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Carpet, Indoor Air Quality and Your Health

Many people find wall-to-wall carpeting to be an attractive floor covering, offering numerous benefits. Wall-to-wall carpeting helps muffle sound, increases heat retention and provides a comfortable walking surface. Aesthetically, it also establishes and unifies a room’s look and feel.

If you’re thinking about carpeting, you may have questions about health concerns. Issues include carpet and adhesive chemicals that can outgas during and after installation, a carpet’s tendency to harbor chemical substances that can pollute your indoor environment and the retention of moisture that can influence a room’s air quality.

Because none of these adverse affects can be seen, it’s easy for consumers to overlook their impact. Also, there’s still quite a bit of debate over exactly what the health hazards may be, if any, when it comes to carpeting. In this article, we’ll consider some of the potential hazards inherent in carpeting and look at ways that you can mitigate various risks.

Installation Issues

Over one thousand chemicals are used in the manufacturing of carpets. Latex backing, manufacturing solvents and adhesives all contribute to what are known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The mere sound of the term Volatile Organic Compounds is ominous. “Volatile” relates to the fact that the substances evaporate quickly and “organic” means that these compounds contain carbon.

The most common VOC found in new carpets is 4-phenylcyclohexene (4-PCH), which gives a room that new carpet smell-- a sharp odor-- that can linger for weeks. 4-PCH is a by-product of the styrene butadiene latex binder that adheres the carpet fibers to the backing. According to the Federal Government, levels of 4-PCH in new carpeting are not considered to pose a health hazard.

Although there is no solid scientific evidence identifying any ill effects of new carpet, many people have reported the onset of various symptoms, including nose, throat and eye irritation, headaches, dizziness and breathing problems, within one to three days of installing new carpeting.

Daily Contaminants

Carpeting can harbor numerous types of pollutants, including dust mites, mold spores, bacteria and viruses. Additional substances can be brought into the environment from outdoors and deposited on the carpet, including harmful pesticides. In fact, industry officials claim the ability of carpet to trap contaminants as a "filtration benefit". For some, this form of filtration may be a benefit, but for others the inability to thoroughly remove contaminants will adversely impact their comfort or health.

Concerns for people with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, and for children that may spend a lot of time playing on carpeting are tantamount. Vacuuming can help to alleviate the problem. However, to prevent the contaminants from being blown back into the air, a vacuum with a HEPA filter or a central vac that is vented to the outdoors should be used. Persons who are chemically sensitive or have more serious respiratory conditions may be best off by avoiding the use of carpet in their homes.

Moisture Control

Moisture is a problem because it can contribute to mold growth, creating an extremely unhealthy environment. Carpet should not be allowed to remain wet for extended periods of time. When shampooing carpets, water and cleaning solutions are injected deep under the pile. If this moisture is not extracted properly, the wet subfloor may encourage mold development. Carpeting that becomes wet should be dried within 24 hours. Use a wet-vac to remove water and then encourage airflow, which will aid the evaporation of any remaining moisture.

Never install carpeting over an uncured or moist concrete floor. A damp concrete floor covered with carpeting is ripe for mold growth. Installing a good quality pad under the carpet can help to act as a vapor barrier on an ongoing basis as well.

Finally, be attentive to any cracks or openings around doorways that may allow water to seep in from the outside and collect under your carpeting. Continuous or long-term exposure to moisture will rot a wood subfloor and will create the ideal circumstances for mold on any carpet-covered floor.

Recommendations for a Healthful Carpet

Here are some things you can do to help deter any potential problems.

Purchase carpeting that has passed the Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI) Indoor Air Quality testing program, which affirms that the product emits low levels of VOCs. The carpet will have an emblem composed of a green house and the CRI logo.

Do not buy carpeting that uses a styrene butadiene latex binder.

Before installing, air the carpet out for up to a week, if possible.

Have the carpeting tacked down rather than glued. If it has to be glued use a non-solvent adhesive.

As the carpet is being installed and after its down be sure to properly ventilate the room. Open windows, turn on fans and use air conditioners.

Read all literature associated with the installation and care of the carpet. Ensure the installer follows all guidelines as outlined by the CRI.

Vacuum the carpet often, using either a machine with a high efficiency filtration system or a central vacuum that’s vented outdoors.

Keep humidity levels between 40 and 60%.

Maintain a dry carpet and use cleaning systems recommended by the CRI and/or the manufacturer.

People who live in households that have airborne allergies and respiratory conditions are often counseled by allergists to refrain from installing carpeting. Alternatives include wood, vinyl, laminate and tile flooring. If you are putting in carpeting, a careful consideration of potential health issues in association with the above guidelines will help you make sound decisions.

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