Keeping the Dust Down

Gutted room during renovation.

Gritty construction dust is the bane of any remodeling project or large home repair job, whether you’re hiring a contractor or doing the work yourself. Dust can damage furniture and rugs and ruin the finish on a hardwood floor.

Plus, as I’ve seen with nearly every home I’ve remodeled, dust inevitably finds its way far beyond the work area, traveling on shoes, clothing, the slightest breeze and even through ductwork.

Although the dirtiest work takes place during demolition and drywall sanding, every phase of construction produces dust. So it’s important to prepare for the onslaught before the job starts and maintain dust containment systems to the very last days of the project.

If a contractor is involved, that’s his responsibility, but dust control often slips down the list of priorities, forcing you to play watchdog. If you’re doing the work yourself, preparing dust-containment systems can get forgotten in your eagerness to get right into the “real work.” Don’t let it.

Dust containment falls into two general categories: protecting floors and confining dust to the work area. It does take time to set things up properly, but I can assure you that for every dollar or hour spent preparing, you’ll save five dollars and five hours on cleanup or repairs.

Floor Protection

Hardwood floors

It costs $2 to $3 per square foot to sand and refinish floors, so protecting them during construction is a wise investment. My crew and I start by thoroughly vacuuming floors to remove existing grit, then we lay down a layer of 6-mil polyethylene plastic, overlapping the edges 6 in. and taping the seams continuously with duct tape.

After that, we tape the plastic to the baseboards or walls. Masking tape will do, but painter’s tape, designed to be removed without taking up paint or leaving adhesive residue, is a better choice (you’ll find it where paint is sold).

On top of this layer of plastic, we place a single layer of 1/2″ foam-board insulation, which costs around $7 for a 4’X8′ panel. Protective panel materials, like 3/8″ plywood or 1/2″ paper based pressboard (Homosote), also work well. To seal the panels, we cover them with another layer of 6-mil poly, overlapping and taping the seams and edges. We also place crosshatches of masking tape in traffic lanes to reduce slippage.


It’s tempting to use just a layer of Kraft paper, but this won’t protect against spills. Plus, the leg of a stepladder can easily tear paper. So, instead, we put down two layers of 6-mil poly, treating the seams and edges as described above.

We always cover these with a layer of Kraft paper for added strength, paying careful attention to the seams and edges. We also cut five 4’X4′ poly patches and set them aside. If a ladder or sharp tool punctures the protective layers, these are handy to tape down as patches.

For the path to the work area from the garage or door that leads outdoors, we usually lay down runners. Rubber-backed 4 X 20-ft. runners are ideal. Rolls of heavy-duty, adhesive-backed protective plastic also work well (100 sq. ft. costs $20), but since the material can be slippery on stairs we also use the tape crosshatches here.

Covering doorway with plastic sheeting to keep dust out.

Dust Containment


Before the project starts, always designate one doorway as the entry and exit to the work area. To seal up the other doorways, we use 6-mil poly and masking or blue tape. For doorways that open onto other rooms or hallways, we seal both sides.

For the designated entry doorway, we use a two-layer plastic system. On each side of the jamb we secure one sheet of plastic that’s 12 in., bigger than the doorway on all four sides. (We use masking or blue tape, or a staple gun if the jamb isn’t finished.) Leaving the sheet on the dusty work side of the door intact as a single sheet, we slit the outside sheet down the center. These plastic skirts will help keep airborne dust from traveling.

Another option I’ve seen work well is to install a temporary dust door. These plastic doors (around $20) open and close with zippers. Protective Products is the leading maker of them and other clever dust-control systems (Protective Products details on the right).

Depressurize The Room

Whoever is in charge of dust control should pick a window at the far end of the work area and mount a window fan there, blowing out. We seal around the fan and window frame with 6-mil poly, then we tape the plastic to the sides of the fan to create a good seal. Weather permitting, we run the fan all day long. This draws air into the work area and keeps dust from drifting to other areas of the house.

Adjust HVAC System

If ducts are part of your heating-and-cooling system, make sure it doesn’t run during construction, if possible, or divert air away from the work area. We cover any registers in the work area with kraft paper and tape. (I tell homeowners who have to run the system to replace filters weekly during the project.) We also remove all window air-conditioning units from the work area—they easily get clogged with dust.

Sawing outside to reduce dust.

Work Outside

Once the job is under way, the main source of dust comes from cutting wood. I have my carpenters cut outside whenever possible, but for wood cuts that must be made indoors, I ask that they attach dust-collecting vacuums to their power saws. The same goes for sanders, especially those used by drywall contractors. It’s a good idea to follow this example if you’re doing the work yourself.

Sweep Up And Vacuum

Whether it’s a big job or a small one, at the end of each day I have my crew sweep up; twice a week we thoroughly vacuum the work area. Before anyone uses a shop vacuum, we clean it out and brush off the filters.

I’ve also found that lightly misting the filter with water makes it more effective at trapping fine dust. We always purge the vacuum by running it outside the house for a minute before bringing it inside. A dirty vacuum started “cold” indoors will throw off lots of its own dust.

Get A Cleaning Service

No matter how carefully you and your contractor follow my advice, the job site will get dusty and some dust will find its way outside the work areas. All my remodeling contracts include a fee for a cleaning service. Typically I write in six hours of cleaning to be done at the end of the project. If you want or need more, add that in during the initial contract review or hire a cleaning service on your own.

Sanding hardwood floor with drum sander.

Getting a “Dust Plan”

The “dust plan” is the containment strategy every contractor should include as part of his bidding. If a prospective contractor doesn’t have an approach to deal with dust, don’t consider hiring him. A well-conceived dust plan should tell you:

  • What systems and barriers will be used, when they will be installed and who is responsible for maintaining them.
  • How work habits will be adjusted to contain dust. Look for phrases such as “all cutting with circular saws and chop saws will take place outside, whenever possible” and “drywall sanders will be hooked directly to vacuums.”
  • Who is responsible for damage caused by dust, like scratched floor finishes or soiled carpeting.
  • What cleaning service will be used, how long they will work, what the fee is and who pays them.


  1. Many thanks for the tips. We’re getting some work done in our hall and as all the other rooms open off from it (a bungalow) the problem of how to keep the dust down is a major ones. Nice to know there’s advice out there on how to minimise the problem.

  2. We are in the middle of a complete bathroom renovation. My husband and the contractor roll their eyes at me over this issue. I’m working so hard to try to keep on top of it! I have sent my husband this link and I’m going to make him read it!! You have confirmed to me that I am not crazy. And yes, we have hardwoods throughout our home that I’m concerned with.

  3. I put a fan in the window of the room I am working in,blowing out. Seal off any extra open area. This will pull air though any small openings from the clean part of the building (negative air) stopping dust from getting out.

  4. looked for info as a neighbour having house next door demolished and underground car park put in one metre from our house. Want to seal windows and vents and wondering if a board or plastic better option. Also how to best preserve lead light windows from damage when drilling and rock sawing next door.

  5. I wish I had read your advice before starting our master bath remodel using a contractor. The bath is coming together but all the carpeting on the staircase, landing, path through our bedroom is stained heavily and I cannot even begin to talk about the dust. It’s everywhere! Fans, light fixtures, the chandelier! Our garage looks like a garbage dump! The guy said covering the carpet would make it hazardous for his workers. Finally he very grudgingly put a drop cloth but had all tools ans cans spread all over our bedroom directly on the carpet. I said they could use our bathroom when he asked – they used our powder room AND the hallway bathroom always leaving the toilet seat up! And my husband and I both ended up catching the worst flu bug from one of the guys who was clearly sick from day 1! When they cleaned somewhat, I caught the main guy scraping mixed wet grout from his bucket into my trash bin! We are just waiting for this nightmare to be over.

  6. We made a mistake in the past of not taking precautions against the spread of dust when a bathroom was completely refitted. It took ages to totally get rid of the dust from the rest of the house! We are now faced with a bigger building project and dust and dirt control is my biggest concern. I found this article invaluable for advice on how to go about it and will be going out to buy a lot of polythene sheeting and duct tape!

  7. Having new front door fitted and thought some kind of polythene lean to to allow men to work in case raining on day of fitting as rain will perhaps wet hall wallpaper. Can u help?

  8. My son is finishing his basement and got a licensed contractor to hang the drywall. The contractor never layed down plastic on the carpeted floor closed up doors covered up an exercise machine and double leather recliner and didnt call my son to say hey, your going to have a problem if we do this today without cover in this. My son has never gone through a reno and really didn’t know what to expect. When I went in the basement where they hung the drywall everything was caked with plaster dust. The contractor told us it was our responsibility to lay plastic and protect what furniture was left in the room and we had to clean up and take care of the drywall pieces because we didn’t have garbage bags for them to put it in nor did they finish up the cleanup. Feeling very disrespected..

  9. Home Depot contracted my ceramic floor take up and putting down tile..One worker showed up, so my daughter and I had to move our own furniture and help the worker take heavy items from the room…He came with nothing but a home depot bucket and a few tools..I had to put up tarp at the two doorways, and ventilate the room by opening a window and using my fan to vent the room.I paid for for debris removal but decided to reuse materials so there is no removal..

  10. Thank you for the help. My wife and I are planning a remodeling project that will require some demolition. I was worried about the mess that it could make through the rest of the house. I didn’t think about how much depressurizing the room, as you mentioned, makes a difference. It sounds like that really serves to control the flow of dust and air. I will definitely try that.

  11. Having new windows in bedroom in 2 weeks time and paranoid about dust getting everywhere, especially on cream carpets (UK rental property)
    Hoping they can lift windows up ftom outside as spiral staircase is awkward to carry large fittings up.
    We have scaffolding at the front where windows are going, hope they can use that.
    I hate mess but glad to read these tips which help me decide how to protect my furniture and fittings.
    Thank you.

  12. The section Dust Containment, Doorways, does not seem to make sense as written. Would you please clarify it. I will insert my questions in UPPERCASE TEXT within your original text.

    You wrote:

    For the designated entry doorway, we use a two-layer plastic system. On each side of the jamb we secure one sheet of plastic that’s 12 in., bigger than the doorway on all four sides. (We use masking or blue tape, or a staple gun if the jamb isn’t finished.) Leaving the sheet on the dusty work side of the door intact as a single sheet,



    we slit the outside sheet down the center. These plastic skirts will help keep airborne dust from traveling.

  13. OMG, our homeowner had to hire a contractor to take care of water leak repair that went from one of the upstairs bathrooms into the kitchen. This dude did not put up plastic or use drops; he did put down paper from the garage into the kitchen. EVERY surface on the lower level is covered in a nice coating of white dust. The leather furniture is grey etc. I told my husband that he needs to request a deduction from the rent which is pretty high because I know it will take more than 10hours tops to remove and clean all the dust. Thanks for confirming what I suggested which was to put up the plastic barriers to limit the amount of settlement. This dude gives contractors a bad name.

  14. Very informative article. We recently renovated an entire apartment and our air conditioning has been leaking. The maintenance guy that came to fix it told us that the a/c was left on during demolition, when the contractor should had turn it off. We are very upset, since the a/c unit is brand new and it is costing us a heavy sum to have it cleaned out.

  15. we know a contractor that tells us to clean up , that its not his job ..
    this guy did a kitchen remodel in my wifes sisters house ,, the sister and her son told me it took 2 weeks to get the place cleaned up , i said why didnt the use plastic , she said that the guy wont do that !! then after it was done i was hearing complaints about dust everywhere , no plastic barriers were used , i was told the guy used a saw inside the house ,also put sheetrock . i remember when my bathroom was remodeled , again no plastic dust from cutting tiles went every where and i mean all through the house .. so 2 years later my wife want to hire this guy and his sons to do my kitchen ,, ok i said but there will be plastic dust barriers put up ,, well his son started work with sheetrock and ceiling sanding 1st day was good i had a plastic dust barrier put up
    then at end of night they took it down day2 no plastic , they said oh we wont make any dust today , then started putting up sheetrock and left my door open so the wind came into kitchen and blew dust into the living room day 3 i the homeowner setup plastic myself to block a hallway opening to the living room , the guy came in to work and started on the job ,every 30 min or so i would come out and look around and i noticed the plastic was open in certain areas like big openings so i had 2 dogs in the living room i thought the dogs caused the plastic to be opened so i took the dogs and put them in another room whent to my bedrood watched tv 30 min later looked in kitchen and sure enough it plastic was hanging open again . then came the comments from 2 of these guys , and the trouble will begin
    i had words in an angry way this was because of the comments they made to me .. any way they quit working and started arguing with me
    and told my wife the next day they will not finish the job.. good i thought saves me the trouble of firing them next day i got a contractor i know so when the wife tries to get these guys back to do the job i am going to tell them its already taken care of .


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