Carpets can be great for those who enjoy the look and feel of carpeting. However, carpet can also be the source of a number of indoor air quality problems for those with hypersensitivities. In this blog, I want to address some of the issues that can occur with this material and some of the ways to correct these problems.
A Friend in Need
I got a phone call one time from a friend of mine who recently purchased a condominium. She was thrilled with the purchase but had one big problem. The carpet seemed to have a terrible odor. Did she make a mistake in purchasing the condo? Did something go terribly wrong with the new carpet installation? Now that she owned the property, was there anything that she could do to get rid of the odor?
Typically, the flooring for most living areas falls under two camps. There are those who prefer hardwood floors and there are those who like the feel of carpeting. Many people who have allergies prefer hardwood floors because they are easier to clean. Carpeting is acceptable, but comes with some caveats.
Carpet and VOCs
In regards to my friend’s carpet odor, we need to be aware of something called volatile organic compounds (or VOCs for short). VOCs are chemicals that offgas in the air and can give off an odor. For some individuals, the VOCs from new carpeting can make people sick. Symptoms include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, headaches and trouble breathing. The source of these pesky VOCs can come from the carpet, the padding, and the adhesives used to hold the carpet in place.
Although an annoyance, the off-gassing of these compounds can typically be fixed through a few easy, inexpensive steps. The EPA gives some great advice on this type of problem 1. If you happen to have hypersensitivities, they advise talking to the retailer to see if the various carpet materials have low emissions in VOCs. Another step includes having the retailer unroll the carpet in a clean, well-ventilated area and allow much of the off-gassing to occur prior to installation. When the carpet is installed, it is often advisable to open doors and windows throughout the home and have box fans blow the VOCs outdoors. The nice thing about VOCs is that they will eventually off gas themselves out of existence. The greatest amount of off-gassing will generally occur right after installation.
Molds have certain enzymes that give them a preference for what they like to eat. They like to eat paper, wood and even dirt and dust. They do not like to eat the synthetic materials used in carpet fibers. That said, mold can grow on the dirt and dust embedded in the carpet. If you happened to have carpeting in a basement that had a flood, you might find mold growth in the carpet. Carpet padding can be a major source of mold growth and next to impossible to clean. At this point, you might be better off removing the carpet and padding to ensure that the indoor air quality is at its best.
Dust, Allergens and Pesticides
I may be stating the obvious, but carpets are generally made to walk on. The types of things that we bring from the outdoors can cling to our shoes and clothing and be brought into our living areas. Dust, allergens, and pesticides embedded in the carpet can be one of the unhealthy results. Worse yet, imagine small children crawling around this type of flooring. Regular cleaning (and the occasional deep cleaning) can greatly aid in improving general air quality.
Conclusion – Carpet and Indoor Air Quality
In the case of my friend’s new condo, my recommendations were pretty straightforward. I advised her to open the windows to her new condominium and place box fans in the windows to create cross ventilation. Blow good air in. Blow bad air out. Within a week, the odor was completely gone and my friend could go on to enjoy her new place. In many instances, poor air quality with carpeting can be greatly improved and enjoyed with adequate ventilation and proper cleaning.