Sitting on my desk for several days has been Green America's most recent newsletter with its feature article entitled, "Detoxing Carpeted Floors." Immediately I thought I should post about this. Yet, I hesitated, because the whole subject of carpeting brings up some less than happy feelings for me. It was the installation of new carpet, along with other remodeling, in our church building last year which still prohibits me from attending meetings with my own congregation. I had a lot of bad feelings toward the "people in charge" at the time, and talking about it only brings those feelings back to the surface.
However, my bad feelings have done nothing to change the situation, so I need to do something positive and help other people understand what CAN be done to lessen the impact of new flooring. So here are some suggestions from Green America:
1) If possible, don't use carpet at all. Alternative flooring includes hardwood, cork, bamboo or natural linoleum. Just make sure than any finishes you use on these floors are non-VOC. (We put hardwood flooring in part of our last house and used a non-VOC finish with no problem.)
2) Use safer carpeting. Look for natural fibers like wool, sisal, jute or seagrass. There are also companies making low-VOC carpets out of recycled nylon. Other low-VOC carpets are available from several different major manufacturers. Be sure to check the content of the carpet backing (which holds the carpet together). Natural latex or jute are good choices (unless you are allergic to latex, of course).
3) When the carpet is installed, make sure it is tacked down, not glued. Glues are the main source of VOCs in carpet. If glue must be used, there are low-VOC options.
4) Look for carpets that are not treated with toxic coatings. The Green Label from the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) prohibits the use of some VOCs (but not all).
5) Look for carpets that are undyed or vegetable-dyed.
6) Use padding made from recycled nylon or recycled wool.
No matter what kind of carpet you install, there are things you can do to facilitate outgassing. Here are some recommendations from Green America:
1) Coat new carpets with an eco-friendly carpet finish like American Formulating & Manufacturing/s (AFM) CarpetSeal. This seems counter intuitive, like adding more chemicals, but I am told it works to contain the VOCs in the carpet for up to a year or through five shampoos.
2) Use a HEPA vacuum and vacuum often.
3) Shampoo carpets carefully with non-toxic products. Green America recommends companies that use carbonated water, such as Zero Residue and ChemDry.
4) Before carpet is installed, have the company roll it out in their warehouse for at least 72 hours before installation.
5) Have windows open while carpet is being installed and for at least 72 hours afterward. It is also effective during this time period to turn up the heat and have fans going. Heat and air circulation will greatly speed up the outgassing process.
6) Insist that family and all guests remove their shoes as soon as they walk in the door. Shoes track in pesticides and other chemicals, which stick to and build up on the carpet.
According to the nonprofit Healthy Child, Healthy World, "Although offgassing from carpets decreases significantly several months after installation, carpets can emit these fumes for as long as five years." However, there are things that can be done to make carpeting a healthier floor covering option. It takes a little more effort, but the results can be lifesaving.
And for the record, I personally prefer carpeting to hard floor surfaces, especially with Montana's long cold winters. We have followed all of the above suggestions, and I don't have a problem with the carpets in our home.