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Rethinking Carpet

Rethinking Carpet

While carpets can provide resilient padding beneath tumbling toddlers, and a warm, cozy surface for children playing on the floor, they can also release dust and fumes that cause sniffles, headaches and other health problems.

In winter, when we open windows less, pollutants can build up in indoor air–and collect in carpets–making symptoms worse.

“Wall-to-wall carpets are a sink for dirt, dust mites, molds and pesticide residues. I much prefer smaller washable carpets of natural fiber,” says Philip Landrigan, M.D., director of the center for children’s environmental health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Washing in hot water kills dust mites, microscopic creatures whose plentiful droppings are a top asthma and allergy trigger, Dr. Landrigan explains. Another benefit: you can also regularly clean the floor underneath, defeating dust buildup. Just be sure to put a non-slip pad under area rugs.

Wall-to-wall carpeting, which is secured to the floor, cannot be picked up for washing, but that’s only part of the problem. It’s important to keep in mind that wall-to-wall carpet is really a carpeting system, which includes the backing, underlay and various glues. Many synthetic carpeting systems, such as those using nylon or polyester fiber, contain toxic chemicals derived from petroleum.

These “volatile organic chemicals,” or VOCs, can evaporate, or “offgas” out of carpets into the air we breathe, says John Bower, author of “The Healthy House Book (Healthy House Institute, 2001). Often, the glues, backing or carpet pads can be more problematic than the carpet itself. VOCs (also emitted by many cleaners, pesticides, paints, sealants, and pressed woods) are heavier than air. Therefore, along with tracked or blown-in-dust and soot, they settle on the floor — and into carpets. Because children play on the floor, if there’s anything troublesome in the carpet, they get the brunt of it.

Where allergies run in families, some parents are rejecting rugs altogether. “We had this 12-year-old carpet on our lower level, and when my son lay on it to play he got itchy eyes, nasal congestion and sneezing,” says Terri Isidro-Cloudas, a web site producer who lives in Connecticut. “He was developing a lot of respiratory infections. I have asthma, and I didn’t want my son to get it,” she adds.

Terri was right to be concerned: Children can inherit a tendency to asthma, and exposures to allergens, such as dust mites, can trigger the disease. And when it comes to VOCs, Dr. Landrigan and others say, children are more vulnerable to these chemicals than adults are, because their young bodies are so rapidly growing and developing.

Terri didn’t want to just toss out her carpet, adding to the billion square yards of carpet that’s discarded every year, according to “Environmental Building News.” She tried steam cleaning, only to learn that her carpet had mold and mildew — which is incurable, according to the editors of “Environmental Building News.” John Bower confirms this, adding, “Actually, any damp cleaning or shampooing results in wet wall-to-wall carpet, which allows mildew and dust mites to proliferate,” Terri finally felt justified in removing the rug — and decided to stay carpet-free. She had concrete poured over the old vinyl tiles beneath. Radiant heat cables were installed, and covered with a hardwood floor. The result: a warm, cozy, cleanable floor “and energy savings, too,” Terri says.

While Terri proved that there is life, and a good one, after carpet, the other good news is that, if you’re in the market for a new one, there are many healthier choices available now.

This article was reprinted from “The Green Guide” newsletter, a publication of The Green Guide Institute. Since 1994, “The Green Guide” has been a premier consumer source for practical everyday actions benefiting environmental and personal health. Want more practical solutions that benefit the environment and personal health? Subscribe online to The Green Guide.

Read more: Home, Green Home Decor, Health & Safety

Reprinted by permission of The Green Guide Institute.
By Mindy Pennybacker, The Green Guide #86 (The Green Guide Institute).

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Annie B. Bond

Annie is a renowned expert in non-toxic and green living. She was named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine and "the foremost expert on green living." - Body & Soul Magazine, 2009. Learn Annie's latest eco-friendly news on anniebbond.com, a website dedicated to healthy and green living.

37 comments

+ add your own
3:40AM PDT on Aug 13, 2014

Well, frankly, there are other reasons why I often come to re-think the properties of carpets. For one, the toxicity of the materials in the carpet, and how they leak out and get onto your skin, for one. Yes, I am serious!
Thanks for reading and considering, everyone!
God bless all of you! Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior!

12:50AM PDT on May 30, 2013

Thank you!

12:44AM PDT on May 30, 2013

I love most floors other than carpet. Thanks for the good read.

1:02AM PDT on May 29, 2013

Your writers are extremely fantastic that have made easy to understand everything for us.
http://www.floorgurusgreenvillesc.com/carpet.html

11:24AM PST on Mar 9, 2012

Here is that link.. http://www.woolblog.com

11:23AM PST on Mar 9, 2012

Some great stuff on sustainable flooring on this bog, in particular a very good piece about wool carpets and asthma

http://www.woolblog.com/

2:32PM PST on Jan 17, 2012

Studies suggest that indoor air quality is often 10 to 100 times worse than outdoor air quality! Studies also show that there are many health benefits of carpet cleaning.

carpet cleaning Portland

7:10PM PDT on May 6, 2011

This information is basically incorrect. Carpet traps the allergens, pollutants, etc. and stores them. Allergens, fungus, etc is only a problem if they become airborne. If you clean your carpets, as recommended by the manufacturer, then all the stored pollutants get removed and you home will be healthier. Every time you walk across hard wood you kick up the dust and dirt on the floor and breathe it over and over. Since nothing is trapped by the hardwood there is always dust bunnies in the corners and underneath furniture. Homes are designed to be very airtight and basically hold their breath when the doors are closed. When the doors and windows open the home breathes and pulls in dirty air. No matter what you do there is always a thin layer of air traveling around your home. This thin layer of air carriers pollutants throughout the home.
I am a professional multi-certification holding carpet cleaner, but don't believe me check out Dr. Micheal Berry's advice about carpet http://www.healthyfacilitiesinstitute.com/a_39-Carpet_and_Health

Carpet Cleaning Portland

2:25PM PDT on Sep 12, 2010

I have seriously thought about having my ten year old carpet taken out as I have hard wood floors underneath. I've heard a lot about how carpet is adding to health problems.

Carpet Cleaning Jacksonville

1:14AM PDT on Jul 22, 2010

Thanks! I was thinking of replacing my carpets with laminate. I don't have enough time to clean carpet

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