Could Your Rug Make You Sick?

Choosing floor coverings made of natural materials can help you avoid allergens and toxins.



Carpet and rugs warm a room and feel great underfoot, so whats not to love? All the health problems they can potentially cause.

“Floor coverings are a major reservoir for indoor and outdoor aller­gens, including animal dander and dust mites,” explains Jonathan Bernstein, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Cincinnati in the Division of Immunology and Allergy.

“And certain carpet materials give off gaseous volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which can cause headaches and respiratory problems for susceptible people.” But no need to roll up those rugs—just follow these healthy guidelines.

Downsize
“The larger and plusher a rug, the harder it is to remove allergens from it,” says Dr. Bernstein. “Low-pile rugs are better, because fewer allergens get stuck in the fibers.” Natural materials like cotton, sisal, jute, sea grass, and hemp are often woven into thinner rugs, making them smart options.

Go for the Green Label
Wall-to-wall broadloom carpet is typically made with synthetic fibers, backings, and adhesives that release VOCs. So when youre getting carpet for an entire room its important to look for natural fibers, like wool, or synthetic products that have earned the Green Label or Green Label Plus from the Carpet and Rug Institute, which ensures that floor coverings have low-VOC emissions.

Get some air
If you do end up with a floor covering that reeks, there is no need to panic. Most carpet gets rid of VOCs within several weeks, says Richard Shaughnessy, PhD, director of the Indoor Air Program at the University of Tulsa. (Just make sure that the adhesives used to install wall-to-wall carpet are no- or low-VOC.) To help, crack open a window to let in some fresh air. If you have a new area rug, store it in the garage or basement until the odor is gone.

Be a neat freak
Thorough cleaning helps control allergen levels, so vacuum at least once a week with a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter. (Flip area rugs over and vacuum on the back, as well as the front.) Professionally clean wall-to-wall and area carpeting once a year. The cleaning agents are now nontoxic, says Gene Cole, PhD, professor of environmental health science at Brigham Young University; find a certified cleaner near you at CertifiedCleaners.org.
Elizabeth Roehrig
Last Updated: February 13, 2009

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