Carpet and Outgassing

Mr. Griffin is president of Cleaning Consultant Services, Inc., located in Seattle WA. His specialty is assisting others in the process of cutting costs while improving quality.

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Scientific studies have demonstrated that new carpet is one of the lowest emitters of VOCs in the indoor environment. All interior products in the home impact the indoor air; and other products, such as paint, wall-coverings, and other floor coverings, emit VOC levels up to ten times higher, and often linger in the environment much longer than carpet. With common sense ventilation, the minimal VOC emissions and the non-hazardous odor from new carpet dissipate within the first 48 to 72 hours after installation.

The carpet industry takes all allegations regarding the safety of carpet seriously and has worked very closely with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and academic and independent laboratories to evaluate carpet’s role in the indoor environment. To date, in no case has scientific, peer reviewed evidence been presented that specifically links adverse human health effects to chemical emissions from carpet.

There are misconceptions about the effects that new carpet emissions may have on the indoor environment. A study completed in 1994 by ENVIRON, an independent research company, assessing the risk of any emissions from carpet, states that ‘no cancer or toxicity health risks were identified that would be considered of public health concern.’ The study also stated, ‘There are no human safety concerns with components of, or emissions from, carpet.’

Scientific researchers have found no scientific link between new carpet and any health hazard. Following his in-depth study, Dr. Alan Hedge, professor of Environmental Analysis at Cornell University, reported that ‘concentrations of VOCs in carpet emissions are substantially below any known thresholds for toxicity effects — orders of magnitude lower than those known to produce effects, — a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times lower than any known effects.New carpet emissions should not create health problems for people — any people.’

CRI’s Indoor Air Quality Carpet Testing Program

The green and white Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) Indoor Air Quality Carpet Testing Program logo that is displayed on carpet samples in showrooms tells the consumer that the product type has been tested by an independent laboratory and has met the criteria for very low emissions. The carpet sample is tested for chemical emissions by Air Quality Sciences, an Atlanta based independent laboratory using highly sophisticated dynamic environmental chamber technology. The test methodology is approved by the EPA Dialogue consensus and has been submitted to the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) for inclusion as a standardized test method.

The CRI IAQ Carpet Testing Program label is an information label — not a warning label, because there is no cause for a warning. The label is simply to inform the consumer about the role of carpet in indoor air quality. Scientists have consistently demonstrated that carpet is not a public health hazard.


Formaldehyde has not been used in the manufacturing of new carpet in the United States for over twelve years. Sometimes it can be found in old carpet that has absorbed it from other sources in the environment.

Carpetas a ‘TRAP’

Carpet provides an extra benefit as a ‘trap’ or ‘filter,’ holding dust and dirt until it can be removed by routine vacuuming with a well-functioning vacuum cleaner. The filter or holding characteristics of carpet, as opposed to a smooth surface floor covering, benefit residents of the home or office by keeping particles of dust from being continually being blown around and airborne in a room by foot traffic and air circulation. Only airborne particles affect the allergic person. CRI suggests that the vacuum cleaner have good suction, adjustable beater bar brushes, an enclosed vacuum bag –not just a fabric cover– and that a high filtration, ‘HEPA’ disposable bag be used. This will minimize the dust being circulated back into the room. Of course, it is common sense to say that changing the vacuum cleaner filtration bag often is important to increase efficiency, and that high traffic areas be vacuumed often.

These guidelines for a vacuum cleaner apply whether the floor is hard surface or carpet. However, carpet is the only floor covering product capable of containing particles and preventing them from becoming airborne. This is a real advantage for allergy prone persons. Redistribution of dust is prevented if a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter is used.

Dust Mites

In the home, the highest concentration of dust mite allergen can be found in the mattress (60%). In the home and institutions, furnishings, such as upholstered furniture (20%), and then on the floor or on carpet (20%) represent other sources for breeding. Dust mites thrive in warm, moist conditions and feed upon dead skin flakes from humans.

Of those people with allergy to dust mites, most are allergic to the airborne, respirable, dust mite feces and not the mite itself. Therefore, regular cleaning of soft furnishings is necessary. To minimize mite population, clean interior furnishings regularly and effectively; monitor the humidity, and maintain a level below 55%. The same amount of dust and allergens fall on all horizontal surfaces in the home, whether soft or hard surface. One of carpet’s advantages over hard surface floors is its ability to trap dust particles, keeping them from becoming airborne into the breathing zone. Only those allergens that are in the breathing zone affect the nasal passages. As noted in a ‘Design Review on Carpets’ published in Architectural Review ‘…the fact that carpet may collect and hold more lint and dust than a tiled (or smooth surface) floor may be considered an advantage, as it is better to have dirt and bacteria-carrying particles held down in the carpet until it is vacuumed, than to have it stirred up and airborne by continual shuffling of shoes — as is the case with smooth surfaces.’ Outside pollutants are tracked onto all types of floor covering, but carpet is the only floor covering with an effective method of ‘extraction’ cleaning.

Indoor Air Quality

The most important element in maintaining good air quality in a home is to remove dust and soil often from all surfaces and to maintain a well-functioning heat and air system with clean filters. Regular carpet maintenance is essential to preserve the carpet’s initial appearance and for maintaining good indoor air quality. Regular, proper vacuum cleaning with an effective, well-functioning vacuum cleaner that has adjustable brushes, and an enclosed high efficiency filtration bag removes indoor contaminants. Quick removal of spots and spills is important to avoid stains and fungal growth. Have carpet extraction cleaned, either professionally or with home methods, every 12 to 18 months, more often in high-traffic, commercial areas. When deep cleaning, it is most important that all of the moisture, the cleaning agent, and the soil be extracted from the carpet.

It is also advisable in the indoor environment to choose products (examples: pesticides, surface finishes, cleaning products, floor coverings) that are confirmed to be low VOC emitters.

Common Sense

Following are recommendations for common sense procedures during installation of new carpet:

Install a carpet with CRI’s Indoor Air Quality Carpet Testing Program label, ensuring that it has been tested and meets the low VOC emissions criteria.

Vacuum the old carpet prior to removal and the floor after the old carpet and cushion have been removed to minimize airborne dust and other particulates.

Ventilate with fresh air (open windows, operate a fan, and/or run the fan of the heat/air system continuously) during the removal of the old carpet and the installation of the new carpet and for 48 to 72 hours after installation.

In a glue-down installation, request one of the low emitting, non-solvent, adhesives.

Use a professional installer and confirm that the minimum installations standards of CRI’s 104 and/or 105 are followed.

Those who consider themselves unusually sensitive or prone to allergic reactions may wish to leave the premises while the old carpet is being removed and the new carpet installed and for 48 to 72 hours afterward.

In general, follow the same common sense ventilation precautions used when painting, wall papering, or renovating any area of the home. Good maintenance of all surfaces, including vacuuming often with a highly efficient vacuum cleaner (one with strong air flow, adjustable brushes, and an enclosed high efficiency filter bag), and removing spills quickly will lengthen the life and beauty of the carpet and preserve indoor air quality.


Carpet is made of the same compounds you find in clothing, i.e., polyester, nylon, olefin fibers, latex (synthetic rubber, as in underwear elastic) and polypropylene backing. It is an environmentally responsible product that has been used confidently for many years by millions of people for its comfort and beauty. New carpet is a product that has very low emissions, and those emissions dissipate very quickly. Carpet holds contaminants so that they can be easily extracted and not recirculated into the breathing zone.

Indoor air quality is impacted by many factors. It involves paint, cleaning materials, building materials, duct work transmitting ventilation and air conditioning, activities in the building, people, furnishings, draperies, etc. The time has come to look at the whole picture.