remodeling or moving into a new-build home: it was the new carpets, new mattresses, plastics, paint, and all sorts of things poisoning and off-gassing.

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