What’s Hiding in Your Carpets?
Did you know that there is something sinister lurking in your home and in our schools? It’s on the floor of almost every room, and it can cause chaos for your health! What could it be????!! Carpet. Wait, carpet??? Yes! Carpets hide amazing amounts of dust, dirt, dust mites, mold, mildew, and other allergens and toxins. Is carpet really dangerous? Can you keep your home truly clean if you have carpet? Is vacuuming enough? What about steam or carpet cleaning? Doesn’t carpet cleaning remove all those things? Read on to find out what’s really hiding in those carpets!
Why do carpets trap allergens, dust mites, mold?
Carpet is basically fiber that people walk on. In the past, carpets were made of natural fibers, and most of the time they were made of wool. Now, most carpets are made of synthetic materials including nylon, polyester, polypropylene, and acrylic fibers. These synthetic materials can repel stains, moisture, and even mildew. There are many different types of carpet including: Berber, shag, pattern, plush, and textured.
Because of the way carpet fibers are shaped and placed close together, they naturally attract and hold small particles of dust, allergens, and other pollutants. 2 According to the American Lung Association, “carpets may trap pollutants like dust mites, pet dander, cockroach allergens, particle pollution, lead, mold spores, pesticides, dirt and dust.” 2
So carpets trap many different kinds of pollutants. When people, kids, and pets walk on the carpet they cause many of the pollutants to be released into the air later, causing air quality issues. It’s like carpet was designed to collect all the years of dust, all the dirt from every shoe that walks in, and just hold it there for everyone to keep breathing.
In addition, carpets may also be sprayed with chemicals including flame retardants, stain repellents, and other chemicals that can produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs).1,3 VOC’s are chemicals that are released into the air from products (like carpet) or processes that can pollute indoor air quality. 1,3 So even when carpets are new, they can have an effect on indoor air quality. 1,3 You can learn more about how VOC’s affect air quality from the American Lung Association.1
Case Study – School
In many schools, students and teachers are getting sick and nobody seems to know why. Multiple professionals have evaluated the problem. The rooms are cleaned regularly. Why are they sick?
We recently took a call from a school as a last-ditch effort to find out why students and teachers were getting sick. Teachers and students had been complaining of being sick in their classrooms. A visual inspection did not reveal anything unusual, so we knew we had to dig deeper. Carpets are the best hiding place for otherwise unnoticed irritants, so we collected samples and sent them to our testing lab.
The allergen report came back with high levels of dust mite allergens. There are three levels for allergen risk on the report: low, moderate, and high. The samples contained a moderate risk for sensitization and hyperactivity. This level of dust mites is high enough to cause allergic reactions.
For mold, we sent samples to the lab for an ERMI test. The Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI) is a test that was developed by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) researchers to standardize the way mold is measured in homes and businesses, and to determine the mold burden in a home.16 The test measures the amount of molds that are normally found in homes, as well as, molds that are usually found in water damaged environments.16
When we receive an ERMI report, we receive spore counts for each mold species in the sample and are given a rating of Level 1 to Level 4. 16,17 Level 1 being the least amount of mold or no mold problem, and Level 4 being the highest level or a high level of moldiness. 17
The mold report for this classroom showed that the samples had very high mold spore counts, and scored a Level 4 for High Relative Moldiness. This indicates that further investigation is needed to determine the sources of this mold, so that it can be removed. It is highly likely that the carpet in classrooms was making students and teachers sick. Remember that when the classrooms were visually inspected, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
With high levels of dust mites and high levels of mold, anyone with allergies could become ill. However, mold can also cause problems even for people who do not have allergies. Some molds can produce mycotoxins – literally ‘fungus poison’ in Latin.11,15 Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites that can be produced by molds, and are not living organisms.11,15 They are a byproduct of mold. Not all mold spores produce mycotoxins, but some do. So the molds that produce mycotoxins are the ones that could be categorized as “toxic”.
We are so glad that we could help determine the source of the problem for the school and help them get it fixed. As a company, we love helping to solve problems!
The bottom line is… carpet will always collect allergens and irritants, and they are impossible to fully clean. Hard surface flooring is always a better option because you can completely sanitize and disinfect it if needed.
What should you choose if you are ready to ditch your carpets? There are many, many options for hard surface flooring. How do you choose the best flooring for you?
Check out ‘Just Floored! 15 Totally Unexpected DIY Flooring Alternatives’ on Bob Vila’s website for some really wild, cheap, recyclable flooring options.
For more traditional flooring options and how they measure up, check out ‘Pros and Cons of 5 Popular Bedroom Flooring Materials’ on The Spruce.
Allergies and Asthma
Especially for those with allergies or asthma, less fabric and carpet means less places for dust mites and other allergens to build up. Having fabrics that are washable is important to reduce allergy symptoms. To learn more about how to remove dust mites from fabrics, see our post titled Dust Mites.
Area rugs are fine as long as they are washable, for those of you who hate the idea of a cold floor early in the morning. Natural fabrics such as cotton, wool, jute, and even bamboo can make great washable area rugs.
You know what is best for your family and your budget, so be sure to do your research before changing your flooring.
How to Clean Carpets
As we have shown, carpets and rugs are a haven for dust and dirt and even mold. If you are not quite ready to ditch the carpet, here is our ‘how to’ guide for keeping it clean.
Vacuuming often is important, especially for those with allergies. A vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter is best when vacuuming. HEPA [High Efficiency Particulate Air] filters are special filters that prevent allergens and dust from reentering the air.
At least twice a year, carpets need deep cleaning. You could choose a professional cleaning service, but be aware… the chemicals they use to clean your carpets can also emit VOC’s and even be toxic.1,3 There are very few regulations on commercial or consumer carpet cleaning chemicals in the US. It is safer therefore to do it yourself. To learn more about the dangers of carpet cleaning chemicals, go to the EWG’s Guide to Floor Care.12 If you want to learn more about cleaning products and methods see our posts: Cleaning Products – Homemade vs. Store Bought and Branch’s Non-Toxic Spring Cleaning Guide.13,14
When deep cleaning carpets, vacuum the room twice and move any easily movable furniture to another room.6,7,8 Spot treat stains before steam cleaning.6,7,8 Popular Mechanics has an excellent guide to spot cleaning called 10 Carpet Cleaning Secrets from the Pros.7
Steam cleaning can be a DIY project. You can rent steam or buy cleaners, and make your own cleaning solutions.6 The simplest cleaning solution is to simply use hot (not boiling) water in the steam cleaner.6 Hot water gets most dirt and grime out of carpets without needing any further help.6 If carpets are very dirty, using white vinegar with hot water at a rate of one cup of vinegar to two and a half gallons of hot water should help remove more grime.6 Be sure to open the windows and turn on ceiling fans to ventilate the room before beginning, and to help the carpets dry faster.6
Most steam cleaners have 2 modes, the first to wet the carpet, and the second to remove the water.6 Be sure to do three or more passes with the second mode to remove as much water and grime as possible.6 Once the carpet has been cleaned, use ceiling or box fans to dry the carpet before allowing people and pets to walk on it.6 You can use aluminum foil to cover the bottom of furniture legs to keep furniture stain from bleeding into the carpet.6
How often should I deep or steam clean?
Twice a year deep cleaning is usually sufficient for a family of 4 in a home without allergies or asthma.6 However, if you have pets or high traffic areas of carpet such as in a school or business, deep cleaning is recommended more frequently.7 Check out How Often Should You Clean Your Commercial Carpet? for more information about commercial cleaning frequency.7
We highly recommend that you remove as much carpet as possible and replace the carpet with hard surface flooring.
When to Clean / When to Call
As you can see, carpets can be a source of allergens, chemical toxins (VOC’s), and mycotoxins (toxins from mold). 3,11 It’s not hard to take care of carpets as a homeowner, but it’s a good idea to know when to call in the pros. If a carpet becomes moldy, or there is an area of mold that covers more than around 10 square feet, there is a good chance the mold problem is more than an isolated issue.
If your home always smells musty, or has a wet dog, old sock kind of smell, you may have a hidden mold problem.15 Mold is great at hiding in hard to detect locations. Remember what to do: ventilate to remove moisture and clean surface areas of mold as soon as you see them forming. Check out our post: A Simple Guide to Cleaning Mold to learn more.
If it still smells musty, call us! A mold inspection by Branch Environmental can help you get to the bottom of the problem. We’re experts not only at mold removal, but at determining and remediating the underlying causes. From hidden mold sources to major contaminants. We can identify exactly what is going on in your home and rid it of environmental toxins, often for good.
Branch Environmental – Because nobody should live or work in a building that makes them sick.
For more information go to:
- Volatile Organic Compounds Impact on Indoor Air Quality – EPA
- Carpets – American Lung Association
- Volatile Organic Compounds – American Lung Association
- EWG’ s Guide to Healthy Cleaning
- Disinfecting, Sterilizing, and Sanitizing: Is there a difference? – Branch Environmental
- How To Deep Clean Your Carpets – Apartment Therapy
- 10 Carpet Cleaning Secrets from the Pros – Popular Mechanics
- How Often Should You Clean Your Commercial Carpet? – DPM Floor and Upholstery Care by Pam Peters
- Just Floored! 15 Totally Unexpected DIY Flooring Alternatives – by By Larry Bilotti for Bob Vila
- Pros and Cons of 5 Popular Bedroom Flooring Materials – The Spruce
- Mycotoxins – World Heath Organization
- EWG’s Guide to Floor Care
- Cleaning Products – Homemade vs. Store Bought – Branch Environmental
- Branch’s Non-Toxic Spring Cleaning Guide – Branch Environmental
- When Mold Is More Than Allergies – Branch Environmental
- How Can Mold Tests Be A Predictor For Our Health? – Branch Environmental
- ERMI Analysis EMSL Test – EMSL Analytical, Inc
- Dust Mites – Branch Environmental
- Mold vs. Mildew – Branch Environmental
- What’s that musty smell? MVOC’s – Branch Environmental
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