Indoor Air Quality and Carpeting

This information courtesy Shaw Industries, Inc., from the Publication “Carpet and The Indoor Environment.”

Carpet, An Indoor Tradition

Because we spend approximately 90% of our time indoors, we are becoming more aware of the indoor environment. How many of us realize the important role carpet plays in improving the quality of our lifestyles? After all, carpet enhances the beauty of our homes and buildings and often determines how interiors are perceived.

Carpet is the flooring of choice in the United States, accounting for well over half of all floor covering purchases in the country. The reasons for its popularity are practical as well as decorative.

Unlike other floor coverings, carpet is a natural insulator, providing warmth in the winter and retaining cool air during the summer months. Carpet reduces noise pollution by eliminating distracting clatter. It is soft underfoot, providing a comfortable, non-slip walking surface that reduces fatigue and minimizes the danger of injury from falls and accidents.

Perhaps more significant is the fact that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists have concluded that carpet can be beneficial in trapping and immobilizing potential allergy-causing particulates, preventing them from reentering the air stream, if the carpet is properly cleaned and maintained. A 1990 study in Sweden determined that levels of particulate contaminants, bacteria, and fungi in indoor air in carpeted areas were always far below levels in the air above hard surface floors. Similar results have been obtained in other studies in American hospitals.

However, as our homes and public buildings have become more energy efficient, they have also become tighter, locking in a higher level of foreign matter than before. Chemicals and microscopic particles are emitted into the air by various sources - paint, furniture, furnishings, cleaners, wall coverings, air conditioning systems, pets, and, to a small degree, carpet.

Shaw Industries is actively involved with the EPA and the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), as well as other in dependant and government organizations, in researching the role of carpet in indoor air quality. We have reduced the emissions from our products, and we are researching ways to reduce emissions even further.

To help consumers understand more about carpet’s role in indoor air quality, we have developed this information to provide answers to the questions most often asked and to offer recommendations for improving and protecting the indoor environment.

Answers to Questions Regarding Carpet and the Indoor Air

Past efforts to clean the air focused on pollution outdoors rather than indoors. The quality of air has become more of an issue in recent years, and research has shown that indoor air typically contains a higher level of pollutants than outdoor air. This is due primarily to poor or inadequate ventilation. The pollutants include chemicals, a variety of microscopic particles, various bacteria, and fungi (mold and mildew).

The chemicals, called VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), originate from a wide variety of sources, such as building materials, furnishings, cleaning agents, paints and varnishes, wall coverings, cooking vapors, heating/cooling systems, pets, and even the human body. New carpets may also give off extremely low levels of chemical emissions for a few days after installation.

What role does carpet have in the indoor environment?

New carpet may give off a low level of emissions for a few days following installation. The level is significantly lower than many other household products and furnishings, such as paints and wall covering. Millions of customers every year enjoy the benefits of carpet with total satisfaction.

How long will the emissions last?

Emission from new carpet drops substantially within the first 24 hours after installation. They dissipate to an undetectable level within several days if adequate ventilation is provided.

What about the odor from new carpet?

The odor from new carpet is much like the odor found in a new car or in leather, and it should disappear in a short time. If the odor is objectionable, fresh air ventilation is the best method to eliminate it. Open windows and doors and operate your fan system during the removal of the old carpet and installation of new carpet, as well as during any construction project.

Those who find the odor from new carpet offensive, or who might be unusually allergic or hypersensitive, should consider avoiding the area during and immediately following installation.

The odor is not harmful, but providing maximum air flow after installation should quickly dissipate the odor.

Is formaldehyde causing a problem with indoor air quality?

Formaldehyde is not used in manufacturing carpet. However, it is found in other home furnishings and household products. Trace amounts may be absorbed by carpet or any other textile product.

Statement from The Carpet and Rug Institute:

“The Carpet and Rug Institute has conducted surveys of the carpet industry to determine if formaldehyde is used in the carpet manufacturing process. The survey results confirmed that no raw materials with formaldehyde additives were being used.

Carpet as it leaves the final manufacturing process does not contribute formaldehyde to the environment. However, it is not uncommon to detect trace amounts of formaldehyde in both the outdoor and indoor environments since it is a naturally occurring substance. The primary source of formaldehyde is the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons, most notable through automobile emissions, etc.

As an additional confirmation of the absence of formaldehyde in carpet, the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Indoor Air Quality Testing Program (Green Label/Green Label Plus) specifically monitors this chemical. Carpet may absorb formaldehyde from the air; therefore, tests of carpet from the marketplace may indicate a presence of formaldehyde.”

Are there any dyes or chemicals used in manufacturing carpet which may be potentially dangerous?

All dyes and chemicals used in the manufacturing process have been thoroughly tested and found to be safe in the carpet delivered to customers. They help to enhance carpet’s beauty, durability and stain resistant capability. These are essentially the same dyes and chemicals used in clothing.

Are some carpets better than other for indoor air quality?

Carpet is available in a wide variety of styles made from yarn of different fiber types, and what is best for a particular situation is largely a matter of personal preference. There is no difference between natural and synthetic fibers relating to indoor air quality.

Both kinds should be given proper care and maintenance, and both will provide years of comfort and enjoyment.

If new carpet is not considered harmful, what could cause the allergic reactions some people have experienced?

The most likely cause is airborne dust and biological particulates. Many people are allergic to dust, and its presence may be widespread, resulting from numerous sources.

Fine particles accumulate in, under, and around carpet and other furnishings. When old carpet is removed, large concentrations of particulates, such as dust, dust mites, and other allergens, are often released. Even new homes or offices can be the source of a problem, since significant amounts of dust from the construction process can irritate the eyes and upper respiratory tract.

While scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that carpet is safe, we recognize the possibility that a small group of people might be unusually sensitive to a variety of indoor products. We recommend everyone follow the proper installation, maintenance, and cleaning instructions included in this information.

How can consumers best protect their indoor environment?

The problems that many people may be experiencing with indoor air quality involve a combination of factors which are complex in nature. One of the best solutions, however, is simple: ventilate the home or building regularly. Windows and doors should be left open periodically to release stale air and dissipate some particulates which build up in closed environments.

Of critical importance is the condition of our heating/air conditioning systems, as inefficient or faulty systems are the primary sources of poor indoor air quality. Replace filters regularly and have your ventilation system inspected to verify that it is in good working order.

To control fungi, such as mildew, repair leaks promptly, as water damage to building materials and furnishings promotes the growth of these organisms.

Regular maintenance and cleaning of carpet will also help to remove trapped particulates and prevent build-up. When installing new carpet, vacuum the old carpet and keep the entire area clean during the installation process to minimize the level of particulates.

It is prudent to keep the area well ventilated during installation and for several days thereafter.

Also, those who believe that they are unusually allergic or hypersensitive should consider avoiding the area during and immediately following installation or any other reconstruction.

What is the carpet industry doing to address the indoor air quality issue?

Many consumer concerns are based on lack of knowledge about the issue, and we believe the material you are reading provides needed information.

Shaw Industries is also playing a leading role in the carpet industry’s efforts to minimize emissions from carpet and is lending its technical capabilities and facilities to industry research.

Since any new or unusual odor may be perceived as a problem, levels of 4-PC in the latex used in most carpet have been lowered by more than 70% over the past two years. The industry is examining ways to make even more reductions.

In addition, Shaw Industries participates in the industry’s efforts to minimize all emissions from carpet. Carpet that meets the industry’s new voluntary emissions-reduction requirements, established by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), receives a green certification label listing the manufacturer’s identification number, as well as an “800” number consumers may call for additional information: 1-800-882-8846. The industry firmly believes that proper installation and maintenance of carpet will have a positive effect on indoor air quality by removing particulates from the environment.

What independent testing has been done on carpet as it relates to indoor air quality?

The EPA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, toxicologists, and university and independent laboratories have conducted extensive research on carpet and the role it plays in indoor air quality. Studies have been performed to determine the rate of emissions of VOC’s, process variables, toxicity data, and health risk assessment.

To date, the weight of scientific evidence has been very reassuring and demonstrates that carpet is safe.

What about the Anderson Laboratories tests on mice? Didn’t their results show that the mice they tested were adversely affected by carpet?

A group of independent scientists has reviewed the Anderson tests and has told the carpet industry that the research was “seriously flawed.” Anderson Laboratories’ findings, the panel said, are “irrelevant” for reaching any conclusions on the subject of carpet and human health.

The Anderson research lacks experimental detail and controls, and other researchers have been unable to interpret the results. In addition, the tests have not been subjected to peer review by other scientists, which is a standard practice when attempting to establish scientific credibility. Neither the EPA nor other credible laboratories have validated these tests, and Dr. Anderson has refused to provide samples of the carpet in question to the EPA or industry for study.

What role do carpet padding and adhesives have in the indoor environment?

As with carpet, research has shown padding to be a safe product. Since padding is generally part of the whole floor covering system, simply follow the same ventilation suggestions given for carpet.

Adhesives are rarely used in residential settings. Multi-purpose and regular adhesives can be a source of emissions, but they should dissipate in a short time. Most modern adhesives, which are used primarily in commercial installations, have reduced levels of solvents to decrease odors and emissions. If you need to use an adhesive for a residential or commercial setting, request one of the newly formulated products which are low in emissions.

Related Information:

  • New Carpet Odor
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