better to dust or vacuum first?

Should You Dust or Vacuum First When Cleaning?

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Keeping your house dust free can feel like an endless job. When learning to keep my home tidy, I struggled with whether I should vacuum first or dust first. Vacuuming first seemed to send dust into the air to settle on surfaces, but I’d also heard that dusting first allowed the particles in the air to settle so the vacuum could pick them up. Thankfully, there’s a solid answer to that frustrating question.

Should You Dust or Vacuum First: Which is Better?

For the best results: dust first, then vacuum.

Why? When it comes to cleaning, you always want to work from the top down. Tackle the high-up areas first, and work your way down. Then clean the lower areas, like baseboards and floors. So dust first, then vacuum.

What happens when you dust first?

Effective dusting can capture about 90% of dust on your surfaces. Where does the lingering 10% go? Some portion of it winds up in the air, eventually settling back down to your floors and other available surfaces. So even with a thorough dusting job, you are still leaving dust behind. Vacuuming after dusting helps ensure you’ve eliminated as much dust from your home as possible.

What happens when you vacuum first?

Modern vacuums, particularly ones with HEPA filters, are good at picking up the dust from your floors if used appropriately. A good vacuuming job can pick up up to 99% of the dust in an area. If you do a thorough job vacuuming your floors and then dust, some of the missed dust winds up in the air, settling down on your recently cleaned floors.

How Do You Dust Effectively?

Effective Dusting Steps:

  1. Dust from the top down. Let gravity work for you, not against you.
  2. Remember to dust the tops of cabinets and shelves that don’t see much use.
  3. Give the dust in the air time to settle before you move on to vacuuming.

What Are the Best Tools for Dusting?

microfiber cloth for dusting

For general-purpose dusting, ditch the feather duster. Use a microfiber cloth or cotton cloth instead. Get them slightly damp, as a damp rag will pick up and hold dust more effectively than a dry rag. If they get dirty, rinse them clean.

Consider specialty tools for hard-to-dust places, like vertical blinds and out-of-reach spaces. These tools will make it easier to reach challenging spaces, increasing the likelihood that you’ll do a thorough job when you clean.

Can You Dust With a Vacuum?

Most vacuums come with attachments. Some attachments can help you dust soft fiber surfaces like upholstery, lampshades, and curtains. Look to your manufacturer to best use your vacuum accessories.

Pro Dusting Tips:

  • Beat rugs. More effective than vacuuming, taking your carpets outside and giving them a solid thumping with a rug beater shakes loose all the gathered dust and doubles as a good cardio routine.
  • Tackle the textiles. Curtains, sofas, lampshades, and soft fiber surfaces are dust collectors. A rubber glove run over the surface of your sofa can pull up embedded hairs and dust particles, making it easier to wipe up with a damp cloth or vacuum with an attachment.
  • Dust your plants. Not only will it improve household air quality, but your plants will also thank you for their improved health. A microfiber cloth will help you clear away the dust, and, according to Bob Vila, if you want a nice sheen on the leaves, polish them up with a dab of mayo.

Now that you’ve dusted everything, it’s time to vacuum.

How Long After Dusting Should You Wait to Vacuum?

It takes up to two hours for the dust to settle after a thorough cleaning. Let gravity finish working before you vacuum for the most effective dust removal.

Pro Vacuuming Tips:

      • Move the furniture first. Not only does this protect your chair legs from dings, but it also ensures you don’t leave dust-collection areas in those hard-to-reach spots.
      • Look for little bits. Your vacuum isn’t meant to suck up the stray pine needles, tiny Legos, and other loose debris on your floor. Pick them up.
      • With vacuuming rugs, vacuum in all directions. North, east, south, and west. This helps push the carpet fibers around, especially in high-traffic areas, to pick up all the hiding dirt and dust.
      • Vacuum inside out. Start at the center and work your way to the room’s exit.
      • Don’t rush. Take slow, narrow strokes across the floor, overlapping your lines to ensure the brushes can properly agitate the carpet fibers to loosen stuck dirt and dust.
      • Keep the bag empty. Empty it at about half full for maximum efficiency. Vacuums work best when the filter bag or container is 3/4 or less full. If you have a Shark vacuum, here’s how to empty every model of Shark vacuum cleaners.
      • Replace or clean filters. Follow manufacturer guidelines for frequency.
      • Buy a top of the line vacuum. Which ones? Check out our in-depth reviews of the “Best Vacuums for Laminate Floors” and the “Best Corded Stick Vacuums” for expert buying recommendations.

Best Practices to Keep Your Home Dust-Free

How Often Should You Dust or Vacuum?

Vacuum Carpets or Rugs Twice Per Week

For most surfaces, weekly dust removal is sufficient. If you or someone in your home has dust allergies, do so twice a week. Dust, wait two hours, then vacuum. How often should you vacuum? In most cases, once a week works for vacuuming floors properly; for carpets twice weekly. While cleaning, tackle:

  • Blinds & Curtains – Use a vacuum attachment covered in nylons with reduced suction to dust curtains.
  • Electronics – Use a lightly dampened cloth or electronics-safe dust remover.
  • Ceiling fans – Consider acquiring a telescoping pole with a microfiber cloth at the end for best results.
  • Lamp Shades – Vacuum or use a damp cloth.
  • Upholstery – Vacuum or use a damp cloth.
  • Carpets – Beat them.
  • Surfaces – Damp cloth.
  • Cabinets – Damp cloth.

What if Dust Cleaning Triggers Allergies?

American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (ACAAI) recommends, in addition to regular house cleaning, to use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and consider wearing an N95 mask during dusting, sweeping, or vacuuming. It can take up to two hours for the dust to settle after a cleaning, so it’s best to do so while the allergic person is away from home.

How to Reduce Overall Dust

  • Get a doormat. This helps reduce the dirt and dust tracked into your home from shoes. Use both an indoor and outdoor doormat for the best effect. Look for the kind with a bristled top. Make sure you clean the mats often.
  • Consider having a shoe-free home. Put a shoe keeper by the exterior doors to reduce tracking in dirt.
  • Have pets? Groom them regularly to reduce a significant source of dust in your home. Remember to regularly clean their bedding.
  • Have a kitty? Get a lid for their litter box to reduce litter dust.
  • Close the windows. While the fresh air feels nice, it brings pollen, mold spores, dust, and airborne pollutants, decreasing your home’s air quality and increasing dust.
  • Wash your pillows. We are usually pretty good about keeping our bedding clean, but pillows also need a regular wash to eliminate dust mites.
  • Invest in a humidifier. This reduces static electricity, which draws in dust.
  • Buy an air purifier. It will help cut down on the overall level of dust in the home and eliminate common allergens and other impurities in your household air to help you breathe easier (and clean less vigorously)
  • Bag up dust collectors. Store out-of-season clothes or extra bedding to reduce a significant source of dust. Vacuum seal bags and garment bags are great solutions.
  • Regularly replace furnace filters (monthly). They are affordable and help keep your household air cleaner, reducing the dust flowing through your home every time the air kicks on.
  • Reduce clutter. Fewer dust collectors, less dusting to do!

Regular maintenance, a few handy tools to help ease the job, and effective cleaning methods will help you enjoy cleaner air and surfaces. Start from the top, and dust down. Give the dust time to settle, then vacuum thoroughly. The bottom line is that you can achieve a dust-free home with less effort. Your lungs will thank you.

Ken Lyons
Ken Lyons has 20 years expertise in the cleaning industry. He's owned and operated two residential cleaning companies, providing services for hundreds of clients in the Greater Boston Area.