Before the 1950’s, carpets were made of either wool or cotton. Then nylon was developed, and it soon dominated the market because it was much less expensive than natural fibers. In 1965, manufacturers introduced polyester carpeting, then olefin, rayon, and acrylics. Today, the vast majority of carpeting is made of synthetic fibers.
Since indoor air quality is important to health, we should know that carpets, flooring adhesives, and carpet cleaning products affect the quality of the indoor air we breathe in a variety of ways.
First, carpets emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into our indoor air. Carpet manufacturers in the U.S. may voluntarily participate in “green” programs by using low emitting products in their manufacturing processes, but whether they emit low or high levels of VOCs, the fact remains that VOCs pollute our air.
Second, all carpet manufacturers and the Environmental Protection Agency recommend daily vacuuming of indoor carpets with a HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner. According to Mayo Clinic, carpets act as “reservoirs” for asthma triggers. Animal dander, dead skin, and dust mites settle into carpets. Every day, that microscopic matter goes airborne each time we walk across the room.
Third, synthetic carpet fibers can easily break down and add to airborne pollution in the home. Beginning in the first year of a new carpet, microscopic dirt and soil break down the protective coating on carpet fibers. Tiny broken fibers are stirred into the air by normal foot traffic and vacuuming. They land on furniture and in the vacuum bag, and are inhaled by everyone in the room.
Asthma has been increasing since the 1950’s. The number of young children with asthma is much higher than adults with asthma. This asthma increase corresponds to the rising popularity of indoor carpeting. This is no coincidence, and it makes sense that the rate of asthma would be highest among small children. After all, our little ones are much closer to the ground, where they are breathing in the allergen “reservoir.”
Asthma educators are trained to advise asthmatics and their families to remove carpeting from the home, if at all possible, and replace it with wood or tile. At the very least, carpets should be removed from bedrooms, where allergens are inhaled all night long.
CRI. (n.d.) Green label plus: A higher standard for indoor air quality. The Carpet and Rug Institute. http://www.carpet-rug.org/CRI-Testing-Programs/Green-Label-Plus.aspx
Li, J. (2013). Childhood asthma. Mayo Foundation for Clinical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-asthma/expert-answers/asthma-triggers/faq-20057785
Trusted Pros. (2014). Top ten carpet care myths. Trusted Pros, Inc. http://trustedpros.com/articles/carpeting/top-10-carpet-care-myths