Everything You Need to Know About Silica Dust in Homes

Jenna Jonaitis
Written by Jenna Jonaitis
Updated October 4, 2021
A worker cutting stone with a grinder
Mogala / iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Ensure you and your contractor are taking the proper steps to protect your health

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Silica dust can have detrimental impacts on your health. If you or a contractor are working with products that could pose a risk, ensure the proper precautions are in place. If someone is cutting, grinding, or sanding materials in your home such as glass, drywall, quartz, brick, stone, and granite, here's what to know.

What Is Silica Dust?

Silica dust consists of extremely small particles that enter the air when drilling, cutting, sanding, grinding, or chipping materials that contain crystalline silica. 

Materials that contain crystalline silica include:

  • Brick

  • Glass

  • Rock

  • Quartz

  • Granite

  • Stone

  • Ceramics

  • Drywall

  • Mortar

  • Concrete

  • Artificial stone

Abrasive sandblasting is another opportunity for silica dust to become airborne.

Why Is Silica Dust Dangerous?

According to OSHA, silica dust is dangerous because it can cause silicosis, which can lead to severe or even fatal illnesses, including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease, and autoimmune diseases. By breathing in silica dust, inflammation and scar tissue can occur if particles become trapped in the lungs. With silicosis, the lungs have a harder time breathing in oxygen. You can experience fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

While most cases of silicosis form after years of prolonged exposure, acute cases of silicosis can happen from shorter, heavy exposures. Silicosis is irreversible but preventable with the right personal protective equipment, engineering tools, and safety processes.

Any exposure to silica dust isn’t good for your health, which is why OSHA enforces strict rules and procedures to limit exposure of silica dust for contractors and renovators.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Silica Dust?

You can protect yourself and others from silica dust by verifying that your contractors follow industry safety procedures and OSHA regulations when doing remodeling work.

Ask your local home remodeler or drywall installer about their safety procedures, including whether they:

  • Use engineering controls like water and vacuum systems to capture silica dust

  • Enclose work areas to isolate silica dust

  • Can complete any stages of the work in a shop instead of inside your home

  • Use a vacuum, tack cloth, or drywall sponge to get rid of drywall dust

  • Wear personal protective equipment like a tight-fitting respirator (though this alone is not enough to control the exposure of silica dust)

Should I Be Worried About Silica Dust in My Home?

You shouldn’t be worried about silica dust in your home unless you are undergoing a remodel project that exposes you. The risk of serious illness is small because most health issues arise over years of exposure to silica dust, but you should still be careful. 

If a contractor is cutting, grinding, or sanding materials that contain crystalline silica, ensure they take the proper safety precautions. If the work is completed with safe methods, you have little to no risk of exposure to silica dust. 

And if your home simply contains materials with crystalline silica, like quartz or granite countertop, there is no airborne dust and thus, no health threat.

Does House Dust Contain Silica?

House dust does not contain silica unless a recent indoor project involved grinding, cutting, sanding, or drilling certain materials without the proper ventilation, engineering controls, and procedures in place. 

Usually, house dust comes from your body, shoes, furniture, clothes, pets, and other items you bring into your home. You can reduce dust in your home by vacuuming, wiping surfaces, and washing your sheets regularly.

How Long Does Silica Dust Stay in the Air?

Silica dust can stay in the air for up to two weeks, depending on the amount of dust and how ventilated, dry, or windy the area is. The most important aspects of limiting airborne silica dust are isolating the area and conducting work with safe practices.

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