Can the carpet in your home hurt your children?
It’s a concern held by many parents — and if you haven’t thought about it, now’s the time.
In our parents’ day, carpet fibers, the dies used to color them, the adhesive holding them in place, and the padding underneath were often made with toxic ingredients. In the past 10 years many of those items have been swapped out for less-harmful materials, but as a mother and LEED accredited designer, I’m still leery of buying any carpet or rug simply because it looks good.
Like with house paints, carpets release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which is where that “new carpet smell” comes from. Many standard carpets you find at big box stores are still made with petroleum byproducts, synthetics like polypropylene, acrylic, or nylon— and they’re treated with stain-repellent chemicals— all of which emit VOCs into the air.
Now consider children, who have less-developed immune systems. By crawling or sleeping on these types of carpets, breathing in the air by the ground at a higher rate than adults, and frequently putting their hands in their mouths, my research found that this constant contact can lead to rashes, asthma, aggravated allergies, muscle aches, abdominal pains, and in some cases memory loss.
CRI Green Label
The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) independently tests carpets, giving them a green label if the product has low VOCs. CRI claims that the products they certify actually contribute to a healthier breathing environment. CRI certified rugs and carpets are able to effectively trap dust and toxins commonly brought into the home from the outside by shoes and pets.
You can find CRI Green Label products at stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s—just flip over the sample and look for it on the back.
Padding can also be an issue. Scientists with the International POPs Elimination Network tested recycled foam padding and concluded that 23 of 26 samples from the United States, Canada and Hungary contained one or more flame retardants considered toxic. Fortunately, CRI covers padding as well, and the price is nearly equivalent to the non-CRI certified padding. And, while the sales people at big box stores aren’t always that knowledgeable about VOCs in rugs and padding, they know enough to lead you in the right direction.
There are plenty of high-end carpets I love, but you can find a number of great options at big box stores that are both CRI certified and less expensive. While I was shopping for my daughter’s bedroom carpet at The Home Depot, I found some beautiful options from Martha Stewart, including a to-die-for shag carpet that was only $0.75 more per square foot than the non-CRI certified carpets.
Carpet cleaners can contain chemicals that aren’t great, and some people worry that these toxins may lead to Kawasaki syndrome–a rare inflammatory condition that’s most commonly found in young children. To be safe, I suggest using natural and biodegradable, nontoxic products to remove stains. You can find a couple of my favorite DIY recipes for homemade carpet and rug cleaners on Knoworthy.
From what I’ve read, a hard surface is a great choice, and if you want a soft surface, use an area rug that has been CRI certified. However, you need to keep these floors clean or you’ll just kick up dust and allergens as you walk around.
My husband and I have older hardwood floors in our home that show all the scratches from the previous owners. My dad used a cleaner that really shined up the floor but it smelled nasty. We now use a product called Bona that I like. It’s non-toxic but gives urethane shine. I also have some natural floor cleaner recipes on Knoworthy.
Rug Companies I Like
If price is an issue, companies like Martha Stewart offer synthetic and wool blend carpets that are great options for the price. If you have a bigger budget, companies like Nature’s Carpet and Earth Weave both manufacture carpets without the stain repellent, but use wool spun fibers, recycled fibers made out of corn husks, and other really creative, but nontoxic materials. They may be a bit more pricey, but they should give you a starting point on your search.
The Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label
Diana Jess is an Environmental Designer, a LEED accredited professional, and the mother of a very busy three-year old. She has designed museum and trade fair exhibits, international cafes, and elements of themed rides for World’s Expos. As a mom, her passion is to design eco-friendly products for the home and nursery, made of high-quality, non-toxic, truly recycled materials. Check out her designs at Daswood.com.More Like This: Food & Home, Home