Navigating Home Flooring Options: Carpeting, VOCs and Off-Gassing

We all love the feel of a soft, plush, luscious carpet beneath our feet. We love to wiggle our toes in it. However, even this soft luxurious pile has been the target of criticism lately. It seems that the plush pile under our feet is made of petroleum-based fibers that are responsible for the release of VOCs for many years. Let us examine the dangers and the solutions to this wall to wall problem.

Carpeting is perhaps one of the most un-green products per square foot in our home. The problem is not only with the synthetic fibers in the carpet, it is with the padding and the adhesives that are used to hold it in place. These components can produce gases for many years after the initial installation. The level of toxicity and emissions differs according to manufacturer and type of product used.

Currently, the trend is to make carpets a greener solution by making them from post-consumer plastic soft-drink containers. There is also a movement to re-use carpet padding and reclaimed carpet fibers to make new padding. Nearly 30% of all foam cushion in the US currently comes from imported waste fibers from other processes (US Green Building Council, 2009). This is good from the standpoint of the three Rs, but it does not solve the problem of off-gassing concerns.

Off-gassing can be minimized by asking the installer to roll out the carpet and letting it air out in a ventilated area before proceeding with the installation (US Green Building Council, 2009). You can also voice your concerns over VOCs and ask them to use low VOC adhesives. The area should be ventilated for 48-72 hours after installation. This can help to reduce, but not eliminate the problems associated with out-gassing of carpets during the installation phase.

According to the US Green Building Council, out gassing is not the only problem with carpets. Many people do not realize that synthetic carpets cannot truly be cleaned. Yes, you read correctly, synthetic carpets cannot be properly cleaned, even if you did purchase an expensive vacuum with a HEPA filter. The reason for this is that carpet is made from petroleum products, which never break down, but just collect dirt, dust, and anything else that falls into it. Synthetic carpet acts as a binder for these materials. It cannot be kept truly clean because dirt tends to stick tenaciously to it. It may look clean, but it is not.

Thus far, the options for resolving these issues are not as plentiful as for other products. One can look for the Carpet and Rug Institute seal of approval called the Green Label Plus. This labeling criteria was inspired by California‰Ûªs 01350 standard, which calls for reducing emissions of individual VOCs rather than overall VOC level (US Green Building Council, 2009). This is the most rigorous standard to date.

Looking for Green Label Plus approval is one thing that can be done to help reduce the problems associated with synthetic carpets. Some natural alternatives are available including wool, cotton, and grasses. I personally like my all wool oriental carpets. I have had them in my home for close to 8 years and they are still as good as when they were purchased. They have proven to be durable. The only problem that I have had is fading in areas that receive a high level of light.

Sea grass rugs have been great in the kitchen. You can take them outside, hose them off, and let them dry in the sun. They are as good as new cared for in this manner. Cotton rugs, gotta love them, toss them in the washer and let them line dry. How easy is that? I love my natural carpets and when they need to be replaced, I will get more of the same. The feel of natural wool is wonderful to cuddle up on and watch a movie on a cold winter night‰Û_just ask one who knows.


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