Choosing Eco-Friendly Carpet

Select healthier options when it comes to flooring choices.

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Some people love the smell of "new." That "new car" smell, wet paint, and that piney scent after mopping can bring to mind the feeling of fresh, clean, and even healthy. But when it comes to new carpet, that strong odor could be the smell of trouble.

Some new carpets contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are emitted as gases and can have a negative health impact if inhaled. When exposed to VOCs people may experience a wide range of symptoms that can include nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea (uncomfortable breathing), nausea, fatigue, and dizziness.

The new carpet odor that people usually smell is a VOC called 4-phenylcyclohexene (4-PCH), which is a byproduct of the latex binder used to secure the "tufted" fibers to the backing. 4-PCH can linger after installation for up to a week, exposing the homeowner to the pungent odor.

Many homeowners today aren't aware of these potential dangers, so the builder should give the homeowner information about choosing healthy options for their home. By installing low-VOC or "eco-friendly" carpets, the builder can help the homeowner create a healthier living environment, and still enjoy the comfort of carpet.

Here are a few tips when choosing and installing eco-friendly carpets:

  • Check the label on the carpet to make sure it's been tested by the Carpet and Rug Institute's (CRI) Indoor Air Quality testing program. An icon with "CRI" inside a small green house will verify that the product has been tested, and passed the CRI's standards for low emissions. (To learn more about the program, visit the Carpet and Rug Institute website.)
  • Air out the carpet before installing. Often your carpet distributor can do this for you before it's delivered to the job site.
  • Avoid carpet pads that use styrenebutadiene rubber and use felt padding instead.
  • If installation requires gluing down the carpet, use low-emitting, nonsolvent adhesives.
  • Be sure to walk the homeowner through proper carpet cleaning techniques and remind them that carpet can trap VOCs, allergens, and dust mites.

For noncarpeted areas of your home, you might also consider another sustainable, no-VOC option: eucalyptus flooring. Besides, when was the last time you saw an air freshener advertising a "new carpet" scent?

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