PSA for anyone thinking of skimping on spring cleaning this year: Household dust may contribute to fat cell growth, according to research presented today at ENDO 2019, the Endocrine Society's annual meeting.
For the study, researchers out of Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment collected dust samples from 194 households in North Carolina, broke them down into their constituent chemicals, and tested whether these could promote fat cell growth under a petri dish.
The answer was an unequivocal yes, according to the lead scientist Christopher Kassotis, Ph.D.: "We found that two-thirds of dust extracts were able to promote fat cell development and half promote precursor fat cell proliferation," the study reads.
What makes dust so dirty?
Turns out, a lot of unsavory chemicals could be hanging around in your house dust, including phthalates, flame retardants, stain repellents, and plasticizers. Dust is basically the accumulation of dead skin cells, dirt we track in from the outdoors, and other residue from furniture, cleaning products, cookware, etc. This most recent study is focused on endocrine disrupters in dust in particular, which have been found in things like plastics, food can linings, toys, and detergents.
This isn't the first time science has concluded that household staples could cause weight gain. Last year, another study out of the European Society of Endocrinology found that house dust is one of the most common sources of a class of chemicals known as obesogens, which, as the name suggests, interfere with how our bodies store and process fat.
This new Duke study adds another layer to the ongoing research on dust because it shows that even very low concentrations of chemicals in dust might spur fat cell growth. It found that dust had adverse effects in the lab at 100 micrograms, or approximately 1,000 times lower levels than what children consume on a daily basis. (Children are more sensitive to exposure, and the study doesn't touch on what this could mean for adults.)
So is it time to change my home cleaning routine?
Ultimately, this study is just another reminder that you should try to opt for nontoxic home essentials when possible (mbg's Home section has you covered if you're on the hunt for those). And while more research still has to be done before we can concretely conclude that dust is, in fact, messing with our bodies, a good dusting probably wouldn't hurt.
"What we normally tell people is, if you're concerned, then there are plenty of steps that can be taken to reduce exposure to these chemicals. So, one of the things that we often tell people is that dusting frequently is a good way to reduce exposure," Kassotis tells Living on Earth. "With that said, we suspect that dry dusting may just actually kick these chemicals back up in the air and make it easier to inhale them. So, it really should be a wet dusting to avoid increasing your exposure to these chemicals."
Noted! Removing your shoes when you step inside and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly are also good habits to help you keep toxins out of the home.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.