Different Types of Dust and Health Effects

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  October 4, 2020
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For anyone who is serious about running a household, knowing how to keep it clean is very important.

Many people can struggle to understand how to deal with dust properly, and can even use the wrong kind of cleaning solutions and instruments to lift up the wrong kinds of dust.

Telling dust types apart can be quite a challenge.

That’s why we’ve created an informative post to help you.

Different types of dust & their effects

What is dust?

Dust is small particles that float around.

Basically, a dust particle is a tiny airborne particle matter. It is characterized based on its weight and size, which is calculated in diameters.

Particles are made if heterogeneous compounds that are potentially hazardous to human health.

The most common source of dust is construction sites, farming, quarrying, and combustion of fuels.

However, in the household, there are so many types of dust that are not visible to the naked eye.

In your home, most of the dust comes from daily human activities and outside sources such as pollen and soil.

What size is dust?

Most dust particles are extremely small and range in size from 1 -100 um. Many are so small, you can only see them through the microscope. These small particles settle due to gravity, so they can be everywhere in the home.

Different Types of Dust

Dust accumulates in every home in one way or another. But, it’s manageable and cleanable if you know what it is and how to get rid of it.

I’m sure you didn’t even know that there are so many types of dust.

To help you make the right calls, we recommend you think about the following kinds of dust you’ll encounter.

Metal Dust

A form of dust that you will likely need to deal with at one stage is metal dust, which can come up when metal is being drilled and split. This can become a major irritant in the lungs and can cause issues in the throat. They are majorly toxic, too, so it’s vital that you are wearing a respirator when you are dealing with metal to avoid any kind of damage to the lungs.

Examples of metallic dust include particles from nickel, cadmium, lead, and beryllium.

Mineral Dust

The mineral dust usually comes from construction sites or mining and manufacturing. Examples of mineral dust include coal, cement, and any dust comprised of crystalline silica.

Concrete Dust

Lastly, concrete dust is a very common problem. It is part of the mineral dust category but it deserves its own paragraph. It can be very toxic in the wrong kind of environment. Prolonged exposure leads to a condition known as silicosis. It’s caused by breathing in far too much of the silica dust that comes out from concrete. Also, it can cause scarring of the lungs, which leads to lung cancer.

Plastic Dust

This is a lot more common than you might expect and can happen when the glass is being combined to be woven into fabric in the most common sense. Some people that it can become a respiratory issue for the lungs, so we recommend that you put on a mask when you are working with this kind of product to avoid it causing irritation.

Rubber Dust

A common mistake that people tend to think is that rubber cannot produce any kind of debris or material; that is not the case. Rubber dust is a common solution that winds up in the air and tends to come from the likes of car tires. They tend to hang around in the air and become a hugely toxic strain of rubber that can actually damage your DNA – it’s regularly associated with allergic reactions and asthmatic attacks.

Wood Dust

The most common kind of dust that people tend to deal with, wood dust – sawdust, essentially – is a common irritant on the throat that is likely to leave you with issues. It can actually be very dangerous, as it can close up the throat if inhaled. It’s also related to allergic reactions, mucus creation, and even cancers – while still being researched for the last one, to be safe make sure you protect yourself fully when the wood is being worked on.

Chalk Dust

This can happen quite a lot and tends to come off chalk when it is being used or cleaned off a blackboard, for example. While non-toxic, they can be very irritating and can leave you in a coughing fit if the dust gets in your eyes, nose, or mouth. It can also cause chest pains so make sure you are very conservative when spending time around any kind of chalk dust.

Organic and Vegetable Dust

This type of dust is very common around the house but it’s very overlooked. Organic dust comes from natural sources, including materials and foods we store in the house. Examples of this kind of dust include flour, wood, cotton, and pollens. As you can tell, these are also common allergens and I’m sure you know at least one person who is allergic to pollen.


Homes are often full of dangerous biohazards. This type of dust comes from mold, spores, airborne microorganisms, and viable particles.

These types of biohazards pose a serious threat to human health.

Chemical Dust

Many people are unaware that even chemicals cause dust, not just liquid particles. These airborne particles float in the air and when you inhale them, they make you sick. Examples of chemical dust include pesticides and particles from bulk chemicals.

Also read: what type of dustbuster should I buy?

Which dust is dangerous?

Well, all dust is dangerous to a certain extent, but some are worse than others.

Generally, the most dangerous types of dust are nanoparticles and very tiny particles. These are invisible to the naked eye so you never know that they are all around you.

For example, many fine powders commonly found in makeup products cause dust debris. So, when you leave a dirty makeup brush on the table, you allow the dust to circulate in the air.

The reason small particles are a health risk is that they are small enough to be inhaled yet they are big enough that they get stuck in your lungs. They get trapped in lung tissue so you don’t exhale them.

3 Ways to Classify Dust

There are 3 ways to classify dust, in order of risk factor. As I mentioned above, some types of dust are more dangerous than others.

Low Risk (L Class Dust)

This category includes most of the household dust. It is low in toxicity and therefore less dangerous than other types of dust,

While these types of dust can cause allergies and make you cough or sneeze, they don’t require you to wear a mask or use a dust extractor.

L Class Dust includes softwood debris, soil, household dust, construction dust, and solid surface materials.

Medium Risk (M Class Dust)

Most people are exposed to this type of dust at the workplace, not at home. Although, hardwood flooring also causes medium risk dust. This type of dust is a medium threat to health, meaning that there are some more serious diseases associated with it.

M Class Dust examples include hardwood floors, man-made woods, repairs compounds, fillers, brick, tiles, cement, mortar, concrete dust, and paints.

People working in the construction industry are the most exposed to M Class Dust.

High Risk (H Class Dust)

This is the most dangerous type of dust. It is associated with deadly diseases like cancer. When you are exposed to H Class Dust, you need to use a dust extractor at all times.

The high-risk dust includes pathogenic and carcinogenic dust particles. Some examples include asbestos, mold spored, bitumen, mineral, and artificial mineral fibers.

Route of Exposure to Dust

Dust is one of the silent health hazards lurking in your home. The problem with dust is that if you don’t pick it all up with your vacuum cleaner, it stays there and re-circulates in the air.

According to Janet Pelley, “Dust gets resuspended when it’s disturbed and will recirculate throughout the house, picking up substances before returning once more to the floor.”

Where does the dust in the home come from?

If you’re like me, you’re probably asking yourself where all the dust comes from? As soon as I vacuum, I notice more dust on the floor again. It’s hard work keeping your house dust-free.

Well, let me tell you that according to research by Paloma Beamer at the University of Arizona, 60% of the dust in your home comes from outside.

You carry this dust inside on your shoes, clothes, and even your hair.

Here are some common sources of dust in a home setting:

  • pet dander
  • dust mites
  • dead skin
  • arsenic
  • lead
  • DDT
  • insects
  • bird droppings
  • food debris
  • soil
  • pollen
  • coffee and tea
  • paper
  • carbon black from printers and photocopiers
  • tobacco

Health Hazards of Dust

Dust is related to a large number of illnesses and serious diseases. Constant and prolonged exposure at the workplace or at home can have major adverse effects on the body.

Over time, researchers have proven that dust is a major problem because it contains endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

This type of chemical interferes with the normal function of the body’s endocrine system and affects your hormones and metabolism.

Why is dust so bad?

Dust particles are compounds so they also include dangerous debris and dead skin. Since dust is small enough to be inhaled, it can cause an immune reaction in some people. I’m sure you’ve experienced dust exposure that causes you to cough and sneeze.

Here is a list of the 10 common adverse effects associated with a person’s exposure to dust:

  1. Allergies
  2. Cancer
  3. Endocrine diseases
  4. Eye irritation
  5. Skin infections and diseases
  6. Respiratory diseases
  7. Systematic poisoning
  8. Hard metal disease
  9. Autoimmune diseases
  10. Neurological cases (this is rarer)

Another major risk of dust is its ‘formite’ quality. This means that dust can carry deadly viruses so it passes on infections once inhaled into the body.

This is especially dangerous with the ongoing pandemic. That’s why it’s important to keep your home clean and disinfected.

Bottom Line

As ever, be vigilant and make sure you never leave yourself in a position where you at risk of taking in this kind of product into your lungs.

The smarter you can be about this now, the less damage you need to worry about due to excess dust exposure over the years.

The most important precaution to take is to clean your home regularly with a damp cloth and a vacuum cleaner.

Also read: how often should I vacuum my house?

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.