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Holy dust mites! Most homes are dirtier than we think
Scripps Howard News Service


August 23, 2006

Do you know why, in war movies, soldiers smear mud on their faces before engaging the enemy? Because it makes them invisible.

For most of us (especially guys), dirt has magical properties. We can't see it. It can be right in front of us, and we look past it or around it or right through it without registering the thought, "Hey, it's dirty in here."

Oh, we can see filth when it's layered on really thick, such as in a service station restroom. Then we get all prissy about it, tiptoeing around and making faces and acting like our bathroom at home is always, always spotless. It's easy to get on your high horse when the cleanup is someone else's problem.

But most of us have dirt right in our own homes. Tons of it. Grit and grime and dust bunnies. Windborne sand dunes and tracked-in mud and a fine powder of pollen over everything. It's no wonder so many of us suffer from allergies.

We don't want to admit that our houses are filthy. Right now, you're probably thinking: This guy's way off base. My house is perfectly clean.

To which I reply: Hahaha on that. Even the best-kept homes have dust bunnies hiding in out-of-the-way corners.

If you don't believe me, conduct this simple experiment. Go to the heaviest piece of furniture in your house - the piano, say, or that stuffed-full dresser in your bedroom - and move it out from the wall. Once you recover from the strain, check out the floor where the furniture stood.

Disgusting, right? Doesn't it make you want to rearrange all the furniture and clean under it immediately? OK, maybe not, but it does give you an inkling of what kind of filth you're harboring in your home.

Most of us reach a sort of uneasy peace with hidden dirt: We can't see it, so it must not exist. Better to think that way than to spend every spare moment scrubbing stuff. We've got important TV to watch.

But once in a while, harsh reality rears its ugly head. We move a piece of furniture or investigate a strange smell or look under a bed and we see that we live like pigs.

This happened at our house recently when we hired a crew to paint our home's interior while we were away on vacation. This seemed like the perfect scenario. We'd come home from a week away, and our house would be dazzlingly clean and fresh.

Not so much. The paint looked great, and the painters had been careful to cover all of our stuff so they didn't get paint on it. But in the process of painting, they'd moved all the furniture around, freeing the hidden filth.

Holy dust mites, Batman. It took the whole family a full day of vacuuming and dusting and wiping stuff before we could, once again, persuade ourselves that it was clean around here. Clean enough, anyway. The dirt had retreated into its invisible form, hidden away, waiting for the next time someone moves a sofa to reveal grime and stray popcorn and loose change.

(It helps that we have "oatmeal"-colored carpeting and faux-granite countertops designed to "hide dirt." As if dirt needed any help hiding. As if it weren't already camouflaged by our psychological need to ignore it.)

After a full day's battle, we could relax and turn on the TV. Once again, we'd reached a standoff in the war on dirt. At least we didn't have to smear it on our faces.



Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Whipsaw."
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)

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Ketchikan, Alaska