The Dust Mite – Enemy of the People


Dust mites are microscopic arachnids whose primary food is dead human skin cells.

They don’t actually live on people, though.  They are a nesting species that prefer a dark, warm and humid climate, and they therefore flourish in mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, and carpets.

Their feces include enzymes that are released upon contact with a moist surface, as happens when a person breathes it in. These enzymes kill cells within the human body.

There is no substitute for washing bed linens and other household linens in hot water (at least 130 degrees). However, if items cannot be washed (stuffed animals), freeze them! Twenty-four hours in the freezer and voila! Dead mites. After freezing, give the items a good surface wash.

Dust can be controlled with a HEPA filter, as well. I’ve had a Honeywell air filter (free-standing) in my bedroom for years. I also change my central h/a main filter often (I used to have a washable one).

Long-term exposure to sunlight can also help to kill mites.  For this reason, it might help to place mats, small rugs, and similar items outdoors on a hot day.  It’s best to avoid placing them in even partial shade, however; the items have to be placed in direct sunlight for this to work.

It is estimated that dust mites spend at least one-third of their lives in beds.  In fact, some experts think that the average used mattress is likely to have anywhere from hundreds of thousands of mites to up to 10 million of these creatures living in it.  As such, it’s a good idea to concentrate much of the effort there.

To help control the mite population in a bed, place a plastic or polyurethane cover over the mattress. This cover should enclose the whole mattress, so that any mites already in it cannot get out and any other mites cannot get in. Follow up by vacuuming the bed pillows or washing them.

There are some chemicals that kill mites.  For example, benzyl benzoate, which is normally used as a food additive, can be used to kill them. This may be found as an ingredient in sprays or dusting powders. It can even be found as an ingredient in some detergents. (

Nobody has anything good to say about the dust mite. It’s disappointing to think we must put up with their allergy-causing selves with no benefits to the ecosystem. We can wash our own clothes and vacuum our own carpets. We don’t “need” mites to eat our sloughed-off skin cells. Our dead skin cells aren’t going to “pile up” any time soon.

I wish I could offer more positive news about the arachnids who live in our homes.  Just be glad these eight-legged creatures are microscopic!


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