A dog licks a young woman's face while she lays in her bed.
A dog licks a young woman's face while she lays in her bed.
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How to use an air purifier to protect your pets (and yourself!) from dust mites

Pets scratching when the furnace is going? It might be dust mites causing allergies for your household pets. Learn why and what you can do.

As winter approaches and the outside temperature drops, the furnace at home fires up and your cat or dog starts scratching. 

That’s a pretty good sign that dust mites are being stirred up from the heating ducts and other surfaces and causing allergies for your household pets.1 

If so, a dust mite air purifier is going to be an important part of any solution. And, because household pets are allergic to many of the same allergens as are humans, those dust mites blown into the air from the furnace may be affecting your pets and affecting you too.2,3

What exactly are dust mites?

Dust mites are tiny eight-legged creatures – they’re arachnids like spiders, not insects. And they’re typically 250-300 microns in diameter.4 That’s pretty big compared to the abundant fine and ultrafine air pollution particles that also trigger allergies and asthma.5 

In the case of dust mites, the mites themselves as well as their droppings contain proteins that trigger respiratory problems.6 These allergens get stirred up and become airborne when the furnace turns on and dust accumulated in the vents begins blowing out into the occupied spaces of your home.7

What do I look for in a dust mite air purifier?

Experts say a mechanical HEPA air purifier is a first line of defense against mites and their remains once they are airborne.8 

But inexpensive air cleaners that use unproven or dangerous technologies, such as ozone generation or ionization, are not the solution. In fact, by adding ozone into the air they will trigger even worse allergies.9,10,11

Pro tip: Go for HyperHEPA

Cheap, discount-store “HEPA-style” air purifiers are also not going to solve your dust mite problem. 

When it comes to air purifiers, “you usually do get what you pay for,” advise the editors at Dust Mites.12

The website recommends using an air purifier than moves a significant volume of air through its filters. They also recommend purchasing a system with a pre-filter to trap large particles, and one with a motor to actively draw air into the unit. 

The site also recommends that you purchase a unit that is sufficient for the room in which it will be used, and replace the air purifier’s filters as recommended by the manufacturer.

H3: Experts recommend high-efficiency particle filtration

Dr. Noel Radwanski, a veterinary dermatologist and expert on pet allergies, is another expert who recommends a high-efficiency air purifier as a defense against dust mites for your pets at home. 

Radwanski, interviewed in FidoFriendly Magazine, offers these additional tips (with some additional detail added by IQAir here):13 

  • Use allergen-proof and dust mite-proof covers on your bed and the pet’s bed.
  • Replace your mattress and pillows at least once every eight years or more if you have severe dust mite allergies and use dust mite-resistant casing for your bedding.
  • Keep humidity levels low.14 Dust mites thrive in humid environments, but try to keep your indoor humidity around 40% so that the air doesn’t get too dry and cause other respiratory issues.15
  • Buy washable toys made of rubber, silicone, or washable materials used both inside and outside the toy. Try to buy toys from companies that use tough and sustainable materials that won’t generate airborne particulate matter from being used or contribute plastic or chemical pollutants into your home environment.
  • Wash pet beds regularly (about once a week or so) with hot water and gentle, unscented detergents without artificial chemicals or dyes. 
  • Vacuum regularly using a vacuum with a HEPA filter to capture dust and particulate matter rather than disturbing it and making it airborne again, as much household dust carries chemicals that can be dangerous when inhaled, especially to young children.16
  • Clean air duct vents regularly to keep your HVAC system free of dust, dust mites, and allergen build-up. Consider installing a whole-house air purifier to prevent particulate matter and outdoor pollutants from ever entering your HVAC system in the first place and circulate fresh air throughout your entire home.
Article Resources

[1] Potter MF. (n.d.). House dust mites. https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef646 

[2] Pali‐Schöll I, et al. (2017). Comparing immediate-type food allergy in humans and companion animals—revealing unmet needs. DOI: 10.1111/all.13179

[3] Hakanen E, et al. (2018). Urban environment predisposes dogs and their owners to allergic symptoms. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-19953-3

[4] Dust mites and cockroaches. (2019). https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/dustmites/index.cfm

[5] Wu J, et al. (2018). Effects of particulate matter on allergic respiratory disease. DOI: 10.1016/j.cdtm.2018.04.001

[6] Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019). Dust mite allergy. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dust-mites/symptoms-causes/syc-20352173 

[7] Gotter A. (2018). Why does air conditioning make me cough? https://www.healthline.com/health/allergic-to-air-conditioning 

[8] Control dust mites, control allergy symptoms. (n.d.). https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/control-dust-mites-control-allergy-symptoms 

[9] Hubbard HF, et al. (2005). Effects of an ozone-generating air purifier on indoor secondary particles in three residential dwellings. DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0668.2005.00388.x

[10] Ozone generators that are sold as air cleaners. (2018). https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/ozone-generators-are-sold-air-cleaners 

[11] Hazardous ozone-generating “air purifiers”. (2019). https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/our-work/programs/air-cleaners-ozone-products/hazardous-ozone-generating-air-purifiers 

[12] Air filters and purifiers. (n.d.). http://www.dustmites.com/air-filters-purifiers/ 

[13] Furnace on? Pet dust mite allergy season is on too. (2011). https://www.fidofriendly.com/blog/furnace-on-pet-dust-mite-allergy-season-is-on-too 

[14] Humidity and dust mite allergies. (n.d.). https://iaqscience.lbl.gov/cc-humidity 

[15] How you can best combat the effects of dry winter air. (2016). https://health.clevelandclinic.org/can-best-combat-effects-dry-winter-air/ 

[16] Pelley J. (2017). Tracing the chemistry of household dust. https://cen.acs.org/articles/95/i7/Tracing-chemistry-household-dust.html 

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