Recently, carpet has been singled out as being unhealthy because it acts as a filter to trap dust, allergens and other pollutants; whereas proponents of carpeting suggest that this is precisely the reason why it is healthier than hard surface floors.
For allergy and asthma sufferers, the critical issue is not what’s in the carpet but the amount of dust and allergens present in the air they breathe.
Proponents of carpeting for the home often refer to studies such as one conducted by the German Asthma and Allergy Foundation (ALLERGIE konkret 2/2005) which found that wall-to-wall carpet reduces dust in the air to half that found above hard flooring surfaces. (Ref: German Allergie and Asthma Bund, Media Release 18 June 2005)
The German study backs up the views of Australian respiratory experts Marks & Abramson in their paper ‘House dust mite avoidance: Facts and fiction’ (Asthma Update 2001). Marks & Abramson conclude that removing carpet has not been demonstrated to reduce overall dust mite allergen exposure in the home and recommend against any drastic and unproven lifestyle modifications such as removing carpet.
There are numerous other studies and recommendations including those from the EPA which suggest carpet is a better alternative. Conversely there can be found numerous studies suggesting hard floors are better.
Professional Testing Labs studied the distribution of airborne dust associated with normal activities on hard and soft flooring surfaces. Their findings showed that walking on hard surfaces disturbed more particles. These particles became airborne and entered the breathing zone. In contrast, carpeted surfaces trapped more particles so that walking disturbed fewer particles. Result: less dust in the breathing zone over carpeted floors when the carpet is properly maintained. And that is the key.
My conclusion after researching the subject extensively is that both sides have a valid argument.
If you’re prepared to clean a hard-surface floor daily, it is most likely the healthiest solution. Frequent cleaning prevents an accumulation of particles to be stirred about and made airborne.
However, this is impractical for most of us. Also, carpeting has other benefits such as warmth, comfort and noise reduction. So the alternative is to have carpeting but to properly maintain it. A properly maintained carpet gives minimal toxic exposure and maximum comfort.
The EPA published a chart some years back detailing the frequency of cleaning under various situations. It’s complex and in my opinion overly cautious. Distilling the recommendations: for practical purposes, cleaning the carpeting every 6 months should suffice under normal conditions.
If you’re suffering from health issues and are concerned that the carpeting is contributing, you may want to consider replacing it. Because, even if the carpet is not the villain, the concern over it may contribute to your discomfort
As with anything in life there are trade-offs. My daughter is highly sensitive to environmental pollutants. We have hardwood in our living and dining rooms but upstairs in our bedrooms we kept the carpeting for the warmth and comfort. She has noticed if the living room hardwood floor is not cleaned frequently, she can see visible particles fly up into the air when people walk through. So we keep it clean. And though the hardwood requires more maintenance, as far as my daughter goes, there doesn’t seem to be any difference. She’s comfortable throughout the house.
Hope you find this useful.