Dyson researches tech around moving dust from homes

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Updated: Jun 15, 2020 8:27 AM

Hidden to the naked eye, they are widely spread on various surfaces of your home including floors, sofas, and beds. Dust also contains a high percentage of human skin cells.

Dyson engineers then apply this science to the design of Dyson machines to make them more effective.

Dyson is a British technology company that designs and manufactures household appliances such as vacuum cleaners, air purifiers, hand dryers, bladeless fans, heaters, hair dryers, and lights. The company has an in-house microbiology lab that allows Dyson scientists to study microscopic organisms and particles. Dyson engineers then apply this science to the design of Dyson machines to make them more effective.

“For 30 years, ever since the invention of the first Dyson vacuum, we have been researching dirt and how it accumulates in homes,” Gem McLuckie, lead research scientist (Microbiology), Dyson, tells Sudhir Chowdhary in a recent interview. Excerpts:

What is dust? What’s the best way to remove dust and its hidden components?
Household dust is a complex matrix of components including dust mites, dust mite faeces, bacteria, mould, small insects and particles. Dust mite droppings, dead bodies of dust mites, and small insects are included as allergens. Hidden to the naked eye, they are widely spread on various surfaces of your home including floors, sofas, and beds. Dust also contains a high percentage of human skin cells. The dust mites feed off human and animal skin flakes, each mite generating around 20 droppings a day. Moving around your home disturbs dust mites and their droppings, which can stay airborne for 30 minutes. Dust mites thrive in dark and warm conditions, like mattresses. Beds can contain between 100,000 and more than 1 million dust mites. Pet allergies are also a common source. The proteins found in pet saliva, urine and dander (dead skin cells) disperse in the form of dust. Wearing shoes indoors, you track animal faeces, pollen, fertilisers, motor oil, construction materials, toxic compounds and miscellaneous organisms to every room of the house.

We’ve been researching the technology around moving dust and its particulate matter from homes for well over 15 years. All of our research has shown us that the best way to remove bacteria, pollen and dust mite allergens is to remove them from your home completely. This is why we focus our efforts on developing vacuums that pick up dust from surfaces, have cyclones that are incredibly efficient and advanced filters and seals that prevent dirty air from being expelled back into the home.

How is that relevant in a country like India where most homes still follow traditional cleaning methods?
With the aim of understanding the dust-composition in Indian homes, FICCI Research and Analysis Centre (FRAC) conducted a 6-week independent study, commissioned by Dyson across 100 upmarket households in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, accounting for different climatic conditions of India. Dust collection was conducted using Dyson cord-free vacuum cleaners, and samples were collected after these homes had been thoroughly cleaned using the traditional cleaning methods.

The study found cockroach allergens, dust mites, mould and bacteria present in these homes. The saliva, faeces and shredding body parts of cockroaches can trigger both asthma and allergies. In fact, the presence of cockroach allergens were commonly detected, across surfaces including mattresses. Most houses showed presence of dog and dust mite allergens, which are major causes of allergic reactions. This tells us that the traditional cleaning methods need to be supplemented with technology.

Do you need an air purifier when the outdoor air is clean? Recently, during the early days of lockdown the air quality is Delhi was shown as healthy.
There is a difference between the more stringent US EPA Air Quality Index (AQI) scale and the benchmarks that are followed in India. For example, if you look at the air quality in Delhi during the first month of 2020, the average AQI readings was 116. So while that translated into ‘moderate category’ as per the local standards; it was ‘unhealthy’ as per the US EPA AQI scale, as well as per the WHO standards.

The reason why it is important to build awareness about air pollution is because most air pollution can’t be seen or smelled. Dyson engineers along with SGS China, an independent advanced testing establishment, conducted a research on indoor air quality in Delhi NCR homes using Dyson technology. The study found that the air we breathe at home can contain large amounts of indoor pollutants including formaldehyde, bacteria, pollen, mould spores, dust mites, pet hair and dead skin cells.

HEPA filters, whether in a vacuum or a purifier, are highly effective at capturing fine dust particles such as pollen, bacteria, mould, dust mite debris and pet dander. But HEPA filters alone will not remove volatile organic compounds (VOC), such as chemical fumes, cigarette smoke or odours.

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