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drsaj

Mystery Dust - Where is it coming from?

5 years ago

Please help us solve the mystery. There is a large amount of unexplainable felt-like dust that accumulates on our kitchen counters overnight. We can't figure out where it's coming from! We had our ductwork cleaned a year ago and had two AC companies look at our AC units. There doesn't seem to be any issue with the AC system that would cause the dust. The can lights in the kitchen are not airtight, but the dust doesn't look anything like insulation from the attic. We bought a Holmes air cleaner and set it up in the kitchen on the highest speed for 48 hours and STILL accumulated the amount of dust you see in the photo. Any ideas?

Comments (70)

  • 5 years ago

    Mike_home, I could believe that if any children had lived here! The home was only occupied by an older couple who built the home.

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  • 5 years ago
    Klem1, you may be right about the can lights. We thought about that and even bought some airtight cans to replace the existing. We just weren't convinced it was from the attic and thought we'd rule out other things first. My idea is to tape some black paper over the lights overnight to see what, if anything, accumulates on the paper. We have 6 can lights in the kitchen. I'll report back tomorrow with what we find. Thank you!
  • 5 years ago

    " tape some black paper over the lights overnight to see what, if anything, accumulates on the paper."

    Good idea,if that's not the problem you will at least know what it isn't. Also inspect ceiling juncture with upper cabinets,furr down or molding for cracks that should be caulked. A key element is whether material is distributed over a wide area or clumped in a small area. Anything coming from ac vents would be on floor if anywhere else. Falling from ceiling would land below but not across room (unless ac was blowing at the time).

    drsaj thanked klem1
  • 5 years ago
    is your dryer vented anywhere near there or to avent thatvleads to the kitchen? or near by?
    drsaj thanked Kerry Blossom
  • 5 years ago

    Did it show up in that clump or is it clumped from you dusting it into a pile to photograph?

    Another source of white fluff in homes can be toilet paper. No telling how it would travel to the kitchen though!

    drsaj thanked Fori
  • 5 years ago

    Along the lines of what Fori said, I was thinking perhaps towel lint (if you use white towels). So, check all the bathroom exhaust ductwork for leaks and untaped joints. And make sure the backdraft damper in the duct isn't stuck in the closed position....??


    When you accumulate another pile of the mystery stuff, I would take a bit of it and see it if will absorb water.

    drsaj thanked ci_lantro
  • 5 years ago

    This is fascinating!

    drsaj thanked graywings123
  • 5 years ago

    So, it was either a Teddy Bear or particles from a meteor?

  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    My husband pulled off one of the rings around the can last night and found only very light, normal dust. But we covered the lights with the black paper anyway, plus the overhead vent as well as the up/down cooktop vent. I had to run out this morning, but will check the floor and all the paper when I get home later. I have another theory, however. The countertop is quartz and seems a little staticky. I wonder if it's drawing fuzz from the air which may contain particles of the rug in the adjacent family room. I just don't recall the previous granite countertop being staticky, plus we had a different rug and yet we had the same issue with the dust. I'll report back later today with the results of our testing.

  • 5 years ago
    Fori, I rubbed the dust into that little pile.
  • 5 years ago

    "Fori, I rubbed the dust into that little pile."

    In baseball,that would be a curve ball,in fox hunting,it's called throwing them off the trail. Law enforcement call's it tampering with evidence.

  • 5 years ago
    klem1, lol. I thought I put that in my OP. The ball of dust is what I accumulate on my back counter every day by rubbing into that little pile. I get the same little pile on the island, also.
  • 5 years ago

    Interesting theory about static electricity.


    You might collect a little pile and shave some fibers off the carpet and take the samples to a microscope somewhere and compare them. Science lab at school?


    I found this interesting short article about Silestone quartz flooring and static electricity:

    https://content.cosentino.com/silestone/documents-usa/For%20The%20Trade/Flooring%20Documentation/030203-Static-Electricity-Report-V1-EN.pdf

    drsaj thanked ci_lantro
  • 5 years ago
    Okay, I'm finally reporting back with the results of our test. We uncovered the can lights and the vent after taping black paper over them for at least 48 hours. The AC even kicked on during some of those hours. We found absolutely nothing on the paper, yet we accumulate this film of dust every single day. We shined a bright head lamp in many of the rooms of the house last night, with all other lights off, and saw many particulates in the air. The master bedroom had what looked like the fewest particulates, but I attribute that to the Holmes air filtration machine we keep running in there. Then we laid the light on the tile floor, in various places throughout the house, and the floor was covered with a film of dust! I was horrified to see all that dust on the floor. I Swiffered the floor today and will do so every day until we purchase a Roomba with a Hepa filter. Would anyone else be willing to do the light test on your own tile or wood floors and let me know what you find? I'm wondering if this is normal or not. Does anyone else gather this much dust on their kitchen counters in just one day? My husband and I are both experiencing allergy symptoms and now it's no wonder! Thank you all for trying to help us figure this out.
  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Oh, and I still postulate that the quartz counters in the kitchen draw the particulates because of the static. Nowhere else is the dust that thick every day. We have the same quartz counter in the dining room and it is not staticky at all and has barely any dust on it, which makes me believe my theory all the more. Does anyone know what I can use on the quartz kitchen counters to make them less staticky?

  • 5 years ago

    I know nothing about this sort of thing but if it was me I would change the type of filters being used. I know tyour husband said that it wasn’t possible it was coming from the filter but maybe your filters just aren’t efficient and allowing dust particles to pass through easily?

    drsaj thanked wmsimons85
  • 5 years ago
    Wmsimon, I would go along with that if there had been any dust accumulation on the paper over the vent, but there was nothing. The next thing we'll try is to put the scope in the vent to see what's inside. We just got the one from Amazon that was recommended earlier in this post. I'll let you one what we find. By the way, we had our air quality checked by a guy a few weeks ago who brought in the little machines that take air samples and then he sent them to a lab. He sent the report back to us that showed triple the level of particulates in the kitchen's air versus the master bedroom. So something is going on. This is so frustrating.
  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Static is usually the result of very dry air. Do you have a humidity reader in your house? If so, take a reading in the master bedroom, and then another in another room in the house and then finally the kitchen. If you dont have one, you might want to buy one. They are very inexpensive and can be purchased at walmart, or a lot of other stores.

    drsaj thanked cat_ky
  • 5 years ago

    Refrigerator insulation?

    drsaj thanked uncle molewacker z9b Danville CA (E.SF Bay)
  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Darsaj sorry I misunderstood. I thought you had put black paper around the recessed lights didn’t know you put it around a vent. This is definitely a mystery!!

    drsaj thanked wmsimons85
  • 5 years ago

    OMG, I just Swiffered the floors and wet wiped all the countertops and look what accumulated in just 2-3 hours time (wiped into a little pile)! No AC or heat kicked on during this time. This is crazy!!!

  • 5 years ago

    For the counters, try wiping them with a fabric softener sheet.


    Also, there is a spray called 'Static Guard'. Might be a bit hard to find (Amazon has it).


    Molewhacker suggested refrigerator insulation which caused me to remember that the insulation around my new dishwasher is a white fiberglass looking stuff.

    drsaj thanked ci_lantro
  • 5 years ago
    I wish I had an answer for you but I just have questions. Could the ceilings be dusty? Have you checked your filter on the stove fan? Are there curtains that you could launder? Could you try vacuuming (I think you were waiting to purchase) the floor and the counter top, and then washing them down? Do you change your furnace filters on a regular basis?
    drsaj thanked Jo
  • 5 years ago
    Jo, I believe the only question you've asked that I haven't answered before is the one about the ceiling. We just had the whole house painted last year so it's not the ceiling.
  • PRO
    5 years ago

    Dust is everywhere. You scratch and skin flakes come off in the form of dust, hair is shed, dust from the air. Nothing is that clean.

    In homes where dust seems to be more of a problem, then say your last place of residency the problem nearly always points to the home being under a negative pressure. (a vacuum)

    Under a vacuum, the home sucks air. This air is often dusty air because it comes into the home via dirty places / cracks and crevices.

    You say the insulation in the attic is pink and rolled out? Proper insulation practices are to blow in insulation as it does a better job of sealing around cracks and crevices that a insulation batt will not cover nearly as well. Although a home under a negative pressure can still suck dust thru it. Pull up a little of the pink insulation batt, what is under it? and what color is it? (rolled out insulation batts are designed for placement in wall cavities and that wall is then sealed with sheet rock.)

    The central vacuum may be a part of the problem.

    Homes that are under a negative pressure will be more dusty. They can be dangerous too because if someone heats up a car before leaving for work, the home could suck car exhaust fumes (CO) carbon monoxide into the home. Given that you have a heat pump, you probably have an electric water heater. So there would be no CO threat in any of that.

    When the HVAC system cycles on, it could be making the negative pressure of the home worse same thing with the central vacuum.

    You've got your work cut out for you.

    drsaj thanked Austin Air Companie
  • 5 years ago
    darsaj, you are certainly more fastidious than the average person! add 1 vote for the new carpet giving off fibers. if you walk on it daily, try not walking on it for a couple of days. i also second the notion of a microscope.
    drsaj thanked sofaspud
  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Austin Air, thank you for all of that information. My husband corrected me about the heat pump, however. He said we have a gas furnace in the attic. We also have a gas water heater. Your suggestion that we may have a negative pressure situation makes sense. But what can we do about it? I will also point out that we have cold air that blows through some of the outlets of the master bathroom in the winter, especially when the heat kicks on. Is that related to negative pressure or a different situation entirely? I recently put foam inserts in those outlets and plugged them with the plastic safety protectors.

  • 5 years ago

    Darsaj, the dust collected in the second photo looks like it is a different color than the dust in the first photo. Is this true or just a trick of the camera and lighting?

    drsaj thanked ci_lantro
  • 5 years ago
    Ci_lantro, you're correct. The first photo I posted was the dust with the air cleaner in the room. The subsequent photo was after the air cleaner was removed and put back in the master bedroom.
  • PRO
    5 years ago

    darsaj ---yes, if you notice air coming thru sockets and fixtures in a room or in some cases the whole home... that room or room(s) are under a negative pressure. Really bad if you can feel it.

    With the mentioning that your appliances are gas this makes the situation worse, because depending on how those gas flues are run, and where those appliances are located within the home the negative pressure the home goes under can cause flue gasses from water heater and furnace to be pulled into the home.

    That is not a good situation. The other thing is combustion air for complete combustion of those appliances. If the furnace or water heater does not burn completely due to the lack of air (air being sucked elsewhere in the home), you have the recipe to create carbon monoxide.

    Under normal operation your furnace and water heater create carbon dioxide. The difference between these two gasses is 1 molecule of oxygen. (CO - CO2 --- for those of you who took chemistry) -- lack of air = less oxygen and therefore incomplete combustion.

    First thing you should do is pick up some carbon monoxide detectors and place them around the home especially in bedrooms. After that you need to explore what is causing the home to go under a negative pressure. (IE a vacuum)

    Typically a home under negative pressure is due to attic fans, HVAC system, central vacuum or exhaust fans. To create the vacuum something is causing it -mechanical.

    Additionally inserts in fixtures (wall sockets and such) will just make the air find another crack and typically create a bigger vacuum. This is a complicated subject to say the least.

    drsaj thanked Austin Air Companie
  • 5 years ago

    The can lights in the kitchen are not airtight, but the dust doesn't look anything like insulation from the attic.


    New theory. Since you're seeing more particulates in the air in the kitchen, I'm wondering if those cans are acting like a bunch of small chimneys. All of the particulates afloat in the house are being drawn into the kitchen and, as the warm air rises and is drawn out via the can light 'chimneys', the heavier suspended particulates fall and end up on the floor and counters?


    I would pull the trim off a couple of the lights to inspect how tightly the cans fit to the drywall. Often the holes are quite a bit oversized--sloppy installations. As well are the cans themselves being really leaky.


    A solution might rest in removing all of the cans and installing insulation contact rated integrated LED recessed lighting. And filling oversized holes with fireblock spray foam on the attic side...

    drsaj thanked ci_lantro
  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Austin Air, my husband is currently up in the attic checking the duct work to see if he can find anything there. We do not have attic fans. We've had both our HVAC systems inspected by two different AC companies and they could find nothing wrong. The strange thing today is that we turned on the fan and the heat before my husband went into the attic and no air was blowing out of the outlets as usual. We're wondering why it happens some times and not other times. We have a carbon monoxide alarm in our master bedroom, but I read somewhere that the sensors in them only last about 7 years so we should probably replace this one. My husband just came out of the attic and said he couldn't find anything. Now he's trying to explain to me how all homes will have some level of negative pressure and that it's just the way our home was built and there's no way to correct it except to create positive pressure by bringing in outdoor air through a fresh air vent. He said that would, however, increase our heating and cooling bills. This isn't something I'd like, either.

  • 5 years ago

    "I don't know what to do next."

    It might stay a mystery forever.

    Actually the amount of dust you're getting, even in the kitchen, is pretty small compared to the amount I get here. I love old houses, but most of them carry an epic load of grime inside the walls and above the ceilings. This is especially true of houses that once had coal heat. No matter what you patch and seal up, it always filters out. So I guarantee that I have WAY more dust than you do. :)

    You might try having a Cottrell (electrostatic) precipitator installed on your hvac system.

    Otherwise, unless it seems to be affecting your health, I wouldn't worry about it.

    drsaj thanked DavidR
  • 5 years ago

    You said that the heating unit is located in the attic. Where are the return air vents located? In the ceiling? Or near the floor? What rooms are they located?


    About air not blowing through the outlets. You did say that you put foam sealers on the outlets recently.

    drsaj thanked ci_lantro
  • PRO
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Do you see the dust in the air before it accumulates on the counter in the kitchen?

    These kinds of problems are difficult to solve. Negative pressures with in the home can be created by mechanical things in the home in combination with what the home dweller is doing.

    When you close off one bedroom (by shutting that large damper leading in to that bedroom --- some refer to this as a door.) What happens?

    What happens to that room if it's over supplied with air from the HVAC system?

    If the room is under supplied?

    An HVAC system works by air flow. Air in equals air out. If the draw of the HVAC return is so great what does this do to surrounding areas with in the home. The HVAC blower that pulls air thru the return only knows to do one thing: Keep pulling / moving air. Air takes the path of least resistance.

    If you are blowing one room up full of air that room is over supplied --- air is pushed out of that room --- under the door, thru the sockets, cracks in the windows --- where ever the air can escape. Can you see that?

    If you are under supplying a room --- that room is attempting to get air any way it can (under the door) thru cracks in windows, thru light sockets and so on. Can you see that?

    If you have exhaust (kitchen exhaust, bath exhaust) and the fan is over sized for the amount of air in the room... what are you doing? Remember air in equals air out to a fan.

    If you have a central vacuum, it sucks air. Air in equals air out. Is it only sucking air from the attachment to the hose? The dust and dirt that it sucks up is deposited where? when was it cleaned out? Is there a leak in this system?

    Dryer vent: run the dryer several times a week, never give it a thought to clean out or inspect that exhaust vent. A harbinger of dust from the clothes you wash.

    Remember these are not easy problems to solve. No two homes are alike. Did the previous owner do something that has made these problems or are your actions within the home causing them?

    Yes, carbon monoxide sensors go bad after so many years. Like anything else they wear out too even though all the do is sit in room most of the time. So if it's been that long replace it with a new one.

    drsaj thanked Austin Air Companie
  • 5 years ago

    In 2009, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), began requiring an end-of-life warning to alert homeowners when their carbon monoxide alarm has reached the end of its useful life. When the end of life is reached the alarm begins chirping. Installing new batteries does not stop the chirp. When that happens it is time to replace the alarm. Most of the Kidde carbon monoxide alarms have a 10 year life.

    drsaj thanked mike_home
  • 5 years ago

    Ci_lantro, I used the foam and plastic protectors on 2 outlets where we felt the most air blowing. There is still a little air blowing out the sides, but now we feel more air blowing out nearby outlets where I didn't put the foam and protectors. The intakes are in the ceiling. One is on the kitchen side and the other is on the master bedroom side.

  • 5 years ago

    Austin Air, we did a simple test today by opening up a door to the outside while the heat was blowing. I held my hand over an outlet that was blowing air before the door was opened. As soon as the door was opened, the outlet stopped blowing air. My husband thinks the answer to the negative pressure is to install something like this:

    https://youtu.be/ssl5RL187kU

    It makes sense to me. Can you recommend a good fresh air system?

  • 5 years ago

    Do you have a portable humidifier running? Using tap water can cause white dust that settles out everywhere that the humidified air can get to. Had a similar problem to yours, changed to distilled water and no more dust.

    drsaj thanked Mike C
  • 5 years ago

    Mike, no we haven't been running a humidifier.

  • PRO
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    The problem with fresh air systems like those shown in the video is that it's not always a good idea to let in outside air. The air you let in is typically dusty, pollen and worse yet extremely humid.

    If you watched the entire video you posted and listened closely the guy in the video says he has his tied to a whole house dehumidifier that will dehumidify the air that comes in and on top of that this air is filtered.

    So if you don't do those two things, it probably won't work like you think it will. (So much for good and cheap--- but those are click bait videos on you tube --- he's looking for views and 'good and cheap' is what sells viewership.)

    If you don't correct the this problem, you'll just develop another problem with something else.

    Good and Cheap Fresh Air System: Additionally there's nothing cheaper than just opening a window. (oh, the agony!) Open the window, shut the window, crack the window. That's just too insane. Yeah we live in a world where everything must be done for us, right now and dirt cheap. (good luck with that after the hype subsides to reality.)

    If you install a whole house dehumidifier as the guy in the video has done, you now have yet another appliance to maintain and service periodically, not to mention increased utility cost. Those expenses never go away.

    Remember a solution, is solving the whole problem. Not whisking it away for something good and cheap. You can try it, but I think there will be some new problem that will require additional 'good and cheap' fixes.

    drsaj thanked Austin Air Companie
  • 5 years ago

    Austin Air, we live in the dusty and hot southwest, but I have recently been able to open my doors and windows. Today is a beautiful, sunny day with 73 degrees. My husband says that our previous semi-custom home, built in 2007, had a fresh air system already built into the duct work and he believes that most new homes here have them already installed. I think the guy on YouTube described the fresh air system as able to filter dust and pollen. When I asked for a recommendation for a fresh air system, the only qualifier was, "good," not "cheap." We do not need a dehumidifier; in fact, we could use a humidifier because our air is so dry here most of the year. Do you think an insulation company could give us any answers?

  • PRO
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    I doubt it on the insulation company thought --- you can look, but what you're dealing with in your situation is a more specialized type problem.

    The system described in the video is more or less a damper duct with controls that open and close it determined by settings on a controller. (It doesn't include any filtration)

    In order to filter this incoming air, that is all depending on how you attach it to your HVAC system and that there is a filter downstream from the point in which this damper control is installed (before this fresh air reaches the equipment, other wise your Evaporator coil becomes the filter --- which will lead to costly repair bills up to and including possible replacement.)

    Additionally, being it a hot climate, even without humidity problems --- there are hurdles, because you are adding an additional load to the structure that was not accounted for in the AC load of the structure. --- higher light bills, with less cooling.

    In other words, trading one problem for another. A solution, should solve the problem... not create new ones.

    drsaj thanked Austin Air Companie
  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Taking a while to get some pertinent information...

    Return air vents in the kitchen & master bedroom. Non air-tight recessed lighting cans in the kitchen with attic space above....Newish carpet in the family room, which is adjacent to the kitchen. Significant accumulation of debris in the kitchen with no mention of other problem areas in the home.

    Theory: Probably a lot of carpet fibers that are being drawn into the kitchen because of location of return air and the recessed lights. Normal convective loops are going to try to carry the fibers toward the vent and the holes in the ceiling in the kitchen (where more heat is being generated relative to the rest of the house) no matter whether the climate control system is operating or not More fibers and particulates being generated, stirred up in this part of the house because the majority of the activity is going to be in a family room and kitchen. The heavier particulates are settling out of the air before they ever reach the HVAC filter.

    drsaj thanked ci_lantro
  • 5 years ago

    In the desert southwest, there's long been a problem of dust in the air (although the massive dust storms in places like Phoenix AZ that are so huge that day looks like night until it has passed...those are relatively new in size/frequency and science data indicates the region's dust inundation is worse than what was seen in the central/southern plains Dust Bowl period of the 1930's). It's a matter of prolonged severe drought killing plant life with even the deepest of roots in the ground, leaving nothing to keep the soil from being blown away by the winds.

    It's next to impossible for a house to be 100% air-tight, and dust can get in through the tiniest of cracks and crevices, not to mention any time you open a door to the outside. How often do you vacuum and dust the entire home? I know it's not terribly fun to clean, but those of us who lack the funds to pay someone to clean our house (or simply have decided to use them for other budget priorities instead of paying someone to clean our house) are responsible for doing the various tasks involved in cleaning our home(s). It may only seem like the accumulation of dust is limited to the kitchen, while soft surfaces such as carpet and upholstered furniture gather just as much if not more - accumulating dust that something as normal as walking around the room can grind down into the carpet fibers, so there's that possibility. A vacuum (even a Dyson if you don't regularly rinse the machine's 'on board' filters and allow them to fully dry before putting them back into the vacuum) will lose it's suction capabilities over time, and manufacturers don't make them to last forever anymore - they need people to buy a new one more often if they're going to stay in business! If you recently replaced your carpet, that can also be adding to the dust circulating through the house.

    We had water damage in our basement and had to replace the bottom 24" (give or take) of drywall plus the insulation behind it that the water remediation company cut out to prevent the water absorption by these materials from reaching any higher up the wall. In the process of putting in new drywall, mudding and sanding it, etc...there was SO MUCH fine white drywall dust that the central a/c-furnace filter was caked with it and it was all over the house. Because drywall dust is so fine it would have damaged my vacuum in the process of using it to clean that dust myself, the workers had to bring in their own heavy duty vac unit to clean everything up and of course replace the filter plus clean all the ductwork. The dust and pollens that are blown indoors after the area farmers have finished the harvest...those are an altogether different (and seasonal-ish) problem but at least I can vacuum that stuff off the floors and upholstery!

    drsaj thanked Jenn TheCaLLisComingFromInsideTheHouse
  • 5 years ago

    Ci_lantro, what you described is what we suspect. Plus with the kitchen counters being staticky, they are drawing the dust and fibers. If I hold the little dust ball in my fingers just above the counter and release, the counter snaps it back like a magnet.


    Jenn, I wipe my kitchen counters daily, but the dust (which is mostly fibrous) accumulates within just a couple of hours, even with doors and windows closed.

  • 5 years ago

    Using a range hood without a proper make up air system can pull in air and it's contaminants from even small leaks in your home's envelope and move into the kitchen area, ecause of the vent. If you don't have sealed combustion for your furnace, water heater, and other things combusting, then you may have carbon monoxide being forced back into the home too.


    Id start with an Energy Rater and a blower door test. Your local utility company may even work with one. They will have multiple suggestions to desl with air sealing and a ERV both.

  • 5 years ago

    Darsaj, Did you try the fabric softener sheets or Static Guard on your counters?

  • 2 years ago

    🤦 my head is spinning from reading this thread. You can thank me later with a Cold beer, for I'm about to provide you with a solution to this madness.


    HIRE A HOUSE CLEANER!


    With all the time and money you're spending on this issue, it would be much expensive and you'll be helping to keep people working & employed.


    With that issue taken care of, your husband & you now have much more time to knocking the dust off of others things!