Can a Dusty Fan Make You Sick?

While a fan helps circulate air in your home, it can also cause dust to swirl around and come into contact with you. This can trigger allergies, hay fever, and sinus headaches. It can also worsen congestion, itchy eyes, sneezing, and other symptoms. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the negative effects of your fan. One is to dust it regularly. Another is to use a humidifier. And the most important thing is to make sure your fan is clean.

You can’t really blame your fan for making you sick, though. You’re breathing the same stuff in your house that you always do—dust, pollen, pet dander, hair, decomposed bugs, smoke particles, and other matter generated by your physical activities, like cooking or cleaning. All this, plus your shedding skin cells, is essentially what creates dust and causes it to stick to your furniture, curtains, carpeting, and other surfaces. All of this is continually being blown into the air, and it eventually settles on whatever surfaces are closest to you—like your fan blades.

When you turn your fan on, it stirs up that dust and sends it into the air again. If you sleep with it on, you might breathe those swirling dust particles right into your sinuses, causing them to itch or sting and triggering allergies and hay fever. You might get a sore throat or a headache, too. And if you already suffer from asthma, you might find your symptoms intensify when you use the fan.

To keep the air in your home clean, you should clean your fans at least once a month. You can use a broom or vacuum cleaner to remove the dust. However, it’s easier to get to those hard-to-reach places by using a ladder and a cloth. Apply an all-purpose cleaner or kitchen degreaser to a cloth or sponge and wipe each fan blade to remove grease and dust. Then, wipe the blades dry with a clean cloth.

For extremely dirty fan blades, you might need to use a stronger cleaner. For example, if you have a ceiling fan with heavy buildup of tree sap, mud or other gunky residues, you might need to wipe the blades and base with a cleaner such as rubbing alcohol, vinegar or a 50/50 mix of water and white distilled vinegar. You can also use a pillowcase. Just slip the pillowcase over each fan blade, and then use your hands to sweep the tops and sides of each blade. The dirt gets brushed into the pillowcase, which you can then take outside and shake it, or toss in the laundry. You might even be able to scrub the dirtier parts of your fan with a toothbrush or other soft brush, depending on how heavily they are soiled. Just be careful not to damage your fan motor or pull chain, and remember that you’ll want to use a ladder when doing so, so you don’t fall and land on your head.