How your carpets affect your health

How do your carpets affect your health

If you have carpeted floors in your home, you will already be aware of its benefits – it’s cosy, warm and looks beautiful when well maintained. 

However, carpets can hide a significant quantity of dirt and dust that may not be visible on the surface. Therefore, a more comprehensive carpet cleaning regime as opposed to hard floor coverings.  Carpet needs regular vacuuming and occasional cleaning to extend both its life and its appeal.

 

A 2018 Review by Becher et al focussed on whether carpet impairs indoor air quality and cause adverse health outcomes.  It was noted that there are relatively few previous publications that have investigated the impact of carpeted floors on adverse health effects.

Moreover, the majority of those that have been written have limited strength due to study size and design, with a lack of objective health assessments.  However, the majority of studies appear to find a correlation between carpeted floors and adverse health outcomes such as respiratory infections and asthma.  

Carpets may act as a repository for indoor air pollutants such as pollen, mould, dust mites, animal dander and other biological contamination.  

 

Pollen

If you have ever suffered from hay fever, you will understand how difficult it is to avoid pollen. 

It can enter your home through open windows or be carried inside on clothing and shoes before being subsequently settling and being grounded into your carpet as you walk on it.

 

Mould

Mould spores float around just like pollen and can enter the home in the same way and can multiply once in your carpet. 

 

Dust mites

Dust mites are tiny, eight-legged arachnids that live in carpeting, bedding, and furniture.

They can only be seen with a microscope, so are small enough to escape even the most diligent of home cleaners.  Feeding on dead skin, mould and fungi, carpets provide them with the perfect habitat – you’ll undoubtedly have more of them if your carpet is older, has not been cleaned for some time, or worse – both.

 

Pet dander

Animal dander is essentially pet dandruff – loose skin cells that flake off accumulating in your carpet over time.

If you have pets, there will be plenty of animal dander trapped in your carpet. Of course, pets will bring the outdoors into the home and onto our carpet. Your carpet will be subject to hair, saliva, fleas, ticks and perhaps worst of all, faeces and urine. Pet waste in particular can be particularly dangerous for children regularly in contact with carpet. 

So clean both your pets and your carpets regularly!

 

Common health problems linked to carpeted flooring

Many of the common pollutants already mentioned will make a home in carpet before they make it into the air and into your lungs. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, there are a number of health problems associated with these pollutants:

 

Asthma

If a large area is covered in carpet, it can be very difficult to remove indoor air pollutants and allergens.  According to the American Lung Association, it’s possible that these pollutants may become airborne during renovations, vacuuming or even daily activities like walking on the carpet.

In the home, children are more likely to be exposed to pollution in carpets as they spend time playing on the floor.  Carpets in the children’s bedroom have also been associated with increased risk of asthma.

 

Allergies

Dead skin, pet hair, food, dust and more collecting in your carpet can be the cause of allergic reactions. 

If these allergens are circulating in the air throughout your home they can cause cold like symptoms such as sneezing, stuffy or runny nose or red itchy eyes.

 

Respiratory problems

Coughing or difficulty breathing can be caused by Dust mites, mycotoxins, mould, fungi. Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) can also cause coughing, Rhinitis and breathing difficulties.  Carpeted floors as well as most other flooring types may also emit VOCs that can smell and irritate the mucous membranes in susceptible individuals.

However, the carpet industry claims that emissions from new carpets are low and last for a short time. Independent of initial levels, VOC-emissions from the carpet itself or glue products used during carpeting will be reduced over time. 

Hence, VOC-release from old, carpeted floors is more likely due to emission of substances supplied to the carpet, such as harsh cleaning products. (It should also be noted that emission problems related to new flooring is not restricted to carpets and may also occur with newly installed hard-floor materials)

 

Skin irritation and infection issues

Fungi can cause redness, swelling or itchiness in your skin. Walking barefoot on fungus held within carpet can lead to fungal nail infections and athlete’s foot.  Eczema can also be triggered when bare skin comes in to contact with dirty carpet.

 

Infection

Exposure to mycotoxins found in dirty carpeting can weaken the immune system and cause different health problems such as stomach irritation and infection.

Most people are aware of salmonella as a foodborne disease, but your carpet could also be a host for salmonella.

 

Mental Health

Studies have found that spending time in an unclean environment can raise your stress and anxiety levels. Too much stress in itself can weaken your immune system causing headaches and sleep disorders which can lead to further complications such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

So, cleaning your soft furnishings regularly can help you stay healthy of mind as well as body.  If you want your home to be a cleaner and healthier environment for you and your loved ones, make a habit of regular cleaning. 

 

Conclusion

There is a need for more knowledge about the possible health impacts of carpet. This will require cohort studies with larger study populations as well as doctor diagnosed disease outcomes.  However, it’s worth noting that there does not appear to be a great deal of peer-reviewed evidence to support the notion that modern carpets are unproblematic for the indoor environment.  On the contrary, the available literature suggests that the use of carpets is linked to increased levels of indoor dust, allergens and microorganisms associated with an increased risk of the afore mentioned health outcomes.  Therefore, common sense dictates that caution should be exercised in environments that have carpeted floors.

Obviously, the extended time we have all spent indoors during the seemingly endless lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 will have only elevated the accumulation of contaminants within the home environment, thus exacerbating the potential for the health issues described.   Vacuuming regularly will help keep these contaminants to a minimum, but the gradual build-up of contaminants is inevitable.  Older carpet is bound to contain allergens that have accumulated over time and the deeper the pile, the more there is likely to be hiding below the surface.  It may look clean, but the uncomfortable truth is that your carpet can be harbouring all manner of nasties.  

Skipping or postponing regular maintenance will lead to increased levels of contaminants accumulating in the carpet.  Your carpets may look reasonably clean on the surface, but untold contaminants will be slowly accumulating beneath the surface

Imagine an overflowing sink, where the volume of water has nowhere left to go and spills over the side.  In a carpet the level of soiling will eventually rise until it has nowhere else to go and the dirt will become visible on the surface.  This kind of soiling is often seen in the form of blacking in high traffic areas such as doorways or in front of sofas and chairs.  If this is your carpet you have to understand that this situation has already been affecting the health of you and your family for a considerable amount of time – you need to take action now!  Excessive soiling may in turn have caused excessive wear in these areas, in which case you should consider replacement.  However, if the carpet is relatively new or have you have recognised the signs early enough, then you may be able to salvage the situation with a professional deep clean.

Remember, if you have carpet or fabric upholstery, a comprehensive cleaning regime consisting of frequent and thorough vacuuming interspersed with a professional clean every 6-12 months is essential if you want to ensure your home does not start negatively impacting your health.  

Don’t keep brushing your health and well-being under the carpet! 

 

Disclosure: this post is sponsored by Cleaner By Nature

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