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Health Benefits of Carpet Maintenance

There is a widespread perception that carpet cannot be kept clean (sanitary) and that because of its inability to be kept clean, carpet contributes significantly to the deterioration of indoor environmental quality, especially indoor air quality.  This unnecessary misconception often leads to policy decisions for removing carpet from many environments such as schools, health care facilities, and public agencies.

Decisions to remove carpet as a response to ineffective cleaning often deprive consumers and occupants of many desirable features provided by carpet, but simply transfers environmental problems related to cleaning breakdown to environments that do not have carpet.

Carpets that are not cleaned and properly maintained can cause many health problems inside the building environment.  It is estimated that patients allergic to biopollutants (fungi, mites, cockroaches, bacteria) make 500,000 to 1,000,000 hospital visits each year.  From a public health perspective, it is difficult to justify indoor carpet unless a routine and effective cleaning program can be assured.  Such a program calls for properly trained personnel applying appropriate cleaning methods and using environmentally-sound cleaning technology.

Given that neglected carpets pose a health hazard, some public health and medical authorities now take a strong position against it.  They argue that carpet should not be installed in any building unless its owners plan to clean it frequently using an external extraction method. Some health authorities even advocate passing a law that would make it illegal to install carpet where there is high humidity, moisture, or other conditions that promote the growth of biopollutants – regardless of the owners’ intention to clean it.  (Please note that this author does not agree with their position. We can manage carpet very well without another law.)

 

Inevitably, however, the public health perspective has to be weighed against our aesthetic expectations and conventional practice.  Aesthetically, carpeting is associated with luxury, with quiet and dignity – with lawyers’ offices, doctors’ waiting rooms, with small boutiques, expensive restaurants, and funeral parlors.  Carpet does in fact help to reduce harsh noises produced by pedestrians and equipment.  Conventionally, carpeting in many offices and businesses is a mark of success and an expression of style. It can provide thermal insulation, especially in winter.  It is also kinder to the backs and feet of workers and customers who stand all day.

At the same time, it is wrong to assume that all carpet will ultimately get contaminated and adversely affect health.  This is simply not the case.  Most people who live and work on carpet are obviously healthy.  Carpet retailers are not helpful when they sell their carpet on the basis it will never need cleaning.

Typically, manufacturers’ recommendations for cleaning provide adequate guidelines.  They call for frequent vacuuming and periodic professional cleaning that emphasizes extracting foreign substances and minimizing residue.  In the long run, these measures protect the carpet and promote environmental health.

Most people clean carpets because they look bad.  Rarely does anyone acknowledge that their carpet needs to be cleaned to protect their health.  In spite of this, every time we extract pollutants from carpets we enhance the quality of the indoor environment by reducing exposures and protecting health.

For some time, we have known that outside contamination levels, especially in soil, can reach the same concentrations indoors.  Researchers have just begun to describe the chemical and biological contents of carpet dirt and house dust.

Studies also show that vacuuming with ineffective equipment does not reduce the level of fine particles indoors.  Particles of less than one micron tend to pass through vacuum cleaning bags. They build up over time and can cause great harm as they penetrate deep into our lungs. Furthermore, studies show that soil gases such as the harmful decay products of radon and a variety of organic compounds including pesticides – enter the microenvironment and adhere to particles or the surfaces of carpet and fabric.  Until those fibers are cleaned, the potential for human exposure and health risk remains high.

 

Carpet Maintenance Analysis

Substances in Carpet Mitigation guidance Vacuuming Effect Hot Water Extraction Effect
Soils Walk-off Mat and Frequent Vacuuming High High
Atmospheric Dusts Vacuuming, Cleaning and Ventilation Moderate to High High
Toxic PM Walk-off Mat and Frequent Vacuuming Moderate to High High
Fibers Containment High High
VOC Ventilation N/A N/A
Chemical/Pesticide Activity Management Low High
Allergens


Pollen Walk-off Mat and Frequent Vacuuming High High
Fungi Dry, Walk-off Mat and Frequent Vacuuming High High
Mycotoxin Dry, Walk-off Mat and Frequent Vacuuming Moderate to High High
Mite Dry, Frequent Vacuuming Moderate to High Moderate to High
Cockroach Dry, Frequent Vacuuming Moderate to High Moderate to High
Cat and Dog Activity Management Moderate Moderate to High
Infectious Agents


Bacteria Frequent Cleaning Low-Moderate Moderate-High
Endotoxin Frequent Cleaning Moderate to High High
Viruses Frequent Cleaning Low High

 

Sources

Annual Book of ASTM Standards, “Strand Laboratory Method for Evaluation of Carpet-Embedded Dirt Removal Effectiveness of Household Vacuum Cleaners, Vol 15.07, 376-390, 1986.

ASTM D 5438-94. Standard Practice for Collection of Dust from Carpeted Floors for Chemical Analyses. American Society of Testing and Materials.

Ayliffe GAJ, et. al, Cleaning and Disinfection of Hospital Floors, Brit Med Journal, 2:442-445, 1966.

Gschwandtner, Gerhard, Dennis Sanders, Michael A. Berry, Measurements of Indoor Particulate Pollution from Household Vacuum Cleaning, paper presented at the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Air and Waste Management Association, Anaheim California, June 25-30, 1989.

Lefcoe, N.M. I.I. Incult, Archieve Environmental Health Vol. 22, pages 230-238, 1971.

Lefcoe, N.M. I.I. Incult, Archieve Environmental Health Vol. 30, pages 565-570, 1975.

Health Benefits of Carpet Maintenance

Created on January 8th, 2011.  Last Modified on September 11th, 2016

The Healthy Facilities Institute provides the information on HealthyFaciltiesInstitute.com as a free service to the public.

 

While an effort is made to ensure the quality of the content and credibility of sources listed on this site, HFI provides no warranty - expressed or implied - and assumes no legal liability for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, product or process disclosed on or in conjunction with the site. The views and opinions of the authors or originators expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of HFI: its principals, executives, board members, advisors or affiliates.

Other Articles by Dr. Michael A. Berry

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About Dr. Michael A. Berry

Dr. Michael A. Berry is an environment and public health educator, a writer and science advisor interested in health policies and environmental management strategies.

 

Dr. Berry served as an Army Officer in Vietnam 1967-68. Dr. Berry earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Master of Science in Management from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.  He holds both Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Mathematics from Gonzaga University.


Dr. Berry retired from the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1998 where as a senior manager and scientist he was the Deputy Director of National Center for Environmental Assessment at Research Triangle Park, NC.  During his 28 year career with EPA, he had extensive interactions with private industry, trade associations, environmental organizations, governments, the federal courts, US Congress, universities world-wide, and institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Dr. Berry is recognized internationally as an expert in the subject of indoor environmental quality.  Between 1986 and 1991 he organized and managed USEPA’s indoor air research program.

From 1984 until 2006 he served on the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he taught a broad range of environmental science, policy, and business and environment courses in the School of Public Health, Business School, and Environmental Studies Program.

 
 
 
 

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The Healthy Facilities Institute provides the information on HealthyFaciltiesInstitute.com as a free service to the public.

 

While an effort is made to ensure the quality of the content and credibility of sources listed on this site, HFI provides no warranty - expressed or implied - and assumes no legal liability for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, product or process disclosed on or in conjunction with the site. The views and opinions of the authors or originators expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of HFI: its principals, executives, board members, advisors or affiliates.

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