Whipping up a dust storm in D

dust-storm
Dust storm obscures Sydney Opera House, September 2009. Image by Janet Kavanagh, NSW Maritime, CC

While innocently vacuuming never-ending dust this week, I accidently sucked up the D harmonica which was lying on the coffee table. Said harmonica emitted a plaintive sound, closely resembling the wheezy noise of a piper warming up (think, You’re the Voice, Eric Burden’s Sky Pilot and that AC/DC song about it being a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll).

Alarmed (these little blues harps cost $45 a piece), I managed to grab one end before it disappeared into the dusty bowels of the 10-year-old Wertheim. After a short struggle and a discordant approximation of the intro to Blowin’ in the Wind, I freed the harmonica and continued on my merry way.

Most household tasks have fallen my way since She Who is Ambidextrous (SWIA) broke a bone in her wrist, although to be serious, using the vacuum cleaner has always been one of my chores. This machine has seen better days, but it still does the job. The broken hose is securely held together with gaffer tape and a pair of chopsticks. A while ago I priced a replacement hose at a vacuum cleaner shop (I could have bought a budget-level machine for the same money). The enterprising young lad managed to side-track me to a really up-market vacuum cleaner which, I discovered after a 20-minute spiel, cost $1,799.

“I could buy a 20-year-old Toyota Corolla for that sort of money,” I said, “Nice try, kid.

I went out of the shop happily humming ‘I love my Toyota Corolla, aha hah,’* having spent no money at all. Instead I went to one of those big red and green barns and bought a roll of gaffer tape.

Maybe 36 years ago (or more), I succumbed to a sales pitch when a colleague sent his uncle around to sell me a vacuum cleaner. I had been telling this colleague how the old machine was seriously incapable of sucking up not only dust but hair and dander from a Golden Retriever.

So Uncle Harry called around, to demonstrate the superior dust sucking power of a top of the line Electrolux, in the days when top quality appliances were manufactured here and sold door-to-door with a five or even 10-year warranty.

I bought the Electrolux on time payment, because that was the only way to finance such an extravagant purchase in those impecunious times.

I’ve earned a few million (sic. Ed.) dollars since then and that old machine refuses to die. It’s now the ‘downstairs’ vacuum cleaner, although I’ve been known to use it upstairs when (as is a common problem), temporarily unable to source the right-size dust bags.

“That old thing still does the job,” said She Who Told Me in Week 3, “I Don’t Vacuum”. (My Dr. said I shouldn’t vacuum- bad for the back. Ed.)

A while back, when the tiler had finished laying tiles in our downstairs rooms I (without thinking), took the Electrolux out and started sucking up tile dust. It was the smell that alerted me – smoke pouring out the top of the machine. The bag was chockers. I let the Electrolux cool down, put in a new bag and what do you know, it continued on untrammelled, a glass half full version of the Millennial expression, “This sucks”.

I’m completely sure no manufacturer today could produce a vacuum cleaner (or any appliance), that would last 36 years and more.

This line of thinking led me to research robotic vacuum cleaners, which can be bought for as little as $129 or as much as a 20-year-old Toyota Corolla. Choice magazine generally gave all models the thumbs down when marking them on the capacity to extract dust from carpet.

The intelligent vacuum cleaner does a pretty good job on hard floors, although why you’d prefer a round model over a square one (to get into those nasty little corners that harbour ancient dust), is a mystery.

The perplexing thing is this: where does dust come from and why does it settle again after one pass with a vacuum cleaner? As Quentin Crisp said in The Naked Civil Servant: “There is no need to do any housework at all.After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.”

Dust mites and chronic allergies

I will acknowledge to being a little bit fussy about vacuuming, ever since the allergist did the pin prick tests to show I was hyper-allergic to dust mites. On first discovering this in the 1990s, we hired a heavy duty industrial vacuum cleaner and paid an agile friend to clean the crawl space in the attic of our 60-year-old house. After the fourth big black garbage bag was passed down the ladder to the respirator-wearing assistant, our friend declared that was one job he was never doing again.

It’s not too hard to find out the answer to the question, where does dust come from? Science Daily surmises, not so surprisingly, that most house dust comes from outside. The scientists developed a computer model that could track distribution of contaminated soil and airborne particulates into residences. They found that over 60% of house dust originates outdoors. The study by the American Chemical Society found that contaminants like lead and arsenic can find their way into homes via airborne dust.

Researchers David Layton and Paloma Beamer found that household dust included dead skin shed by people, fibres from carpets and upholstered furniture and tracked-in soil and airborne particles blown in from outdoors.

The 2009 report mentioned above came out in the same year a 500 km wide dust storm the colour of Donald Trump’s complexion swept across New South Wales and Queensland. The Australian capital, Canberra, experienced the dust storm on September 22 and a day later it reached Sydney and Brisbane. Thousands of tons of dirt and soil lifted in the dust storm were dumped in Sydney Harbour and the Tasman Sea. Ah yes, you remember that.

Random dust storms aside, the real culprit feared by those suffering from asthma and hay fever is the dust mite. Scientists agree that dust mites thrive among the aforementioned dead skin discarded by humans and pets. The dustier your mattress and pillows are, the worse the problem gets. As this fascinating but skin-crawling article says, there could be between 100,000 and one million dead dust mites (and mite dung) lurking in your bed. Ugh!

What you need to do, every time you change the sheets, is to strip the bed, hang the bedding out in the sun then attach the nifty little mattress cleaner that may or may not have come with your vacuum and give the mattress a good flogging, so to speak.

Or you could buy a robot vacuum cleaner and instruct it to spend all afternoon roaming around on the bed:

As Hal said in 2001 A Space Odyssey: “I’m sorry (Bob), I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

*(a reference to Tiffany Eckhardt’s love song to her Toyota Corolla)  

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