Here’s How Having Carpets In Your Home Could Be Harming Your Health

In a list of things that could cause us danger in our homes, you’d expect carpets to be right at the bottom. However, it turns out that this type of flooring is potentially more damaging than you’d think. Here’s a look at why some Americans have started ripping their carpets up.

The humble carpet’s origins date back millennia, but it took until the 19th century to make its way into American homes. It then experienced a significant growth in popularity following WWII thanks to a combination of much cheaper manufacturing overheads and larger domestic properties.

And with its numerous factories making the floor covering, North Georgia became the unofficial carpet capital of the world. In fact, just one Georgia town – Dalton – is responsible for close to three quarters of the carpeting that the U.S. manufactures annually. In total, in excess of a billion square feet is produced nationwide each year.

North Georgia may be seen as the center of the carpet-manufacturing industry, then. But according to The Guardian columnist Simon Busch, Iran remains the most popular place to actually buy them. The country formerly known as Persia also reportedly boasts more exquisite carpet designs than anywhere else in the world.

Carpets continued to be a staple of Americans’ homes throughout the second half of the 20th century. They also continued to evolve, with yellow shag being a particular favorite in the 1970s, while taupe and beige attracted more homeowners in the 1990s. Of course, their ubiquity eventually led to them being considered old-fashioned.

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In fact, a 2019 Catalina Research study concluded that the wall-to-wall carpet’s floor covering market share has fallen from 60 percent to approximately 33 percent since during the present century. In the 2010s alone, the industry has suffered a downturn of roughly $5 billion. Homeowners have instead turned to other options such as vinyl and faux wood.

Interior decorator Tyler Wisner, who’s shown up on Design Star on HGTV, told Time magazine in June 2019 that he understands why the carpet has fallen out of fashion. He said, “The negative image of carpet is because once upon a time carpet was used everywhere.” Wisner admits that he seldom recommends the flooring type to clients as he’s usually met with a negative response.

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Of course, the carpet is still very much a staple of the bedroom. And those who’ve stuck with it should still enjoy several benefits. Indeed, the Carpet Institute of Australia claims that the covering can help to improve air quality, while it may also prevent slipping and even reduce stress.

Yes, in a 2016 study published in the Iranian Journal of Public Health, more than 40 individuals were asked to walk for ten minutes on both carpeting and wooden flooring. The latter was deemed to be a far more stressful experience than the former. And with its sound-absorbing properties, carpets are also said to help with noise control.

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Of course, perhaps the main reason people still buy carpets is that it’s simply the most weather-friendly type of floor covering. The combination of carpeting and underlay is able to soak up heat and therefore makes homeowners cooler in sunny weather and warmer during the fall and winter. As a result, it also helps to lower both air-con and heating costs.

And then there’s carpet’s money-saving aspect, too. In 2003 the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification carried out a study comparing the price of having a carpet and a hard floor. And they found that the former was far cheaper to buy and keep in good condition.

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But alongside these many benefits, the carpet reportedly also has many drawbacks. For instance, the floor covering is said to trap bugs and pollutants such as pet detritus that can enter the home’s airflow if disturbed. Young children, who spend much of their time on the floor, are believed to be at particular risk from these issues.

The American Lung Association advises that carpets should be vacuumed every two to three days. It claims that they should be steam-cleaned at least once a year, too. And areas that are likelier to be exposed to more moisture, and therefore more mold, such as bathrooms and kitchens shouldn’t contain any kind of carpet at all.

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And if you’re currently looking for a new carpet, then the ALA also has some invaluable advice. It states that the floor covering should be placed in an area with good ventilation for at least three days before it’s installed. In addition, homeowners should refrain from entering the room for the same amount of time once the carpet has been laid.

In contrast, though, some studies have shown that far from exacerbating conditions such as allergies and asthma, carpets can actually be beneficial. A report from the European Community Respiratory Health Service Study discovered that those who are affected by dust mites feel more comfortable in rooms with carpets. And research by the German Allergy and Asthma Society concluded that there was a lower chance of finding fine dust in carpets than in smooth floors.

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But when looking at the negative impact carpets can have on the body, it’s important to first understand what happens when it is made. To start, a collection of threads are moistened and warmed before being coiled. They’re then formed into closed loops by devices that are more than 10 feet long and often boast in excess of 1,000 needles. The carpet is subsequently cleaned and finally allowed to dry.

Close to two-thirds of carpets are reportedly made from nylon, with other popular synthetic materials including polypropylene and polyester. However, some prefer to use natural substances, with wool by far the most common. Silk can also be used in the manufacturing process.

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In fact, it’s these natural fibers that are helping to spearhead a carpet renaissance. ABC Carpet and Home’s vice president Bill Ward reports that customers are regularly forking out five-figure sums for carpets manufactured out of silk and wool. He told Time magazine that he can even envisage wall-to-wall carpeting making a proper comeback.

And some companies are going even further in their bids to make carpets as harmless to the environment as possible. Econyl, for example, produces carpets from unwanted plastic bottles and fishing nets. Meanwhile, Tretford takes things all the way back to the carpet’s origins by creating them entirely out of goat hair.

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But what happens when you want to get rid of your carpet? Well, while it can’t be recycled as a whole, some of the various parts can be. Unfortunately, though, carpet-recycling services may be difficult to come by. Nonetheless, the Carpet America Recovery Effort is doing its best to ensure that at least two-fifths of used carpeting avoids going into landfill.

If carpet was still made like it was back in 6000 B.C., however, it would probably be a lot healthier – for both us and the environment. Back then, you see, sheep and goats’ wool was formed into mats. By the 8th century B.C. the homes of the rich were often adorned with rugs. The one sometimes regarded as the world’s most impressive, the Ardebil carpet, was created for Shah Tahmasp, a Persian ruler, towards the end of the 1500s.

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The trend for carpets eventually swept across other parts of the Middle East and Asia during this period, too. However, each region would make its own floor coverings for varying reasons. In India, for instance, only the wealthiest and most powerful people in society were able to decorate their homes with rugs. However, in the Middle East the carpet became the center of a thriving domestic cottage industry.

France and England soon embraced the carpet, too. In the early 1600s a carpet manufacturing center was built at Henry IV’s palace, in which the East Asian techniques were combined with French designs to produce the king’s own personal collection. Louis XIII, his successor, established another production site that helped to meet the demand from the general public. And in 1655 the first English facility was constructed.

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The world’s earliest surviving carpet is a 20 square feet item known as the Pazyryk. It was found in Russia by Sergei Rudenko during the late 1940s. The archaeologist was investigating a grave in Siberia when he came across the object, which originated in modern-day Turkey. Researchers believe that the item dates as far back as 500 B.C.

But could this historic love of carpets soon come to an end? Well, according to engineer John Roberts, it perhaps should. The man dubbed Dr. Dust, due to his research on household hygiene, carried out a study on the floor covering in 2001 that produced some highly alarming claims.

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In fact, Roberts argued that the average carpet would require specialist treatment if it was discovered in the open air. He also alleged that the floor covering may be instrumental in the rise of allergies, asthma and even cancer in kids. And this is all to do with the high level of toxins that can be found in the material.

Large amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are known to be carcinogenic, were found in the analysis that Roberts conducted on some domestic carpets. A worrying quantity of heavy metals and pesticides were also discovered. Perhaps most startling of all, though, was that Roberts found a large number of polychlorinated biphenols, otherwise known as PCBs, too.

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Although PCBs were officially outlawed in the U.K. back during the 1970s, they can still be located in the likes of paint and electrical goods. As well as causing cancer, polychlorinated biphenols have been linked to other health issues such as thyroid and liver problems, as well as breathing difficulties.

So, how did these substances find their way into so many carpets? Well, Roberts claims that animals’ feet and humans’ shoes are largely to blame for these harmful substances arriving in our homes. Cleaning fluids, cooking and insecticides are also said to be major factors.

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Incredibly, this combination of factors means that people may be 50 times more likely to encounter such toxins within the home than outside of it. And if you think that simply vacuuming a carpet can help reduce that figure, think again. In fact, bringing out the old Dyson could actually make things even worse.

“The largest reservoir of dust in a house.” That’s how Roberts described the average carpet in a 2001 interview with British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. He added, “A house with bare floors and a few areas of rugs will have about one-tenth of the dust found in a house with wall-to-wall carpet.”

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Robert Lewis, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s head of indoor air research, also appeared to back up Roberts’ claims. He 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.

In order to prove his theory, Lewis even dissected an array of carpets that ranged from one to three decades in age. And during his research he discovered numerous pesticides, including significant amounts of a poison known as permethrin.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lewis also discovered that the group most at risk from such toxins is children. Youngsters not only breathe more quickly than adults, but they’re also more likely to bring parts of their bodies into contact with their mouths.

Moreover, according to researchers it only takes a tiny amount of the toxins found in dust particles to cause significant damage. This includes restricting 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.

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In 2013 New York’s city council decided to do something about the dangers of carpets by approving a bill to make them more environmentally friendly. This legislation ensured that carpets that failed to adhere to the Green Label Plus standard set by the Carpet and Rug Institute could no longer be sold in the city. As a result, the amount of toxins such as formaldehyde and benzene finding their way into New Yorkers’ homes would be drastically reduced.

Any store offering carpets that didn’t meet this standard would be subject to a penalty of up to $500. Russell Unger, the Urban Green Council’s executive director, told Crain’s New York Business that he didn’t expect the bill to be a problem for local retailers. He said, “The large majority of American manufacturers voluntarily abide by these standards.”

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However, the carpet industry has been intent on contesting studies that cite carpets as a major risk to health. The Carpet and Rug Institute, in particular, has been very vocal about what it claims are “untruths and myths.” And 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.

Braun cited a 1994 study by the Environ Corporation of Arlington. It claimed, “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, or when the predicted upper limit on risk is added for all potential carcinogens.”

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And Braun also claimed that carpets aren’t particularly dangerous when it comes to volatile organic compounds. He stated, “Most new interior furnishings and building materials emit VOCs for a period of time. Emissions from new carpet are among the lowest of any household’s indoor furnishings, and most VOCs dissipate within 24 hours – even faster with good ventilation.”

But even if you don’t have carpet, there are still some other household items that might be dangerous. Indeed, it seems the use of antibacterial wipes has some scientists concerned – especially when it comes to the health of our children.

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When you need to keep your surfaces clean and sanitary, antibacterial wipes are likely to be your handy go-to. And if you’re a parent, you may be disinfecting your home on a regular basis, as that way your children won’t pick up any nasty bugs when touching everything in sight. But despite their useful germ-killing capabilities, antibacterial wipes aren’t always the best choice for your kitchen. In fact, when it comes to your kids, these household staples may do more harm than good.

Even so, antibacterial wipes remain hugely popular, as they provide a quick and easy way to sterilize practically anything around. And since it’s incredibly simple to pick up a pack or two at the grocery store or online, it’s perhaps no surprise that we’re buying so many of these super-speedy sanitizers.

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For example, in 2011 Scientific American claimed that three-quarters of American homes use some form of antibacterial product. Wipes are just as popular across the pond, too. In 2019 it was revealed that the U.K. goes through more than 11 billion of them annually.

And, naturally, the 2020 pandemic has led to sales of antibacterial items going through the roof in the U.S. But if you have children, you may want to think again before heading into a store for cleaning wipes – as they don’t keep your kids as free from harm as you may think.

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Before we get into that, though, let’s redirect our focus to one of those aforementioned statistics. It turns out, you see, that the 11 billion antibacterial wipes used every 12 months in the U.K. are causing some major issues – particularly when it comes to the environment.

In essence, it’s all about the materials from which these wipes are made. The plastics contained within these household staples can’t be easily broken down once they’ve been discarded, and this in turn can lead to real problems at garbage dumps and in sewers.

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In 2019 U.K. newspaper Metro revealed that more than 90 percent of the country’s sewage obstructions were caused by discarded wipes. On top of that, the products have apparently been accumulating in overground waterways. And, of course, this is all cause for real concern.

Natalie Fee, who runs a campaigning group called City to Sea, is among those who know exactly how discarded wipes can prove detrimental to the environment. When speaking to Metro, however, she offered up a radical solution to the issue – and it’s one that may not be popular with some.

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“The problems with wet wipes are threefold,” Fee explained. “[There are] those that are flushed, clog up our pipes and sewers and contribute to giant fatbergs. This then makes our sewage systems overflow and other plastics spill into our waterways and seas, putting marine life at risk.”

Fee continued, “[The antibacterial wipes] that are discarded in the [trash] will often end up in landfills or get incinerated, contributing to carbon emissions.” So, what solution does City to Sea recommend? “Ideally, we want people to stop using [these wipes] and treat them like they would any other single-use plastic,” Fee explained.

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According to City to Sea, beaches around the U.K. endured a fourfold rise in washed-up wipes over a ten-year period. It’s also believed that nearly $130 million a year is spent to clear obstructions in British sewers. And such statistics have also proved concerning to the Marine Conservation Society’s Rachel Wyatt.

“Wet wipes are designed to be used once only, and [they] tend to generate lots of waste in the environment as a result,” Wyatt told Metro. “There are lots of reusable cleaning cloths, makeup wipes [and] baby wipes… now on the market. [They] cut down on waste going to landfill and could save consumers cash in the long run.”

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“However, we know wet wipes can be really handy,” Wyatt added. “And so [we] hope that consumers put these into the [trash] – regardless of whether they are labeled flushable or otherwise environmentally friendly – until they are labeled with the ‘fine to flush’ logo. It’s the only way to be sure.”

It helps, too, that there are now plenty of alternatives to antibacterial wipes. And these products are not only much better for the planet, but they also have other more immediate benefits – like saving you a few dollars, for example.

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Bamboo wipes, for one, can be a cost-effective way of cleaning your home. Unlike their antibacterial counterparts, they can be used several times on any surface you like. All you need to do is wash off any accumulated grime under a tap before getting to work again.

Some bamboo products may be useful for parents with young babies as well, as they are often largely free of harmful substances. And to top it all off, bamboo wipes are biodegradable, which means they can be broken down in the trash.

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But disposable wipes aren’t just used to scrub the house. They’re also popular for removing make-up – even if the wipe-and-go method may not be the best idea for your skin on a long-term basis. Yet again, though, there’s a much more environmentally friendly alternative.

The MakeUp Eraser is a two-sided cloth that, as its name suggests, removes all traces of cosmetics from your skin. And best of all, the product can be used more than once. To freshen up the MakeUp Eraser, simply place it in with your load when you’re doing laundry.

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In other instances, a simple kitchen cloth could be just as useful as an antibacterial wipe. Just dampen the material and add soap, then clean the parts of the home that need some TLC. And, of course, that way you don’t need to throw anything into the garbage after completing the job.

If you’re specifically looking for a solution to keep your surroundings sanitary, though, get hold of some rubbing alcohol. This is readily available at drugstores around the country, and it can play an important role in killing both bacteria and germs.

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Rubbing alcohol consists of water and either isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol. And, together, these substances have the ability to cleanse away any harmful microbes that reside on household surfaces. There’s something else to consider if you’re looking to get your hands on a bottle, though.

In particular, you should take a look at the concentration of rubbing alcohol before you buy. Typically, commercially available products will contain anything from around 70 percent to up to 91 percent alcohol – and the higher that number is, the more effective the liquid is likely to be at staving off germs.

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If you can’t find a high-strength rubbing alcohol at a store near you, though, don’t panic. As it turns out, products that contain at least 70 percent alcohol will be good enough to fend off bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But despite everything that we’ve discussed so far, there’ll still be some of us who want to stick with what we know. After all, antibacterial wipes are both easy to use and good at removing grime. And they’re just as effective as the other items we’ve talked about, right?

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Well, actually, that may not be the case at all. A 2015 study from Wales, for example, uncovered some problems concerning the use of antibacterial wipes in medical facilities. And the results of the research could have real implications for our cleaning at home, too.

According to the study, antibacterial wipes can actually transmit germs if they’re used a certain number of times. If you start scrubbing a different area of the house with the same wipe, then, you run the risk of transferring the bacteria to that area. In 2015 Queen Mary University of London professor John Oxford spoke more about this alarming phenomenon to the Daily Mail.

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“Wipes should be used for no more than five swipes before they are discarded,” Oxford said. “Certainly, you need at least one for each square meter of surface area. And if the wipe is too dry, possibly because it has been badly stored or overused, then it should be discarded because the active ingredient has evaporated or been used up.”

Oxford then discussed what you’d usually find in an antibacterial wipe. “Different wipes contain different chemicals that kill microbes – including bacteria and viruses – in a variety of ways,” he continued. “Typically, alcohol is the main chemical in wet wipes.”

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“[Alcohol] kills bacteria by denaturing – or breaking down – the structure of the proteins in the bugs’ cells,” Oxford added. “Wipes can also contain bleach, which promotes oxidation in the cells, leading to their death. Wipes that contain old-fashioned soap work, too, because soap is antibacterial, helping to destroy fats in the cell walls of bacteria and viruses.”

But while Oxford has suggested that such ingredients are effective in exterminating germs, another expert wasn’t so sure. Alexandra Scranton is currently the director of science and research at the organization Women’s Voices for the Earth, and she has fears surrounding the use of antibacterial wipes around kids.

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In a 2015 blog post on the Women’s Voices for the Earth website, Scranton wrote, “Killing germs [has] never [been] so easy – and it feels like we are doing a better job of protecting our children from illness. Except we probably aren’t.”

“Contrary to popular belief, the data just isn’t there,” Scranton explained. “Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admits that there is no evidence that cleaning with disinfectants is any better at preventing illness than cleaning with regular soap and water.”

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Scranton also claimed that the contents of an antibacterial wipe have the potential to agitate your skin. But perhaps most worryingly of all, she claimed that certain ingredients found in these wipes could hurt both adults and children alike.

“Disinfectant chemicals called quaternary ammonium compounds (quats), commonly found in wipes, are especially problematic,” Scranton continued. “These chemicals are skin irritants, can irritate your lungs and have been linked to asthma and reproductive harm. The overuse of quats can also lead to the promotion of antibacterial-resistant bacteria, which is bad news for everyone.”

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Benzethonium chloride and benzalkonium chloride are both classified as quats, and so products containing these compounds are best avoided. Ortho-phenylphenol, which can also be found in wipes, is even believed to be potentially carcinogenic. These aren’t the only things to worry about, either.

Thanks to these chemicals, your children may already be at risk at home if you overuse the same antibacterial wipes. And, unfortunately, the situation may be similar at school. In Scranton’s blog post, she claimed that many kids were required to take a “canister of disinfecting wipes” with them when starting their classes for the year.

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There’s something else to consider, too. When you use a wipe, you need to utilize a certain method to ensure that the area in question is properly sanitized. Yes, you can’t simply slide the material across a grimy surface and call it a day.

Instead, you have to clean the dirty area before pulling out a wipe – which may seem a little counterintuitive. You’re also advised to leave the antibacterial residue produced by a wipe for a few minutes as it dries into the surface. Then, from there, you finally rinse the surface with water.

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According to the Healthy Schools Network group, following this process will get rid of any lingering bacteria in the area. Yet owing to the amount of time and effort the method entails, schools may not always be as thorough – leaving kids at risk of transferring germs even if antibacterial wipes are used.

But for any concerned parents out there, Scranton offered up a final point in her blog. “If you really need the convenience of a wipe or are required to purchase wipes for your child’s school, try simpler wipes that do not contain disinfectants,” she concluded. “Or [you should] look for disinfectant wipes using safer alternative chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, citric acid or thymol.”

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