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I have an unfinished attic that is full of old pieces of wood from the previous roof, it's full of dust, wood dust, other stuff, probably some lead dust, etc. there are also old boxes, a TV, and other random things.

What is the best way to clean it? I want to minimize kicking up the dust.

Picking up all the pieces of wood and bagging it is probably easy. I will probably create dust clouds, still. :)

Is it okay to spray with water to keep dust down? Do I need to worry about getting the wood wet?

Vacuuming is out of question right? (Unless I have a super long vacuum hose so that the unit can stay out of the attic while I vacuum)

Any suggestions of how to clean while minimizing kicking up dust?

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I'd go with sweeping compound. It's a kind of sticky granular product that you can get from janitorial stores. It's used for sweeping areas like warehouses that kicking up too much dust is a concern. Follow the instructions on the packaging and dust will stick to the sweeping compound rather than becoming a haze in the air.

  • Cool! Does it stick to wood and stuff? Do you have to clean up the compound? – milesmeow Nov 29 '16 at 18:26
  • Yes, you have to sweep it up but the dust grains stick to the sweeping compound grains instead of bouncing up into the air. – Myles Nov 29 '16 at 18:30
  • As an example rona.ca/en/sweeping-compound – Myles Nov 29 '16 at 18:30
  • Thanks Myles. It says it's oil based. I'll have to research whether that will affect wood. It says that it is ok on unwaxed wood (which is the case for my attic) – milesmeow Nov 29 '16 at 20:14
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I'd get (well, I have, but if you don't have, get) a shop vac, bring it into the attic and attach hoses to both the sucking and blowing ports, with the blowing hose directed outside. Aside from a dust mask, don't neglect hearing protection, as most shop vacs are very loud.

Alternatively, being an unfinished attic, remove the trash, ignore the dust, and add insulation on top of the dust. The dust is doing no harm just sitting there.

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I'd go with vacuuming. If you have a shop vac, they sometimes sell extra long hoses. I had one from Sears which also had an optional 20 foot/6m hose. Or, you could buy a cheap roll of sump pump discharge hose and use it to extend your existing vacuum hose. It's really cheap and comes in 20-25 foot rolls for a few dollars and available at most hardware stores. Duct tape can help jury rig the hose to your vacuum.

You can spray a little water from a spray bottle. Just don't soak the dust or wood. A light misting will keep the dust down.

Buy dust masks. Preferably the ones with a breather valve which allows you to easily exhale. A set of goggles might help too if you have dust allergies (I do and it makes cleaning painful).

I would first vacuum as thoroughly as possible before moving anything. Take your time and go slow so you don't kick up dust. If you need to mist water, you can provided it won't damage your vacuum. Once everything is vacuumed, you can throw the rest out.

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    Right. There's almost certainly an attic vent through which you can blow the vacuum exhaust. This would save some hose. – isherwood Nov 29 '16 at 15:39
  • Should I get a HEPA shop vacuum that takes bags? – milesmeow Nov 29 '16 at 15:50
  • Get a hose for the exhaust too? – milesmeow Nov 29 '16 at 15:51
  • @milesmeow It certainly wouldn't hurt to get a HEPA vacuum. Very fine, powder like dust will escape the default foam or sponge filter in most wet/dry shop vacs. – Mister Tea Nov 29 '16 at 16:55
  • Will misting the dust cause HEPA vacuum/ vacuum bag issues? – milesmeow Nov 29 '16 at 17:00
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You didn't specify whether your attic has flooring or just ceiling joists, or whether it has insulation. I recently removed all the sawdust & tarpaper insulation from my attic (ceiling joists only, no flooring), vacuumed out all the dust, air sealed all the cracks and openings, and am re-insulating with more and fire-resistant insulation. A few quick suggestions...

If you only have joists, no flooring, get a few pieces of plywood about 2ft wide, 4-6ft long, and at least 1/2" thick to walk, sit, and work on. Use sturdy work shoes with stiff soles to give you firm footing and help keep your balance. Move slow and steady; stomping, banging around, or dropping boxes can cause cracks in the ceiling below.

Set up a few fans to direct air across the attic and out. You will stir up airborn dust; you want to blow it away from you, not circulate it around in the attic.

Make sure you have plenty of lighting. I'm partial to 4ft long led or fluorescent shop lights. Incandescent lights make the already warm attic even hotter and can burn you if you bump into them. A clamp or two also help in confined spaces.

Wear a cartridge respirator with P95 (particulate) filters. A simple paper dust mask is better than nothing, but not much. It's well worth the $20 to buy a respirator. Goggles, not just safety glasses, can also help if your eyes are particularly sensitive. Wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants; old rusty nails, dead bugs, rodent droppings, and years of mold and dust mites are not your friends. Use hearing protection when you're vacuuming.

You can use a mister bottle or garden sprayer to help keep the dust down but slow, deliberate movements will be less time & trouble. Any water you add will also make the air more humid (I wouldn't want that in a hot attic in the summer).

Pick up the solid debris first and seal it in heavy trash bags or boxes that can be moved without squeezing too much air and dust out of them. Keep your bags and boxes as close as possible so you don't have to carry the dirt and debris any farther than necessary. Vacuum after you've picked up anything bigger than the vacuum can handle (don't be surprised if you find more as you go).

If you use a shop vac, get drywall dust bags that go inside the vac to collect the dust. They're made to collect flour-fine dust. You'll need to change them often but they really help if you have the vac close to you. If you can, put the vac outside or direct the exhaust outside.

If you have large quantities of dust and insulation to remove get a good sized (1 - 2hp) dust collector and use 4" diameter hose to carry the dust to a bag outside the attic. I used a 1hp fan from Harbor Freight, 4" rigid PVC, and 4" corrugated drain pipe, duct-taped together. My collection bags were old sheets and cotton broadcloth stitched together into bags about 3ft wide and 6-8ft long. My setup was fine for a one-time job. Commercial operations use up to 20hp fans, 20" dia hoses, and 25ft long 4ft dia bags. With bags outside the attic, it's good to have a helper to shake them down and change them as needed.

After all the cleaning, spray foam and caulk any wiring or plumbing penetrations, any gaps on top of the walls (don't plug your soffit vents! ), and gaps around chimneys or vent fans. If you want to do even better, turn on all the lights downstairs, turn off the lights in the attic, and seal any light leaks. This can help your heating and cooling bills all year long.

  • Our attic is totally bare. You can see all the support beams and joists. We do it have insulation. There are a lot of good tips in this post. Thank you @Eric. – milesmeow Jun 27 at 17:03
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vacuum with a shark brand vacuum. Make sure it is one with a heppa filter. The shark brand vacuums are cheap yet run well for their price, it wont kick up much dirt in the air unless if the dirt is really heavy, I mean really heavy like if you got like lots of dried mud I would not suggest it. a part of the wall collapsed in my basement and alot of dried mud from the foundation broke through, sadly my shark could not handle it, but it didn't break it just got clogged and kicked up alot of it in the air. anyways, and, if by some small chance you break the vacuum you know you did not spend too much money for it anyway. I use my Shark for difficult jobs like an attic or basement or like a shop vac and keep my more expensive vacuum, a Dyson, for regular home use. always wear a dust mask when cleaning an attic as their might be small shards of glass from the insulators in between the floor board and inside certain walls that will stir up. that can make one really sick and breathing it in over time can become deadly. Furthermore take a shower shortly after to make sure you have no insulation on you. if it is hot please make sure you have plenty of water near by to keep hydrated. The heat in attics are often as hot as a car that's been sitting in a hot sun for hours. Also make sure you dont step on any kind of surface where there is no floor board even if insulation is there. it is easy to break through the insulation and into the floor, poking a hole through the ceiling below you. you might also get stuck if that happens.

  • Hello, and welcome to Stack Exchange. This is great information, but it's hard to understand due to the "Wall of Text" formatting. It would be great if you could edit it to make it a bit easier to read. – Daniel Griscom Aug 4 '18 at 23:45
  • Welcome to Home Improvement. The best answers focus on addressing what was asked in the question, and offer new solutions that haven't already been contributed. Vacuuming has already been suggested in several other answers, and the first half of this answer reads like an infomercial for Shark. Since the question asks "how", the brand of vacuum probably isn't as important. What differentiates your answer is that you include a lot of "how" advice, but it's buried in a wall of text. This would be a much better answer if you focus it more on the question and provide some organization. – fixer1234 Aug 5 '18 at 10:18
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In addition to the suggestions by others above, you can also purchase some box fans along with the highest quality 20"x20"x1" furnace filters, tape them to the intake side of the box fan, and leave them running to filter the dust/air out. They work great for the amount of money you've spent.

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I just opened up both windows and picked up all the scrap wood and big trash and nails and stuff and then swept it with a broom and followed up with a shop vac. I suppose I will go at it with some warm water and some Murphy's oil soap and not use too much water. My attic floor is (825 sq ft! a walk around attic and the wood, while unwaxed has a decent looking grain under all those years of dust....

Then I will loose lay some commercial carpet chunks to finish it off. It will be a wonderful storage and nice to go into with socks on. In case I need something from it...Not too often, but at least I will have a 4 BR again instead of a 2 br.

I've used Murphy's oil soap before and it works great on wood. It'll take all the residual dust and dirt out of the wood. Use an old damp regular mop, not mama's nice kitchen mop.

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