Biting Back

Yellow dusters! Don’t trash ’em. They work great. They are washable and can last for years.

The yellow duster is unbeatable for trapping dust, taking it outdoors safely and shaking it out to the four winds. Its fibrous soft fibres are the very thing that make it work the best. I am guessing that these National Trust leaders and advisers are not of the generation that actually dusted much of anything and wonder if they actually did a lick of dusting to be so accepting and then dismissive of their true functionality. 

It may not matter to you but it does to me. The fact that it’s yellow does’t phase me, blue black, cream or peach, it doesn’t matter, except that its borderline hi-viz yellow does maki it easy to spot in any box of rags. The fact that, well, it’s a British phenomenon, doesn’t matter much to me either. What matters is it is a great duster, which means it picks up dust, holds it in its soft bosom and does not in any way make anything “more messier” than it cleans up and clears away. Who is this National Trust anyway? Well, it’s something of a household name here in Britain. Fondly favoured as protectorate of Britain’s national treasures, Britishers will usually hear nothing bad said of it, even if it’s dead wrong. The British public that supports it are unquestioningly loyal to it, so when it says  “It’s time we ditched the ubiquitous rags in favour of hog or pony hair” the chances are the unsuspecting and unquestioning are indeed likely to do just that. The problem though is this, this duster does not do what they say it does and actually does what they say it doesn’t.  I will though accede just a little that perhaps it is unsuited to some of their work, or consider they have accessed something better, for Joe and/or Jane Blow though, the ubiquitous yellow duster should remain a firm favourite for a variety of good reasons.

Why such a dust up?

Well, finishing off the sentence is just a bit hard to swallow and it has been this that makes some National Trust stuff stick in your throat just a bit. For those of us with boots on the ground, the yellow duster is very good for a wide range of tasks in the workshop, not the least of which is dusting.  Imagine someone saying to you  get rid of your rag duster and use a hog-hair bristle brush or a pony-hair brush because the duster makes more mess. I mean, ‘Oh, just nipping out to buy a pony-hair brush. Back in a mo”. You are nit telling me that hundreds of thousands of home cleaners and owners of furniture and home contents for a century and more were idiots in not knowing how to remove dust from their homes.  Add to that that they are suggesting any kind of brush does not cause the dust to puther is pure idiocy! They give the impression that the soft and fibrous lint duster, designed specifically pick up and retain dust in its fibres, and that  they are somehow puthering dust everywhere when in actuality they are doing no such thing.

This is the result if a single wipe on 2 foot by 8 foot cabinet photographed with sunlight behind and there was no trace of dust in the atmosphere.

On the business of waxing your furniture. I agree that spray cans are usually not the good thing to do. Bad for a range of reasons. Wax polish, and I use national Trust polish, is as they said good periodically and usually unnecessary more than once or twice a year depending on use.

Remember, what doesn’t work in posh houses for the rich and now defunct landed gentry in manorial homes where works of art are being conserved and preserved as museum pieces is fine, in the ordinary houses of the ordinary people there is likely nothing better. Anything that swishes dust, you know, long things with hairs on sticks, are not good choices. Dusters for the likes of us are fine.

Yellow dusters! Keep ’em. Use ’em. Love ’em!

Just off out to “cover up my valuable statues” in case of frost!


  1. Craig on 23 May 2017 at 10:08 pm

    I think the article is rather misleading (isn’t most printed press?). The brushes are actually used in conjunction with a vacuum cleaner so the dust is collected rather than swirled around and I suppose this wouldn’t work with any cloth really.

    As you say good for preservation but perhaps not practical for everyday cleaning of our homes and workshops.

    Your post did make me chuckle though because I make those brushes and they’re rather nicer than hairs on sticks and British made by hand to boot-so how dare you sir! And before someone reacts my tongue is firmly in my cheek 🙂

    • Paul Sellers on 24 May 2017 at 7:54 am

      I love brushes especially handmade, and I in no way want to say anything against them, just that, in the real world most of us live in, for our IKEA stuff, I mean, are we going to run out for a hog hair brush to replace duster?

      • Craig on 24 May 2017 at 5:42 pm

        I know and I agree with you, as Paul J pointed out below it’s taken completely out of context and typical for the Daily Fail!

        The brushes aren’t even available to the public so it’s all a bit silly really.

        I love a brand new fluffy duster! 🙂 I’m sure however there are no Ikea units in you house!!

        • Paul Sellers on 24 May 2017 at 9:22 pm

          Nope! Not one. Not yet anyway.

      • Thomas Tieffenbacher on 24 May 2017 at 8:55 pm


        Some good points, but wouldn’t a purist go with all natural?

  2. Loxmyth on 24 May 2017 at 12:14 am

    It has been noted that microfiber cloth often removes dust as well as a traditional tack cloth does, no matter what theory might claim. I’m a firm believer that the best tool for the job is the one that best fits both the task and the Craftsman, whether it’s what anyone else prefers or not.

  3. Rafi Rodríguez on 24 May 2017 at 1:05 am

    Thank you, Mr. Sellers, for so many great lessons, not only in woodworking but in the King’s English! I am careful to be very precise using the languages I know. Today you have taught me a new word: puthering. I would use yellow dusters, as I see you use them from time to time in your videos. Unfortunately, they are not available here. The very best to you and yours, Sir.

  4. Paul J on 24 May 2017 at 10:40 am

    Further confirmation (as if it were needed) not to believe anything you read in the Daily Mail.
    I think you’re being a wee bit hard on the National Trust: from the book’s description:
    “This fully revised edition of the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping is essential reading for all those interested in the care of historic houses and their collections.”
    The implication that their dusting advice applied to the rest of us is editorial spin by the ‘newspaper’.

    • Paul Sellers on 24 May 2017 at 12:08 pm

      I know that and you are right, but the NT should correct the content? Simon Murray, head of the NT curatorship, was quoted to say that a duster just rubs the dust around. That’s not really what’s happening at all. As I said, hundreds of thousands of proud home owners and cleaners for centuries can’t all be wrong surely. To the reader it does read ‘get rid of your yellow dusters.’ You are right it has some editorial spin. I doubt whether we will see any more on it so here I offered a little correction I think helps balance what’s said.

      • Paul J on 24 May 2017 at 2:08 pm

        Yes, your correction is welcome, especially since I see much the same story has reached other papers too. I’m a fan of the dust-collecting properties of the yellow duster!
        They are popular here in France as well, by the way.

  5. John Magee on 24 May 2017 at 12:44 pm

    Hi Paul,
    Your article on the dusters reminded me of a conversation I had with someone involved in old building restoration. the story he told me is that they had removed some old doors with brass hinges. the brass screws holding these hinges had their
    points filed off – his explanation was that the works forman in the days when the doors where installed made the joiners file of the points, then pre drill and use a steel screw to thread the hole
    Presumable this was to protect the brass screw heads from damage when the doors where finally fitted.
    Have you ever heard of this practice.
    Thank you for all your help it is much appreciated

    • Paul Sellers on 24 May 2017 at 1:37 pm

      I still do it, use a steel screw first I mean. In some cases now though we do have self- boring, self-tapping woodscrews that are excellent, especially on construction work.

  6. Stefan on 24 May 2017 at 12:44 pm

    Hi Paul,

    It’s not just a British thing. I’m from the Netherlands and until the micro-fiber cloths came on the market the yellow cloth was the only duster I’ve ever seen as a kid. I’m sure they’ve been common in Germany and Belgium as well. Can’t remember our home ever being dusty, so it seemed to work fine for my mom, though she uses micro-fiber now. Not sure if it’s because it’ll hold a bit more dust (I think), or it’s harder to find the yellow ones.

    It’s not so much the article in itself that is much of an issue though (by now we should be used to people making stupid claims for marketing purposes), but the fact that a lot of people will just accept what it says without any critical thought. With any article I read I’ll consider how trustworthy the source is, and whether the claims are in line with facts and logic (like you said, as if millions of people wouldn’t have noticed if it didn’t actually dust). Yet more and more people seem to just accept whatever is put in front of them.

    • Paul Sellers on 24 May 2017 at 1:35 pm

      It is also true that stores and selling outlets are always looking for something different to sell. Here in the UK a 10 pack of dusters costs £1. If they stop selling dusters to push a new product people are forced to buy. Dead simple. Bit like printing your own money really.

  7. Russell Lowe on 24 May 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Let me guess,this is a push by the eu to usher in some cheap rubbish that one of their business intrests creates.
    Never understood why people think they are dusting with brushes,your actually just spreading it onto something else,your lungs maybe lol

    • Paul Sellers on 24 May 2017 at 2:18 pm

      The point exactly!

    • Tom Angle on 24 May 2017 at 3:33 pm

      This was my first thought. Someone is making some money off of this. I am sure that politics there is the same as here in the US. I was fascinated when I took one of Paul’s classes listening to them talk politics. There is really no difference in the complaints of common people here and there.

      When something does not make sense, just follow the money.

      • Paul Sellers on 24 May 2017 at 5:32 pm

        having lived on both continents for equal halves if my adult life I can say politicians are just the same. The odd one or two are selfless and genuine, but for every one there seem to be many self-interested charlatans. I used to think they were puppets but they are more muppet like I think. Although I always did like the muppets, so perhaps that’s not to fair

    • Craig on 24 May 2017 at 10:20 pm

      Actually I don’t think we should let you guess because that’s the daftest comment I’ve ever read! You’re suggesting that the EU, the National Trust and a small workshop in England employing five people (including myself) are in cahoots to bring about the demise of the humble yellow duster and replace them with brushes in every home? And that the EU has a business interest in our workshop? Please!!

      So let me set the record straight; First Paul is right, this is a silly article that shouldn’t have been published and it has been totally taken out of context with some silly spin added-of course yellow dusters collect dust! The National Trust do in fact use dusters just not these type, they use a lint free cloth so as not to spread more fibres around. The brushes are used for cleaning small and/or delicate items where a cloth isn’t suitable such as gilt picture frames, delicate carvings, porcelain and used extensively for the cleaning of books etc etc. They are usually used in conjunction with a vacuum cleaner to collect the dust as it is removed.

      The brushes are made to NT’s own specification at their request IE they’re not a commercial product we made to sell to them or anyone else-they came to us. They are only sold to them and other historic houses/collections/museums and are not available to the public. It amounts to just a few hundred brushes made for this purpose per year. They are also not “cheap rubbish” they’re made from fine materials by hand and by extremely skilled people experienced over many years who take pride in the products they make.

      I’m sorry to get on my soap box here but I really do get ticked off at flippant unfounded remarks which are in fact damaging.

  8. Hank Merkle on 24 May 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Just proof Paul, that because someone CAN write, doesn’t mean they necessarily should, and perhaps choose a different profession???

  9. Dan Campbell on 24 May 2017 at 6:47 pm

    Ah yes. The ubiquitous Kiwi cloth. That was the brand we polished many a boot and wiped many a window sill with while I served in the Canadian Army. Not with the same cloth of course… I have them sitting at my workbench and in my boot kit (yes, i still polish my shoes before going out.)
    An indispensable piece of kit. Great Blog, Paul.

  10. Jeff Polaski on 26 May 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Cognitive dissonance alert!
    When I managed nursing homes we used disposable yellow cloths because they held dust and the dust went out with the trash. But, and butt me no butts, sir, that was a long time ago and I have the distinct memory that those disposables were chemically treated to retain dust. All well and good, but I always avoided using them as tack cloths for finishing. I had no idea what was used to keep them “tacky”, and so kept away from the last step before applying finish.
    And here comes Professor Sellers professing that they can be washed and reused. Are these two different products? Your neatly stitched yellow cloths, and my disposable “floor tool” cloths, 50 to a bag?
    It would be nice to know becuase I buy the stuff by the caseload (no supermarket 10-packs for me) to keep the house clean. You see, while I am retired, my “floor tool cloth” vendor is still around, happy to put a 500-piece case in my van.
    Are your yellow cloths treated? Even after being washed? And are they useable as tacky tack cloths?

    • Paul Sellers on 26 May 2017 at 5:46 pm

      Ours are not tack cloths in that they have no adhesive goop on or in them. they are just soft and fluffy, that’s all. They cost £1 for ten usually.

  11. Alan on 27 May 2017 at 5:10 am

    I picked-up some Micro-Fibre cloths to see what they felt like; having seen the hype on shopping channels about how good they are for cleaning glass/waxing cars etc. I couldn’t physically let go of them! They stick to my hands, catching on the minutest imperfection in the skin.

    I suppose the National Trust doesn’t have cloths lying around as I do, which have been used for glue, meths, oil, chrome-polish…
    If it weren’t for the easily-identifiable yellow duster, I’d have dissolved our plasma TV screen before now.

  12. Sylvain on 27 May 2017 at 4:26 pm

    I went to the general store today.
    No trace of the good old “loque à poussière” or “chamoisette” as theyr were known in Belgium.
    I think if you have worn-out flannel bed sheets (nice during the winter) you can recycle them in dust clothes.

    • Sylvain on 27 May 2017 at 4:29 pm

      I just learn that in France it is called “chamoisine”

  13. John 2Vices on 27 May 2017 at 7:59 pm

    I used to be a draughtsman and we used a yellow duster to remove dust and graphite from our drawings….to avoid smudge

    I will always remember the chap in front of me dusting his drawing then blowing his nose with his grotty duster………I can assure you no other draughtsman “borrowed” it



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