I lived near a construction site for a while and, needless to say, my whole house was dusty until after the finished. While annoying, at least I knew exactly where the dust was coming from. The seemingly inexplicable dust that just appeared in my basement was driving me up the wall, so I did some research.
Here I share with you all some of the most common yet unexpected reasons why basements get dusty, together with nine ways how to fix it.
Basements get dusty if HVAC filters have too-large holes or are dirty. Loose duct joints pull dust into HVAC system. Poor airflow means dust entering room can’t leave. Unsealed floors can erode, producing dust. Dust and peeling paint can be dislodged from walls and ceiling. Water leaks and pests bring dirt in.
HVAC Vent Filters Have Large Holes
The very first thing to do if you notice your basement getting extremely dusty for no apparent reason is to inspect your HVAC filters. It is not hard to see whether they have holes in them.
The filters play an essential role in the heating and cooling system. They filter the circulating air from pollutants like, for example, pollen, hair, microorganisms, and of course, dust. This improves the overall air quality and helps prevent rooms from being overly dusty.
Therefore without these filters, or if the filters have holes in them, the air is not getting cleaned. All the HVAC system mechanisms (ducting, blower, etc.) can become clogged with all the dirt.
So, not only is it not removing dust from the air already circulating in your basement, but it can also bring more polluted and dusty air into the space and double up your dust issues.
Unfortunately, this is quite a common issue for cheaper filters, but it is an easy fix.
Dirty HVAC Filters
Even if all the HVAC filters are intact, they could still use a bit of maintenance. It is typically recommended to replace them or give them a good cleaning every 2 to 3 months.
Choosing between reusable or disposable filters is entirely up to, but a thing to keep in mind is that HVAC filters are rated according to the MERV rating system. For household use, the filter should ideally be an 8 on the MERV scale.
Filters with that rating provide effective air cleaning while allowing the HVAC mechanism to remain energy efficient.
If the filters are dirty, they are more prone to getting damp and growing mold. And later, they start spreading it, together with dust particles, through the HVAC system around the whole house, potentially being the source of health issues.
On top of that, when the filter is filthy, it creates a pressure drop in the mechanism, causing system issues and decreasing air quality in the basement.
Loose Ducting Connections
Having loose ducting connections will have a similar effect as having a dirty filter. The ducting tends to be placed in areas such as ceilings, crawl spaces, attics, etc., and those spaces are typically full of dust, dirt, and other particles.
Since the ducting is not correctly attached, all these air pollutants will get pulled into the HVAC system and spread around your basement.
However, inspecting and fixing the ducts is more complicated than simply changing a filter due to problematic access.
The best way to notice problems with ducting is to observe the vent right after turning it on to see if it is blowing dust into to basement. If it does, it is safe to presume that the ducting is leaking, assuming you have already checked the filtres and are confident the problem is not with them.
In that case, you should either seal the connections or replace them. Remember that if you are ever unsure what to do, you can always contact an HVAC professional.
Poor Airflow in the Basement
If there is poor or no air ventilation in a room or the house, the dust particles keep circulating in the space and have no way to be removed.
This could happen if you don’t have functional windows and air vents, or you don’t use them.
Without airflow, all the dust in your basement settles, and because it has nothing that would help circulate it around, it is unlikely it will get removed.
You may spread it around when walking or moving things in the basement, but it won’t have anywhere to go, so it will settle again as soon as you leave.
Unsealed Basement Flooring
If the packed earth, cement, or stone used for the flooring are unsealed, their small particles can become airborne whenever you walk, move a piece of equipment, or begin to clean the floor. Unsealed floors can erode to the extent that it creates holes in your basement floor! That’s a lot of dust.
Not only will your basement quickly become dirty and dusty, but the water sealing won’t be great either.
On top of that, when you have concrete flooring, there’s a high probability the dust particles in your basement are not ordinary dust but concrete dust particles. These are even worse because they are more irritating when it comes to allergies and can cause health issues.
As if that wasn’t enough, the dust problem will continue to get worse with every step you take.
Ill-Fitting/Frequently Open Windows
Even though having windows in the basement is excellent for ventilation, it is not optimal having them that close to the ground.
Any window, especially in summer, can be blamed for dust and pollen getting into the room. But this problem multiplies when it comes to the low ground basement windows. They make it easy even for large dust particles and dirt to be swept into the basement by anyone walking by, a dog playing in the garden, or simply by the wind.
Another reason why basement windows can cause a bigger problem with dust than regular windows is their maintenance.
We rarely install dust screens on these windows, and we are less likely to wipe the windowsill as it is usually too high for us. Plus, we tend to clean the basement windows less often, and so the dirt and dust can accumulate.
Besides all that, an ill-fitting window presents a moisture problem, which in turn brings even more dust into the basement.
Dislodged Wall and Ceiling Debris
Debris can become dislodged from walls and ceilings in basements. This debris can quickly become airborne, making the basement look dirty and irritating your airways.
Particulates from a basement wall or ceiling can become dislodged due to the high pressure developed by the soil surrounding it, or tree roots. It could also be wear and tear if the house is old, an improper setting job done during the building of the construction, or it may be caused by moisture damage.
But it could also be pointing towards more serious structural damage. Therefore, it is crucial to find the reason behind the dislodge and attempt to fix it.
Naturally, any cracks and holes need to be sealed and waterproofed again to stop the spread of debris particles.
Your Paint or Waterproofing Is Peeling
When paint or waterproofing peels, it can make the space dusty, and if the color was lead-based, it would pose a severe health risk.
To find where the flaking occurs, you should look for spidery cracks and holes in the paint.
The potential reasons behind peeling paint or waterproofing are multiple. It doesn’t always have to be a moisture problem. Sometimes it is due to the inappropriate prep of the surface, overly thinned paint, painting over dirty walls or over oil-based paint, etc.
You might think it would be evident if your paint were peeling and that you certainly would have noticed. But this could be happening in any unseen part of your basement, so don’t dismiss this possibility until you check every corner.
There Are Water Leaks
Water leaks are pretty common in basements, but it is not always easy to find the cause of them.
There are a plethora of reasons, but I’ll name some of the most common ones. It could be leaky pipes, windows that don’t seal, cracks in the walls, floor, or foundation, and pressure on the basement walls created by the water in the soil.
You are probably wondering what water leakage has to do with dust? Fair question. The reasoning behind it is that the water carries dust and debris with it from outside, through the walls, or from the roof and brings it to the basement. And while the water can evaporate, the dust and dirt will stay.
Now, how can you spot water leaks?
There are again multiple telling signs, but the most frequent ones would be water stains, high humidity and mold or mildew, condensation on the windows, efflorescence (crystalline deposit) on the walls, peeling paint, and musty odor.
Beyond the dust that leaks can create, the issue of damp is serious and it can even affect upstairs.
Even though it may sound unlikely, there are four ways your dusty basement can be connected to the infestation of different pests.
- The insects are boring into structures which creates dust-like particles.
- Vermin bring dirt in and spreads it across the floor and walls, thus, creating more dust particles and causing them to scatter around the basement.
- Some pests like for example, dust mites, mold mites, or assassin bugs are so small they seem like dust at first. Only after closer inspection will you realize that the dirt you are trying to clean is, in fact, a group of tiny bugs.
- Lastly, many pests are attracted to a dusty and humid environment. This is not a direct cause of a dusty basement, but it shows how once there are problems with dust, they can evolve into other serious troubles like a pest infestation.
9 Tips to Keep Your Basement Clean
1. Vacuum, Don’t Sweep
The problem with sweeping is that it only gets rid of large bits of dirt but not dust.
The floor may look better after sweeping it because you cleaned the large particles that you could see. But the broom stirred up most of the small dust particles into the air and left some of the dirt in corners as well.
Do you know when, in the end, you try to brush all the dirt onto a dustpan but need to repeat it multiple times because you keep missing small amounts? Image how many more particles that are not so easy to see you must be leaving on the floor each time.
For vacuuming, it is best to purchase a vacuum cleaner with strong suction and a HEPA filter, which will help effectively trap in dust and other small dust particles instead of spreading them into the air. The model presented below is a great option because it is also lightweight, so carrying it up and down the basement stairs won’t break your back!
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- Lift-Off Detachable Pod. 2-in-1 design with a detachable pod for convenient, portable cleaning
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- HEPA Sealed Allergen System. Traps 99.97% of dust and allergens. Tested per ASTM F1977 based on particles 0.3 microns and smaller
Last update on 2023-02-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
2. Try a Wet-Dry Vacuum
The advantage of a wet-dry vacuum cleaner is that it allows you to clean dirt, debris, and dust, as well as any liquid spills and damp patches.
You can use this unique function to your advantage in the fight against dusty basement by spraying the room down with a cleaning solution or even just water before vacuuming.
By spraying the basement first, you will stop dust from becoming airborne once you start cleaning. Then, all that remains is using the wet-dry vacuum cleaner.
This technique is especially great if you are doing a deep clean or if regular vacuuming doesn’t manage to remove all the dust from the basement.
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Last update on 2023-02-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
3. Clean or Replace Your Filters
You should inspect and maintain your filters regardless of whether you notice increased amounts of dust or not as they are an essential barrier against air pollutants.
As we already discussed, dirty or damaged filters could spread dust, dirt, mold, and other dangerous pollutants around your house, or alternatively, they could completely ruin your HVAC mechanism.
Regularly cleaning and replacing your HVAC filters is essential for their proper functioning, and thus also the quality of the air in your home.
Depending on whether you have a disposable or a permanent HVAC filter, you should either clean or replace it (amazon link) at least every 2 to 3 months. That being said, should you notice any mold, replace or wash it immediately.
4. Seal the Floors
To prevent dangerous concrete dusting, you need to seal the basement floor. It will provide additional protection against moisture, protect the environment from dust and people from health risks, and even will spare the floor itself.
In order to do that, you will have to clean the floor and patch any possible cracks, then apply a concrete floor sealer according to its application instructions. You will most likely need two coats.
After the sealer is dry, apply paint to improve the design of your basement.
5. Seal the Walls and Ceilings
Sealing the walls and ceiling of your basement is critical for keeping the basement dry, and thus protecting it from mold, mildew, but also excessive dust. It helps to prevent vapor and moisture penetration.
You can seal the basement with a sealer like Drylok Extreme that provides additional protection from radon.
To apply the sealer, you will need to clean the walls, patch any cracks and holes, ensure the surfaces are dry, and then apply two coats of waterproofing paint. After it dries, you can use a decorative latex-based paint on top of it.
6. Repaint/Reapply Waterproofing
You can’t simply apply another layer of paint. You need to fix the core of the problem; otherwise, it will just keep repeating.
To fix the underlying cause of peeling paint and waterproofing isn’t usually too hard once you determine what it is.
The greatest challenge to deal with would present as high humidity and water leakage, but the problem behind peeling paint can be any of the potential reasons we mentioned before.
Once you figure it out, you can scrape off all loose paint, prep the surface, and reapply the paint or waterproofing according to its specific instructions.
7. Find and Repair Water Leaks
We already discussed what different reasons could there be behind water leakage. Now you need to have a good look around the basement and inspect all the potential causes. But before that, the first thing you need to do is dry and clean the area.
Once any major leak damage has been dealt with, you can proceed to finding and repairing the leak.
If you see efflorescence, you should clean the walls and then waterproof them. If the pipes or heater are broken, call a plumber to fix them. And if there are any cracks in the floor or anywhere else, fill them.
You may also have to check the drainage around the house or landscaping and see if the gutters are not blocked or whether something is causing water to flow toward the basement.
Ultimately, if you have no luck finding or fixing the cause behind the leaks, you can call your local restoration service.
8. Fix Your Windows
If your windows are leaking air, try to fix or replace them. It is up to you to determine the nature and gravity of the problem and then decide whether you can address the issue yourself or if you would rather leave it to professionals (also check your warranty).
Some windows won’t need much more than re-centering them by pushing and pulling or simply cleaning and lubricating the sliding track.
In other cases, you will have to caulk (amazon link) around them (see video below) or ultimately call a contractor to fix them.
Once you have the window set, you can invest in a dust or pollen screen (amazon link) to add an extra layer of protection for a basement that often has its windows open.
9. Hire an Exterminator
When people have a suspicion their house might be pests infested, they often test out different “guaranteed recipes” of how to get rid of them. However, in most cases, it is best to hire an exterminator.
Many pests don’t only present danger for your property but also your health. The quickest and easiest way to safely get rid of pest infestation is to hire an exterminator.