We spend about most of our time at home, where we feel sheltered from all kinds of risks and life seems much less harsh, and more peaceful, than outside. But what you don’t know is that there are sources of indoor pollution that are potentially dangerous for you and your children. Among all things that may represent a pollution source, you might not think of carpets. Yes, if upholstery fabrics complete the decor of a room, they raise several health questions.
Let’s talk a bit about the history of carpets. The Pazyryk is the oldest carpet found until today. It was discovered in 1947 during excavations in Siberia in a tomb in the Altai Mountains and is 2,500 years old.
The art of tying carpets probably developed in the steppes of Central Asia several thousand years ago. Nomads then needed something which could protect them against the great cold of winter, be more practical than the furs of sheep, and which could be used as ornament for the tent. The carpet also represented an ideal furniture used to perpetuate mystical protective signs and symbols of tribes.
The material used for the warp, weft and velvet came from herds of sheep and goats.
It was from the 16th century that the art of knotting also began to be developed in Persian region. Important artists each developed decorative patterns that still make up the image of many rugs today. Some of these royal luxury carpets made their way to Europe but were reserved exclusively for royal and noble apartments.
At the end of the 19th century, the oriental rugs exhibited at the world fairs in Vienna (1873, 1890) and Paris (1878) created a boom which led to the opening of the first specialist carpet stores in Europe. The carpet was still a luxury product that only the nobility and the new bourgeois classes could afford. It was only a hundred years later, from around 1984, that prices fell with the economic collapse of Iran and the carpet became an affordable furnishing item. The choice is now relatively wide.
Indeed, carpets have many advantages. They’re an essential item for decoration, they’re relatively easy to afford and some claim they absorb humidity. But what you don’t know is that they can really harm your health.
Carpets and rugs consist of two parts: the surface layer made of natural fibers (cotton, wool, vegetable fibers) or synthetic (polyester, polyamide, acrylic, polypropylene) and the back, this part is generally made up of a polyurethane, polyvinyl chloride, styrene-butadiene foam, or as many VOC-generating materials, just like the glues used to fix this backing to the floor. In order to limit the risk of fire, certain fabrics are fireproofed using polybrominated chemicals, flame retardant and stain resistant treatments with toxic substances.
In addition to this composition, upholstery fabrics also have a high potential for absorbing chemical pollutants in the room. But they do not keep them: these substances are then released in the room, maintaining the vicious circle of indoor pollution.
When a carpet is new, it releases pollutants into the air. Laboratory analyzes have shown that several days after unpacking a new carpet, it emits VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), in other words chemicals, into the air.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are toxic products that evaporate in the air at room temperature. Some have a strong odor (paints, lacquers, etc.) but others are completely odorless. Their effects on health are real: VOCs irritate the airways (the risk is even more important in your children), eyes, skin and amplify allergic reactions. They can also cause heart, digestive, kidney or liver problems, and nervous system disorders. Some VOCs are classified as carcinogens, other probable carcinogens. They also present a risk of malformation of the fetus.
In this long list, we find styrene, toluene, formaldehyde, glycol ethers, toluene, formaldehyde and various benzenes. These chemical components are the result of the manufacturing process during which different chemicals like dyes, pesticides, fungicides, and stain removers are added. Once in your house, the vapors of these chemical agents are released into the air.
Tests carried out by several studies have shown that almost all carpets cause significant air contamination, sometimes lasting a month after unpacking.
These may be emissions of volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde (over 200 µg / m3), benzene (over 2 µg / m3), glycol ethers or ammonia.
Some carpets can emit up to 770 ug / m3 of volatile and semi-volatile organic compound content three days after unpacking, and almost two or three times that rate just after unpacking.
With their more or less long fibers, rugs and carpets trap dust, mites, molds and other particles (animal hair, pollen). They are therefore real nests of germs and allergens, especially if the room has a high level of humidity and a high temperature). So pollutants do not come just from the carpet itself. Once the carpet is unrolled, it becomes a reserve that stores dust, hydrocarbons from the street, pesticides from the garden and heavy metals (cadmium, lead) that you even bring in your shoes. Animals’ and humans shoes are largely to blame for these harmful substances arriving in our homes.
Robert Lewis, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s head of indoor air research, told New Scientist magazine that pesticides that have been outlawed for a long time are able to survive much longer indoors. This is because they’ve been given protection from the weather conditions that would normally result in their dispersal.
Analyzes proved the presence of numerous pesticides, including significant amounts of a poison known as Permethrin, Whose effects includes inhibiting kids’ physical development, causing nerve damage and impeding their ability to hear. In a startling statistic, the average urban U.S. child aged one or under consumes more than 100 nanograms of the chemical benzopyrene. This essentially equates to a few cigarettes being smoked by them on a daily basis.
The issue is therefore extremely worrying for young kids and babies, often on apartment carpets, thus more inhaling or sometimes ingesting these substances.
In response to these warnings, New York’s city council decided to reduce dangers of carpets by approving a bill to make them more environmentally friendly in 2013. This legislation ensured that any store offering carpets that didn’t adhere to the Green Label Plus standard set by the Carpet and Rug Institute would be subject to a penalty of up to $ 500.
However, The Carpet and Rug Institute argued that these claims are only myths. In a piece published by the Kiss Carpet Design Center, the institute’s president Werner Braun was particularly keen to address the issue of chemicals, claiming that for the chemicals identified as being present in, but not emitted from carpet, there is no reason to believe that they present any health risk of public concern. For chemicals identified as being from carpet, no cancer risk of public health concern is predicted for any chemical individually. The president also stated that VOCs Emissions from new carpet are among the lowest of any household’s indoor furnishings, and most VOCs dissipate within 24 hours with good ventilation.
Still, we recommend that you stick to these instructions to protect yourself and your family.
- If possible, limit the use of rugs in your home or remove them.
- In addition to airing daily, it is important that your home is well ventilated. The ventilation will allow the air to be renewed, ensuring general and permanent circulation. Ventilation can be natural (the air circulates in the home through air inlets and outlets) or mechanical via an electrical system called VMC (controlled mechanical ventilation) which will allow automatic and continuous renewal of the air.
- To ensure effective ventilation, make sure that the air inlets and outlets are not blocked or hidden and clean them at least once a year. If you have a VMC, check that the systems are not blocked and have it checked by a specialist every 3 years.
- When you are carpeting, open the windows and central ventilation system (air exchanger) to provide as much fresh air as possible.
- Treat the carpet at least twice a year with an eco-labeled anti-dust mite product or with baking soda (sprinkle the carpet, wait 2 hours then vacuum).
- Purchase carpets with the GUT label (Gemeinschaft Umweltfreundlicher Teppichboden, or Association of ecological carpets), a German label exclusively reserved for carpets. It limits the use of certain substances dangerous to health (phthalates, biocides, formaldehydes, flame retardants, etc.), heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury, etc.) and guarantees a total VOC emission of less than 300 μg / m3.
The Emicode label, also German, is affixed to the adhesives which it guarantees low VOC emissions. Choose an adhesive bearing the mention GEV EMICODE EC1 (= “very low emissions”).
- Do not allow babies or toddlers to crawl on a new carpet, as they can breathe in significant amounts of chemicals given off by the carpet.
- When disposing of an old carpet, vacuum it before removing it to limit the amount of particles released into the air.
- Vacuum using a central vacuum system or vacuum with a high efficiency particulate air filter (H.E.P.A.).
- Use a carpet cleaner that has a low odor and does not display any “Caution” or toxicity symbols. Make sure the carpet dries completely after washing it.
- Do not wear shoes inside the house, as they bring in dirt and other potentially harmful particles from the outside, which become embedded in your carpet.
- To limit the proliferation of dust mites, keep the room temperature below 20 ° C and control humidity. Also, be sure to banish dust and avoid rugs and carpets.
- Importantly, most rugs require exposure to the air for two to three weeks after purchase.