I still remember moving into my first college apartment. It was clean and brand-spanking new — with cushy, beige wall-to-wall carpeting that covered every square inch of the floors, including the bathroom.
When I first walked in, I remember being hit over the head by the smell of newness. At the time, I actually liked the smell. Little did I know that the new carpet and its comfy padding were oozing VOCs and other toxins into my air.
At first glance, carpets give a warm and inviting feel to most living spaces. During the cold winter months a carpet, fitted with a cushion pad beneath, provides a comfortable place to relax and curl up with a good book, or a place for kids to play.
Indoor Air Quality Is Impacted From Carpets And Padding
Most conventional carpets are made from synthetic fibers doused in artificial dyes, stain repellents, adhesives and other toxic chemicals.
Carpets, pads and the adhesives used for installation may contain chemicals made with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which emit a toxic breathable gas into the air. Once released, down goes the air quality in your home and headaches, nausea and dizziness may occur. Some VOCs are greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming.
With any new carpet, savvy salespeople are trained to persuade consumers to purchase the Stainmaster treatment to help make the carpet more resistant to stains, grease, and water. Carpets treated with this are generally treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which are grease and stain repellents. PFCs have been associated with cancer, reproductive problems, birth and developmental defects, and (recently) with immune system suppression.
Older carpets and padding can potentially contain even more health hazards than their newer version. Older carpets and recycled padding could be covered in toxic chemicals that are now banned, but continue to off-gas toxic fumes into the air.
VOCs, PFCs and other toxic chemicals from carpeting can off-gas in our homes and then cling to house dust, which we then inhale. Long term exposures to the fumes have been linked to a number of disorders including cancer, kidney disease and liver damage and asthma. Having a new carpet installed has also been associated with wheezing and coughing in babies during their first year of life.
Environmental Impact of Carpeting
Those PFCs and other toxins found in your carpet not only remain in the human body for years, they also pollute water and are very slow to break down in the environment. PFCs have been released in large quantities from manufacturing facilities and end up contaminating our food and some water supplies.
Child Labor Issues
According to a new study by FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, child labor is rampant in the handmade rug industry.
GoodWeave, an organization that certifies child-labor-free rugs and provides education and opportunities to at-risk children, explains the horrible manufacturing behind many rugs:
“Despite laws prohibiting it, child labor is rampant in South Asia’s handmade rug industry. Children ages 4 to 14 are kidnapped or sold and forced to work as many as 18 hours a day to weave rugs destined for export markets such as the US and Europe. They are subject to malnutrition, impaired vision, deformities from sitting long hours in cramped loom sheds, respiratory diseases from inhaling wool fibers and wounds from using sharp tools. Those working as bonded laborers have no chance to earn their freedom and frequently earn little or no money. This exploitation is a form of modern slavery.”
Green Your Carpets, Rugs and Padding
- Instead of carpets, chose hard-surfaced flooring and rugs that can be removed and cleaned outside.
- If a carpet is the only option look for non-toxic and eco-friendly options. Ask manufacturers for certification on environmental claims.
- Take the time to vacuum with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter.
- Decline any stain-resistance treatments.
- Unroll a new carpet in a garage or some other location for a few days to allow most of the off-gassing to take place before bringing it into your home.
- Look for products made from natural fibers, without artificial dyes and without flame retardants.
- Find products with the GoodWeave or other child-labor-free certification.
- Support meaningful legislation that prevents these chemicals from ending up in our homes.