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Carpet and Asthma, Like Oil and Water

Dec 28, 2017

by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée

 

Anyone who has asthma, or has seen an asthmatic attack, knows how scary it can be. According to the Center for Disease Control, the source of the asthma trigger must be removed from the environment (in addition to controlling asthma attacks with medication).

One of the common triggers of asthma (and allergies) is carpeting. Carpets harbor dust and is typically made and installed with materials that off-gas Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

Standard carpets are made from synthetic fibers and backing, dyed and finished with chemicals, padded with foam (under the carpet), and sometimes is installed with adhesives (depending on the type of subfloor). The dust and VOCs found in standard carpeting are two asthmatic triggers recognized by the American Lung Association. (1)

How does solid hardwood flooring help with asthma?

The American Lung Association suggests that those suffering from asthma install hard surface nontoxic flooring that have fewer VOCs,(2). Examples of nontoxic flooring include ceramic tile, or solid hardwood floors stained and finished with nontoxic finishes.

Ceramic tile and hardwood flooring are made from natural materials. This means that chemicals are not added in order to make the material (wood or ceramic) itself.

Hard surface flooring is easy to clean with a damp cloth (preferably cotton or another natural fiber cloth). Since there are no long fibers for dust to stick to or embed in, hard surface flooring allow the floor to be fully cleaned. There’s nowhere for the dust to hide!

Rugs are sometimes laid on top of hard surface flooring to add warmth and comfort in certain areas of the room (in front of couches and chairs are popular spots). Use rugs made from natural materials, dyes and finishes that can be washed weekly or cleaned outdoors.  

Similar to carpeting, rugs can hold dust and debris. Frequent vacuuming, and cleaning rugs in a wash machine or outdoors, can help reduce indoor vacuuming that can cause more dust to become airborne adding to indoor air pollution. (3)

What carpets might be better options?

If carpet is a must-have for you, choose carpet with the least amount of VOCs possible. When choosing lower-VOC carpeting, consider the material that the carpet is made of, dyes and finishes used, type of padding under the carpet, and how the carpet will be installed.

Natural fibers such as wool contain minimal VOCs and is a good alternative to synthetic fibers (as long as there is not a wool allergy in your family). In addition to being a natural fiber, wool is a natural flame retardant.

Avoid carpeting with finishes such as stain resistance or waterproofing. When possible, avoid these finishes to reduce toxic chemicals in your home.

Instead, install carpet with low-VOC products. The type of subfloor will guide the installation method to be used. For example, adhesives are typically used when carpet is installed over a concrete subfloor. Tack strips are commonly used when there is plywood or other type of wood subfloor.

Conclusion

Carpet and asthma are like oil and water: the two do not mix well together. Solid hardwood flooring with zero- or low-VOC finishes and installation materials are preferable for asthma sufferers. Hard surface flooring helps to control and remove dust, while zero- or low-VOC wood, finishes, and installation materials help minimize indoor air pollutants.

Where carpeting is a must-have, choose low-VOC carpets without additional finishes for resistance to various things, like stains, water, and bacteria.

 


References:

(1) Center for Disease Control

(2) (3) American Lung Association

 

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