Application Technology - The Effect of Carpet on Indoor Air Quality
A certain degree of misinformation but especially a high level of confusion has been dominating the discussion of the topic carpet and indoor air quality (IAQ).
In many areas, private as well as public, carpeting has been replaced by hard flooring due to the dramatic increase of people affected and suffering from allergies and asthma.
General belief is that the carpet acts as a storage device for soil and dirt - particles and allergens are literally trapped, thereby enabling contact with the inhabitants. In addition many consumers have been sensitized regarding the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, in particular resulting from the installation of new carpeting.
Actual fact is that there is no concrete proof that carpeting has a negative influence on IAQ. Quite the contrary, much evidence points in the opposite direction, namely that carpeting may improve IAQ.
Carpeting traps soil and dirt, including allergens like dust mites and their feces, animal hairs, and animal dandruff. It should be noted that this is done more effectively by carpeting made of or containing synthetic fibres, as these have a different electrical charge than wool, for example.
Contrary to public opinion a properly maintained carpet is a clear advantage for good IAQ: the fibres act like filters by catching particles from the air and trapping them for later removal. The emphasis lies on proper maintenance of the carpet - if powerful and efficient vacuums using microfilter bags are used, carpeting will not contribute to IAQ in a negative manner. The microfilter bags catch fine particles like dust mites and their feces, so that they are not ejected back into the air.
In summary: if carpeting is vacuumed correctly and corresponding to the use it sees in regular intervals, it actually contributes to better IAQ: it traps particles until they are removed, preventing their being stirred up into the air.
A concrete example which contradicts public opinion comes from a study in Sweden. Here carpeting was banned from schools across the country in the late 1980s. However, contrary to expectations, the number of people affected by asthma actually increased dramatically after all carpeting had been removed.
Not only that a hard floor cannot trap particles - in addition they are continuously stired up, be it from people walking, simple air movement or a draft, for example. In addition, there are a number of other factors that affect IAQ:
- People (Respiration, perspiration, sickness)
- Work and habits (eg. the application of insecticide, smoking, perfumes)
- Surface coatings (paint, lacquer, wall paper)
- Technology (Photocopiers, laser printers)
- Construction materials (adhesives, fillers)
- Insufficient cleaning
- Not suitable or poorly maintained ventilation/ air conditioning systems
- Outside Air Quality
This misinterpretation of facts by the consumer regarding carpeting and IAQ may find its source in the fact that the individual has difficulties cleaning a carpet compared to cleaning a hard floor such as PVC or laminate. This is incorrect, if one considers how little time the consumer actually spends cleaning his/her carpet (similarly, the cleaning intervals in office buildings etc. are increased to save costs). Carpeting forgives negligence - maintenance cleaning is performed at enormous speeds or not at all and cleaning by a professional is postponed or does not occur at all.
When the consumer is finally in the situation that the carpet has reached an appearance that warrants cleaning, the milk has already soured. The professional cleaner who has been asked to perform the job is confronted with an almost unsolvable situation and the consumer automatically seeks the blame with the product.
If carpeting is not cleaned regularly and according to use, it may only trap particles to a certain point - until the well is full. After this point the advantages of carpeting regarding IAQ are moot.
However, if the carpet is cleaned/maintained regularly, according to its use, with a high performance vacuum in conjunction with microfilter bags, and a professional is called in to perform cleaning using the extraction method, for example, the carpet becomes a flooring which is hygienic, healthy and maintainable.
Pollutants in the air
An additional topic that has occasionally been the focus of attention of the public and consequently the media has been the odour problem associated with newly installed carpet.
It is true that a new carpet and also the applied adhesive may off-gas a small amount of chemicals. These small amounts, however, are diluted even further by the air.
In comparison paints, when newly applied, floor waxes, and even PVC flooring emit higher levels, even though these too are very small. In addition the applied cleaning and maintenance method plays an important role - this most often results in more VOCs being emitted when hard floors are maintained as when carpeting is cleaned using the extraction method.
Finally, one must not forget that new furniture, wall coverings, etc. also emit VOCs - for a longer period of time than carpeting. However, as carpet is usually the largest and most visible piece of furniture, the blame is sought here first.
Quality Seal ProIAQ
In consideration of this topic and the associated implications we developed our Quality Seal, ProIAQ, which is awarded to our products that have no impact on IAQ. This seal was first introduced at the ISSA/Interclean in Amsterdam 2000.
These products are distinguished using this seal in our general catalogue.