How household dust can contribute to obesity and cleaners that can help

So you know how your Aunt Emily runs the vacuum cleaner every day, with air cleaners humming in every room?

Some might suggest she’s overdoing it with the neat-freak thing.

But new evidence from Duke University suggests Auntie is on to something — especially if small children are running around.

The scary report has already inspired me to devote a couple of days in hyper cleaning mode with two new high-tech home helpers from the fastidious folks at Dyson. My mission: Decontaminate the joint before my favorite 7-year-old comes to sleep over on the Aerobed.

Dust we must? It’s hardly news that household dust causes wheezing and sneezing. There’s a wakeup call, though, in the Duke study, which suggests that inhaling even moderate amounts of household dust tainted with common environmental pollutants can affect your weight and other metabolic factors — as it causes fat cells to multiply in the lab.

The study draws an especially clear link between household dust and child obesity. That’s because kids spend so much time crawling on the floor, touching furniture and electronics and then sticking dirty fingers in their mouths. Kids digest an average of 50 milligrams of house dust a day, estimates the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and are particularly vulnerable to endocrine-disrupting chemicals still in many consumer goods despite the improved (for the moment) EPA regulations.

Scientists are calling these fat-causing particles “obesogens.”

Duke researchers collected dust samples from 11 North Carolina homes – after telling the occupants “don’t vacuum for two days.” The team then tested the extracts on mouse “pre-adipocyte” cell models (3T3-L1) often used to test the accumulation of triglycerides, a type of fat.

Extracts from nine house samples spurred the mouse cells to divide, mature, and accumulate more triglycerides. Among the 44 common dust contaminants tested, the strongest fat-producing effects were created by the pesticide pyraclostrobin, the commonly used plasticizer DBP (found in “polystyrene”), and the flame retardant TBPDP  present in foam-filled and pressed board furniture.

You may now officially flip out.

Air cleaning 101: Gizmo Guy lacks the gear to test the efficacy of Dyson’s new, second-generation air cleaners, a line topped off by the multitasking Pure Hot+Cool Link Air Purifier ($515 at Amazon.). Nor for the latest evolution of Dyson’s vaunted cordless stick vac, the V8 Absolute ($535-$599.) But lucky for me, “the nose knows” and the eyes see.

Diagnosed as a dust-demonized sneezeaholic at age 10, I’m diligent about changing the air filter on my HVAC system seasonally, at vacuuming the house and washing bedding once a week. But with two cozy house cats getting their dander up, I often find my nose closing up by night five (in the seven-day cycle). And that’s when I first turned on the new Dyson Air Purifier to check it out.

While pricier than other HEPA-filtered Honeywell and Philips machines I’ve tested, this Dyson doesn’t just scrub air particles. It also effectively blows the cleansed air around the room with a unique blade-free Air Multiplier somewhat akin to a jet engine’s cowling. So the Dyson helps to cool the room in the summer. In winter, it can also heat the circulated air to your desired temp. WiFi-adept, too, this Dyson Purifier is controllable with its own wireless remote, an app on your smartphone, or even by voice if you’ve got an Amazon Alexa-smartened speaker within listening range. (Versions without the heating feature start at $400.)

I used the Dyson Purifier, rated to tackle areas up to 400 square feet, in a like-sized bedroom zone at the maximum (10) output level at 9 p.m.; then at 11 p.m. I reset it to a far quieter 5 level. By 9 a.m. the next day, the Dyson’s on-board sensors showed I’d achieved a “good” scrubbing of the air.  But I knew it was working well even before then — when one of the furballs woke me at dawn and I sniffed “Ah, I can breathe again.”

A key to the Dyson’s strength is a 360-degree glass HEPA filter boasting 99.97 percent particulate capture — snagging particles as small as 0.3 microns. Replacing this specially pleated filter costs more than $100 (ouch!) but Dyson claims you’ll have to do that only once a year. An extra layer of activated carbon with Tris coating offers improved gas capture, including the demon formaldehyde that comes from building and insulating material, pressed wood products, adhesives, varnishes, floor finishes, vehicle emissions, and tobacco.

Wouldn’t you rather have a V8?:  Vacuum demonstrators love to suck up loose cereal and clumps of pet hair, then dump the “score” into a trash bin. But the real test comes when running a high powered vac such as the Dyson V8 Absolute in a zone that’s just been vacuumed with a weightier, corded machine (or cheaper cordless). Then you witness all the extra, ultrafine dust that this mighty mite extracts from the rugs and floor crevices and which those Duke researchers identify as the real troublemakers.

The V8 Absolute improves on the brand’s already excellent (and now discounted) line of washable HEPA-filtered, cordless V6 stick vacs by jacking up the brush bar power and run time between charges.

But what convinced me of the V8’s superiority is a new automated dustbin that automatically sweeps out the contents that can clog up internal parts, sometimes demanding extra “hands on” efforts to extract in a V6.

Yuck no more!