Readers reply: why do some places get dusty and others don’t?

·5 min read

Why do some places have dust and others not? Our house seems to need redusting days after a full deep clean, while a colleague told me she could leave her holiday home in Sweden for a year and come back to a spotless space. Is it the population density? Legacy of industrialisation? Car pollution?
James de Malplaquet

Send new questions to nq@theguardian.com.

Readers reply

I think your colleague from Sweden must be lying. Die Green

Purely based on personal observation, I would say that dust must be linked to air pollution and population density. Having spent 20 years in Haringey, north London, living next to busy roads, our home was always dusty. Since making the move to a small town in Hertfordshire, there is so much less dust, but definitely more cobwebs and spiders. I’m happy to live with a few spiders in return for better air quality. Lara Mitchell, Letchworth

Where humans and pets live, there dust will be. I have two abodes in Sweden, just 400 metres apart. The one where I reside year-round with my dog has plenty of dust, whereas my summer cottage, which I use at a time I’m mostly outside, has very little. There are no carpets in either. Simon Thorball

It’s there, all right! Wait till the spring sun slants across your shelves and surfaces. Then you’ll see that the dust has just been hiding in the winter’s gloom. Sarah Gee

One of the big differences between your home and a holiday home will be the activity that goes on there. If you’re living in a building, you’re shedding skin and hair, walking around knocking up dust from the carpets, bringing particles into the house from outside, opening and closing doors and windows, etc. There’s also a circulation of air around the house due to movement. Food and humans in the house might also attract rodents, insects, etc.

If you lock up a holiday home and don’t go back for a year, then, assuming it’s well sealed up and not used in the interim, there won’t be as much going on to generate dust.

Saying that, buildings are very rarely totally sealed (unless it’s a lab or a bank vault or similar), so air circulation from outside, through gaps in doors, vents, etc, will still bring a certain amount of dust into homes over time, even if they’re empty. It is possible, if their holiday home is somewhere remote, that, as well as being empty for most of the year, there is simply less dirt and dust in the air due to a lack of air pollution compared with other locations. SnowyJohn

Another factor to be borne in mind is humidity. If the air is more humid, there will not be as many particles in the air. This is likely to be the case in an unoccupied building in a cooler climate. jimmezza

Yes, it’s puzzling. Why do some places have a particular reputation for that? For example, it’s said to be dusty in Memphis. ThereIsNoOwl

I’m convinced a good 70% of dust in a house is generated by toilet roll. They give off great clouds of the stuff. Eliminate toilet roll-usage and you’ve solved your dusting frequency problem. But that would probably pose a whole different set of cleaning challenges … darkdeer

I have a living room, dining room and conservatory, all interconnected by open archways. The first two are knee deep in dust and cobwebs today, while the conservatory is dust-free. The only differences I can think of is that the conservatory is unheated and has french windows to the outside world, while the other two are warmer, drier and more enclosed. Whatduck

Once I started to ignore dust, it completely disappeared. I say that as the son of a man who got down with a chamois leather, a sponge and a bucket of hot water every two weeks to wash the skirting boards. thegreatfatsby

Since we lost our last cat, the amount of dust in the house has dramatically reduced. During his last few months, he was very sedentary, but even then he generated a lot of dust. MrCassandra

In Nevada (largely desert), my house surfaces collect dust quickly. I think it’s more noticeable because the house interior is bright with sunlight. My assumption is that the air is full of fine dust from the desert, although its not noticeable in sunbeams or outside. helenus

In sunny rooms, where small and local temperature gradients may be produced, thermophoresis will encourage dust to deposit on cooler surfaces. jcmount

True story. Many years ago, I had occasion to call on a council tenant who told me a long and horrific story about the abuse and antisocial behaviour she was experiencing from the neighbours. She told me how she had complained through the official channels and nothing had been done and now she was at her wits’ end.

I was all fired up to contact the housing office concerned and plead her case when she said this: “And you know the worst thing they do?” I was expecting something really disturbing, given the stuff she had already described. “They sneak into the house in the middle of the night and leave dust everywhere.” I made my excuses and left. JohnUskglass

I would also love to know the answer to this question, because it is not “just” the level of cleanliness. When we lived in the upper midwest (this might be a climate more similar to Sweden), we rarely had dust issues. Sure, we vacuumed and all, but mostly to remove hair and crumbs. I hadn’t noticed the absence of dust until we moved back to central Europe. It is everywhere! It becomes this heavy, clumpy thing, visible in corners or in less traversed areas in a matter of days. And now I remember this is how it usually is here, in every house and apartment I’ve lived in throughout the years.

When we vacation in the Mediterranean, however, it is usually not that dusty and the air is much more breathable. I suspect air pollution might be an important factor. Would love to know experiences from other places. kmajsec