Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What's lurking in your Carpet?

The carpet you installed looks great but is there danger lurking in the freshly installed fibers? Carpet has been used for years by millions, made from the same materials found in clothing and everyday fabrics: polyester, nylon, olefin fibers, latex (synthetic rubber) and polypropylene (olefin) fabric backing. You may be surprised to hear that carpet is now becoming a controversial topic as a result of the off-gassing carpets can produce.

The common symptoms people display when a new carpet is installed are allergies, headaches and fatigue. New carpet emits up to forty different chemicals after installation called volatile organic compounds (VOC). As the carpet ages, the quantity of gases released drops but it can take up to a full year before most of the chemicals are completely released from the fibers. The carpet alone is not the only potential problem; the glues used to tack down the carpet as well as the carpet padding emit VOC’s which result in potential health risks.

Experiments were conducted on mice using carpet and adhesive sample fumes. Mice developed a multitude of neurological symptoms resulting in tremors and convulsions as well as brain haemorrhages and paralysis. Theses symptoms are supported by reports filed by carpet installers who have developed a wide range of health issues such as head and body aches as well as gastrointestinal symptoms. Neurological symptoms in humans can range from slowness, weight loss or gain, rash, insomnia and confusion, change in personality, memory loss, extreme fatigue and difficulty speaking. It becomes overwhelming to hear what people could potentially be exposing themselves to in their own homes.

Although a true connection between carpet fumes and the linked health issues has yet been firmly established, it is best to be cautious when making flooring decisions. This is even more important if you have small children who play on the floor and become more susceptible to the adverse VOC’s emitted. Vinyl and synthetic carpet VOC’s are high, look for natural fibers such as wool, sisal and cotton. Hardwood floors seem like a good solution but they include formaldehydes, which releases high content of VOC’s. The alternative to this is pre-sealed hardwood or water-based polyurethane hardwood. Ceramic tile emits no gases. Linoleum is clinically nontoxic. Alternatively, the best flooring for allergy sufferers are bamboo, cork or recycled glass. To minimize the VOC’s select low-VOC or water based adhesives/products. If it is carpet you truly want, your new carpet should include a low-emission level institute tag and carpets that are free of chemicals with a low nap.

The carpet industry claims they are committed to improving the quality of indoor air by reducing the VOC’s from their products. Carpet samples are tested for chemical emissions using the most up to date dynamic environmental chamber technology and this process has reduced the overall level of emissions by selective raw material usage and other process modifications. Hazardous new carpet emission normally dissipates within 48 to 72 hours after installation when accompanied with good ventilation.

What are the benefits of having a carpet in your home after new carpet emissions have disappeared? The carpet industry has worked closely with environmental agencies, product safely companies, institutions and independent laboratories. Throughout the evaluations, scientific evidence has indicated no specific link to human health effects from the chemical emissions that so many have linked to carpet. They go to the extent of proving the benefits that carpet provides; it holds dust particles and dirt until removed by vacuuming. The holding characteristics helps with the airborne dust which is usually stirred up by foot traffic as found with solid surfaces. This is a quality that helps protect allergy sufferers. The fact that carpet collects and holds more lint and dust may be considered an advantage as it is better to have particles carrying dirt and bacteria held down in the carpet until vacuumed.

After these tests and statements conducted by the carpet industry, fingers are now being pointed towards the adhesives, the carpet padding and the sub-floors. So your allergies might not becoming from the carpet fibres itself but from the under padding and the process under the carpet. As you can see, the jury is still out on this issue. What is certain is that education and research are crucial before you make any carpet or flooring decisions for your home.

Stay green and until next time,
Jo Alcorn, w&c designer girl!


  1. INTERESTING! Thanks.

  2. Aside from choosing the best and safest carpet, I personally think that we should also be well-equipped with the necessary things to maintain our carpets and keep them always clean. I for one know a good Seattle carpet cleaner that can perfectly clean and restore our carpets in the living room. I think it shows that proper maintenance is what we need so that we don't have to sacrifice an interior's beauty and aesthetics.


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