Ah, the smell of new carpet—brand new, soft, clean, plush and beautiful. Comparable to that new car smell for many proud homeowners. But what these proud homeowners don’t realize is that new carpet smell is coming from chemicals in their new carpet—and that’s just one health risk carpets brings home.
Healthy adults can live with the allergens quite well, their immune systems protect them, at least until their immune systems become overburdened. The real danger is for those who have allergic asthma and children—especially infants.
That wall to wall carpet may look warm, luxurious and comfortable and it may seem like the perfect thing for the baby’s nursery or the kid’s rooms but it’s certainly less than ideal when we look a little closer. Carpets harbor dust (and if you’re a pet lover, pet dander). Dust means dust mites and dust mite allergen which can trigger asthma and other allergies. They may also contain chemical residues from manufacturing and stain repellant treatments. Children and babies have sensitive immune systems and when exposed to these allergens can become sensitized to them and develop asthma and allergies later in life. They are closer to the floor than we are and closer to the allergens as well and, therefore, in closer contact to the dust and dander.
You say you vacuum and shampoo the carpets regularly? Carpet is like a sponge, it attracts and holds fumes from paint, cleaning products, fragrances, and shampooing the carpets cause the backing or pad to hold moisture long enough to develop mold and mildew. These mold and mildew spores work their way up through the carpet fibers and out into the air. We also carry in dust and toxins in on our shoes. Outdoor pollens and pollutants are absorbed by the carpet and released into the air. Even high powered vacuum cleaners will not remove dust mites, mold and mildew spores sufficiently and will not help severe respiratory problems. They often just manage to blow them around. The chemicals in carpet will ‘’off gas’’ –give off toxic fumes into the air for the life of the carpet.
The healthiest way to treat this problem is to remove carpets completely and replace them with a healthier flooring and rugs that provide warmth and cushioning but can be taken up and washed. The smaller rugs hold less dust and are a smaller health risk. However, some flooring alternatives can be as dangerous as carpet.
Natural wood is the healthiest flooring available. Next to wood comes natural linoleum, cork, and laminate flooring. The most inexpensive flooring is PVC, known as vinyl, and if a major source of toxic fumes. The softeners used in vinyl flooring may contribute to asthma in many individuals. PVC is not recommended as a suitable replacement for carpet where the development of asthma can be a consideration.
Wood is beautiful, healthy, durable, and hard wearing. It is sustainable when harvested correctly. When buying wood flooring ask if the flooring has been treated with anything to make it resistant to insects, mold or fungi. Look for wood that has been treated with low toxic boric acid as a preservative. Also make certain all finishes and adhesives used in the installation is solvent free or low emission.
Laminates are a fairly good substitution for wood but be careful to select a laminate that is also low emission or zero emission because some laminates are made with formaldehyde resins. These can emit formaldehyde gas at room temperature.
Natural linoleum is a very durable flooring and it’s has been vastly improved since our grandparents used it in their kitchens. It’s attractive, available in many colors and is warm. It’s also naturally antistatic and anti-bacterial. It’s constructed from linseed oil, pine tree resin, wood and cork mixed with inorganic clay and chalk. It gives off no fumes.
Ceramic tile is a good choice. It’s available in many patterns and colors including wood-look planks. It’s a good alternative to wood when ease of installation and cost are strong factors. Ceramic tile usually does need to be grouted. For the wood-look planks choose a grout that is a little darker than the tile and keep the grout line very thin for the best appearance.
Bamboo is another good alternative. It’s very hard and durable and very sustainable. It regenerates itself with no need for replanting. It matures very quickly and needs little pesticide or fertilizer. If considering bamboo ask what kind of preservatives the manufacturer uses. Again, low toxicity boric acid is the safest.