Carpet industry fights allergy image

The carpet and rug industry is fighting back against “myths” that carpets cause allergies and poor indoor air quality.“The suggestion that carpet causes problems is a significant issue for the carpet industry to address,” says Werner Braun in a release from the Carpet and Rug Institute.

The CRI says there are “persistent misconceptions” about health risks associated with carpet. Most of them have to do with asthma and allergies. The CRI says it’s a myth that carpet is a cause for the increase in asthma and allergies.

Carpet holds allergens
The institute claims that in a 10-year data comparison done by the Swedish Institute of Fibre and Polymer Research shows no link exists. 

“Scientists found that while the use of carpet in Sweden had steadily decreased since 1975, the occurrences of allergic reactions in the general population had increased,” says the CRI release.

However, the CRI does concede, “carpet is a sink for allergy-causing substances”.

“This is true as stated. The critical point, however, if often missed. Carpet holds allergen-causing substances tightly and, as a result, keeps allergens from becomg airborne.”

The CRI recommends vacuuming carpet, mattresses and upholstery once of twice a week to remove allergens.

Abandon broadloom
However, the Canadian Lung Association recommends “abandonment of broadloom, and use of area rugs only in special areas” for those with asthma and allergies. And the American Lung Association recommends removal of bedroom carpeting and a clean up of all surface dust “as often as possible.”

The online medical library Medem is more blunt: “Carpeting makes dust control impossible. Although shag carpets are the worst type for the dust-sensitive person, all carpets trap dust. Therefore, hardwood, tile or linoleum floors are preferred.”

“Treating carpets with tannic acid eliminates some dust mite allergen, but tannic acid is not as effective as removing the carpet, is irritating to some people, and must be repeatedly applied.”

Dust is culprit
All sources agree on the source for distress-dust.

“Although house dust harbors pollen, mold spores, and animal dander, its principal allergen component is thought to be mites, microscopic spider like creatures found worldwide. Mites live only during warm months, but allergic reactions to them worsen in winter. It is believed that in the colder months dead mite fragments enter the respiratory tract more easily than intact mites and cause increased respiratory distress.”

“Dust also contains disintegrated stuffing material from pillows, mattresses, toys, and furniture, as well as bits of fiber from draperies, blankets, and carpets. The break-down of these materials apparently converts them into irritants for people with hay fever and asthma,” according to information from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Mold problems
As for mold and mildew, also sources for allergens for sensitive individuals, the CRI says it’s another myth that these grow in carpet.

“Mold and mildew exist only where there is excess moisture and dirt coupled with poor cleaning and maintenance habits.”

The CRI cites a study of six Florida schools with indoor air problems trigged by high humidity. According to the CRI, it was dust-lined moldy ducts and plumbing leaks in ceiling tiles that allowed mold to grow and release spores into the air.

No formaldehyde, latex
As for indoor air quality, the CRI says two common myths are:

  • Formaldehyde is used in carpet production and goes into the air after installation
  • Latex backing produces allergic reaction.

The CRI says no formaldehyde is used in the carpet manufacturing process. As for latex, it’s synthetic. It’s the proteins in natural latex that cause allergic reactions, according to the CRI.

“Carpet is made primarily of the same innocuous material found in clothing and other everyday fabrics, including polyester and nylon,” says the release.

Volatile compounds
For most people with environmental sensitivities, it’s the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that cause allergic reactions. These come from the synthetic materials and glues used in production of most new furnishings and building materials. VOCs fade with time.

“Emissions from new carpet are among the lowest of any household’s indoor furnishings, and most VOCs dissipate within 24-hours-even faster with good ventilation,” says the CRI.

The indoor air quality recommendation from the Canadian Lung Association says, “Even though only about 15 per cent of the population is significantly hypersensitive to environmental exposures, hypersensitive individuals are very evenly dispersed, such that over 40 per cent of households contain at least one hypersensitive individual.”

Limit exposure
Both the Canadian and American Lung Association recommend that people with air quality sensitivities limit their exposure to closed environments containing artificial materials or materials that hold dust. 

People with allergies can reduce some of their misery by limiting artificial materials in their own homes. They can also create a dust-free bedroom with few surfaces where dust can collect. No carpets or area rugs in bedrooms are recommended.