HEALTHY LIVING
10/02/2013 08:48 am ET Updated Oct 03, 2013

Bacteria, Mold Found In Vacuum Dust

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Think the dust created by your vacuum only contains harmless hair and dust bunnies? A new study suggests more nefarious organisms could be lurking.

The study, published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, shows that mold and bacteria -- with some bacteria even carrying antibiotic resistance genes, as well as the Clostridium botulinum toxin gene -- are present in aerosolized vacuum dust. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Queensland, the Universitaire de Cardiologie et de Pneumologie de Quebec, and the Universite Laval.

"Human skin and hair have been shown to be strong sources of bacteria in floor dust and air indoors, which can be readily resuspended and inhaled," the researchers wrote in the study. "Our results show that although vacuum operation is typically brief, vacuum emissions can release appreciable quantities of human-derived bacteria. Such emissions could potentially lead to inhalation of infectious or allergenic aerosols."

While researchers did not actually show in the study that the bacteria and mold in the vacuum dust caused health problems, they noted it does illustrate the "potential capability of vacuum cleaners to disseminate appreciable quantities of molds and human-associated bacteria indoors and their role as a source of exposure to bioaerosols."

For the study, researchers examined the dust from the bags or collection chambers of 21 vacuums that were taken from students and staff at the Queensland University of Technology, three of which were commercial vacuums used by professionals. The vacuums were anywhere from six months to 22 years old, ranged in price from $75 to $800 each, and had dust bags/collection chambers that were anywhere from 0 to 90 percent full.

Researchers measured the vacuum emissions using a clean air wind tunnel, which they used in order to "confidently attribute the things we measured purely to the vacuum cleaner."

WebMD reported on a previous study of vacuums also conducted by researchers from the Queensland University of Technology, showing that vacuums -- especially older models -- can actually send bacteria and dust flying back into the air. Viviana Temino, M.D., an assistant professor of allergy and immunology at the University of Miami School of Medicine who was not involved in that study, told WebMD that HEPA filters are vital for optimally clean vacuuming.

For tips on cleaning your vacuum, HuffPost Home has a good guide here.

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