The first thing we want to do is show it off – whether it be to the inlaws, the outlaws or good friends. And what is that we do before they arrive? Cleaning! Dusting! Polishing! Of all the pointless jobs invented by man (or woman) housework must be at the top of the list.

My other half will help if there is a tool involved – vacuuming suddenly becomes a novelty. Dusting I hate. As soon as you have finished, it’s time to start again. I am a self-confessed shirker of housework, and I freely admit I will ignore it until I can literally write my name in it.

So what is dust anyway? House dust is a mix of sloughed-off skin cells, hair, clothing fibres, bacteria, dust mites, bits of dead bugs, dog hair and dander, soil particles, pollen, and microscopic specks of plastic...Eww, gross, I mutter, especially as sometimes a specific percentage of dust is said to be skin, as much as 70 or 80 percent!

But why is it grey? Every time you sweep up, it ends up as grey stuff in your dustpan. Even if it is my skin cells I am collecting from the floor (again), I am not grey! It turns out that the particles of dust are so small, in fact are microscopic particles, and they don’t reflect light very well at all individually or collectively, which is why dust is grey. As a collection of small particles, they randomly scatter light through a process known as Mie scattering. And it’s everywhere, even out in space.

So, what about dust bunnies – those clumps of stuff that accumulate under the bed? Turns out these are comprised of fabric fibres, hair, skin cells (again) and dust that are all held together by static electricity to make these visible fuzz balls.
Every time we open a window or a door, we stir up and move around tiny, airborne particles that eventually settle around the house. I live in the country, and dust gets blown around all the time, and in fact has a reddish hue I can see coating my car. If the wind is from the south, we all get the Sahara dust blowing over Portugal, sometimes so heavy it is visible and a breathing hazard.

The latest aid to cleaning is said to be microfiber cloths. So what’s so special about them I wondered. Apparently, with millions of fibres, microfiber cloths lift and hold dirt, grease, grime, liquids and bacteria. These fibres include both positive-charged polyester fibres and negative-charged nylon fibres that actually attract and pull up whatever is on the surface you’re cleaning.

Sounds good to me! But all microfibers are not equal. With microfiber, you get what you pay for, and bargain microfiber has fewer fibres, around 50,000 per square inch. Since it’s the fibres that do the work, bargain cloths do not clean as well as quality cloths, nor do they last as long — only about 50 washings. Quality cloths have 3.1 million fibres per square inch apparently, and is the gold standard in microfiber, and will last for 300 washings!

Humans do shed dead skin, but most of it is carried away by water when we shave or bathe, ending up not on our floors but in our sewers. Now, don’t you feel better?


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan