Jan 19, 2018
by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée
I was in junior high when my parents last installed new carpet. Well, at least, that was the last time I lived there. My sisters and I were on summer break, and so excited to get rid of the worn out carpeting that the previous owners had left behind.
Giddy with excitement, the three of us sat on the couch outside of the living room, watching the installers lay carpet and secure it with tack strips. After a short time, we retreated upstairs. I remember feeling dizzy and nauseous as we left our post.
That was quite some time ago.
Even after all these years, I vividly remember that new carpet smell. It was so potent.
What I didn’t know back then is that the ‘new carpet smell’ was created by chemicals off-gassing into the air.
Standard carpeting is made from synthetic fibers, dyes, and finishes. Chemicals that are commonly used to make and/or protect carpeting include:
In addition, when chemicals mix, they may produce other toxic fumes that could be harmful to health. This is known as the chemical cocktail effect. As an example, think of bleach and ammonia. When chlorine bleach is mixed with ammonia, it creates additional toxic gases called chloramines. (1)
These types of chemicals can also be found in the foam padding under carpeting, as well as in the adhesives during installation.
Getting rid of new carpet fumes can take some time, but planning in advance helps. Below are three tips.
The most effective way to have less carpet odor in the home is to not bring them home. Carpets and padding made from natural materials—such as organic wool or cotton—typically has fewer chemicals than synthetic carpeting and padding, which is made from several chemicals. When installing carpeting, consider non-adhesive installation methods where possible. If adhesives are needed, choose adhesives that are lower in VOCs.
Investing in an air purifier may reduce the amount of new carpet fumes circulating in the home. Air purifiers come in many variations. Opt for one that has a carbon filter or “activated charcoal.” Please know the type of charcoal we’re talking about here is not the same as the charcoal used to grill. It’s a special type of charcoal (or carbon filter) meant to remove chemicals from the air.
Increase the amount of fresh air in the house. Open windows and larger doors such as a patio door to let the fresh air in. If possible, get a cross breeze by opening windows and doors opposite of each other to increase circulation. Turning on a fan will help circulate the fresh air as well.
The popular new carpet smell is familiar to anyone that has had new standard carpet installed. The smell can be stuck in memory for decades to come, and the health effects may stick around as well.
Consider installing solid surface flooring—such as tile or solid hardwood flooring—with area rugs instead of a fully carpeted floor. If carpet is non-negotiable, consider natural carpets with fewer VOCs, and padding made from natural materials, like cotton. Use installation methods that don’t require adhesives, if possible. If adhesives are required, choose those with fewer VOCs and overall fewer chemicals.
Access Sophia's shopping list for her household staples. They're her favorite low toxic items that she can't live without.