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The Health Effects of Carpeting

I am often asked about the health effects of carpet. As it turns out, this was a burning question in Sweden during the 19070s. Swedish scientists were deeply annoyed that all of their beautiful blonde children kept sneezing. They desperately sought a solution to this conundrum. Some of them began to examine materials trapped inside the carpets in Swedish homes, businesses and schools. Wherever they turned their microscopes, they found a significant number of allergens trapped inside the fibers of carpets.

The solution was obvious: Remove carpets from the homes, businesses and schools of Sweden. A nationwide campaign was launched on behalf of patients who suffered from allergies and asthma. Eventually, even the Swedish government became involved.

In 1975, carpet represented 40% of all floor coverings in Sweden. By 1992, only 2% of the floors were carpeted. What happened to the incidence of allergies? They went through the roof. In 1975, there were less than one million allergic patients. By 1992, that numbered tripled to over three million.

What went wrong? The answer is disarmingly simple. The Swedish scientists correctly identified the fact that an enormous number of allergens reside in carpet fibers. However, the carpets were not the source of these allergens. They were simply the place where the allergens were trapped. Every time the air conditioner, heater or ceiling fan in a home is switched on, air passes through the fibers of the carpet. Large amounts of dust, pollen, dander and other allergens are then filtered out of the air and into the carpet fibers. Other floorings such as wood, ceramic tile, vinyl and concrete do not have this same characteristic.

When the Swedes systematically removed carpets from their homes, businesses and schools, they were not removing the source of the allergens. They were instead removing the filters for these allergens. Having found no home in the building’s carpets, the dust, pollen, dander and other allergens instead found homes in the lungs of all of those blonde Swedish children.

Consider taking the following steps to improve the indoor air quality of your home:

1. Use a substantial amount of carpet in your home, especially in the bedrooms. When you consider the number of hours you sleep, you do a lot of breathing in these rooms.
2. Consider placing area rugs in rooms that have hard surface flooring.
3. Vacuum your carpets frequently. As the Swedes have proved, your carpets hold a large number of contaminants. Vacuum your carpets at least once a week, even if they do not look like they need it. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
4. Vacuum your hard surface flooring twice as often as you vacuum your carpets.
5. Have your carpets professionally cleaned by an IICRC certified technician at least once a year. They will be able to remove contaminants that your regular vacuum cannot.