Common Airborne Particulates
Common Airborne Particulates


Particulate contamination or simply “dust”. Dust contamination exists in a variety of concentrations, size distribution, and compositions. The characteristics of dust are very dependent upon the dust sources. It is very common to find clothing fiber, dirt and construction materials in most facilities.

Less common dust sources also exist. Natural events, such as volcanic eruptions and dust storms are some of the largest dust producing events possible. These events introduce a variety of different constituents into the atmosphere that usually remain airborne for considerable periods of time. In addition to natural events, specific industries may generate their own particulate contamination.

Particulate contamination can have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Abrasiveness: abrasive particulate may contribute to wear as well as fretting and fretting corrosion.
  • Hygroscopic: many particulate contamination compositions have an affinity for water and readily absorb water vapor in the air. If sufficient water vapor is available, the particulate can become wet with water at temperatures above the bulk room dew point.
  • Corrosive Composition: the elemental composition of a particulate contamination may be corrosive to materials within electronics.

Synthetic Fibrous Particulate: Common sources include clothing, carpet fibers, insulated drop in ceiling tiles, insulation.

Common sources: Clothing

Other sources: Carpet fibers, insulated drop in ceiling tiles, and insulation. Because synthetics have a low melting point, they may create a sticky surface to which other particulates will adhere.

Metallic Particulate: Metal dust enters the environment from a variety of sources. Common culprits include worn air conditioning parts, new raised floors, rotor brushes in vacuum cleaner monitors and printer component wear. Another common culprit is the electrician, who might be hardwiring and leave metal debris behind. Metallic particulates conduct electricity. Because they conduct electricity, they have an increased potential for creating short circuits in electronics. They are also magnetically attracted to circuits because of the magnetic fields generated by computer equipment. This particulate usually shows up as rust.

Carbonaceous Particulate: Carbon comes from automobile exhaust, tobacco smoke, printer toners and carbon paper dust. In addition to being conductive, carbon dust is also combustible in sufficient concentrations.

Fibrous Organic Particulates: These are natural based fibers such as cotton and wool. These fibers usually originate from clothing, but also from incorrect cleaning materials or packaging materials. These fibers absorb moisture and can cause major problems with electronic circuits.

Paper Dust: Paper dust and particulates can cause problems similar to the fibrous particulates. These particulates are attracted to magnetic fields.

Concentrations of any of these particulates in sufficient quantities can be considered a health hazard, although any serious cause for concern would be indicated by a visible manifestation of the contaminant, either airborne observation, or by accumulation on horizontal surfaces.