Concern about a possible connection between new carpet and health problems was first expressed in the early 1980s. Carpet care company The Rug Scrubber notes that volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, were then studied as a potential source for carpet-related health issues. VOCs are chemicals present in many new carpets and paddings, as well as in adhesives used to install them.
Some owners of newly-installed carpet have reported respiratory symptoms such as coughing, upper respiratory tract irritations and shortness of breath. Achoo Allergy and Air Products also reports incidences of skin rashes, fatigue and headaches. Carpet owners have related their symptoms to their carpet installations. In many cases, you'll be able to notice the "new carpet" smell even if you don't find it offensive.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Many chemicals are incorporated into the carpet construction process. Absolute Air Cleaners and Purifiers reports that VOCs such as benzene, styrene and formaldehyde are commonly added to new carpets. Adhesives, flame retardant chemicals, moth-proofing substances and stain protectors are also embedded. In fact, the backing of many U.S.-produced carpets contains 4-PC, an abbreviated name for 4-phenylcyclohexene. 4-PC is the chemical associated with some new carpet owners' upper respiratory problems
To minimize your allergy potential, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends you ask your retailer for low-VOC carpet and adhesives. Request that the installer unroll the carpet in a well-ventilated area, and use ventilation from fans and air conditioners during and after the installation process. Finally, if you are extremely concerned about chemical emissions, leave the area during the installation. Allow extra time for chemicals to dissipate before you return.
Green Label Plus Program
The Carpet and Rug Institute, a carpet industry manufacturers' group, has promoted the advantages of Green Label Plus carpets and adhesives. Products that receive Green Label Plus certification have been tested by an independent laboratory and have been found to have very low VOC emissions in the carpet or adhesive. To receive this certification, each product must pass a three-part testing process. Each cycle includes initial testing plus periodic evaluations to ensure continued compliance.
Healthy Carpet Choices
If you're concerned about new carpet allergies, carpets made from natural fibers may be a viable option. Mission Blue Design, a green-focused interior design firm, notes that these carpets are non-toxic if untreated. Natural fibers include wool, jute and sisal. In addition, nylon carpets are usually low emitters of VOCs.
You can specify non-odorous adhesives to connect your carpet and non-toxic padding. Hook-and-loop or other non-chemical bonding systems are also available.