Many people give me a guilty look when they tell me they have wall-to-wall carpet in their homes. I always feel badly that they are embarassed, especially because there is so much misinformation about how toxic carpets are and why — and because I know that carpeting can be a lot cheaper than other types of flooring. I myself would have enjoyed wall-to-wall carpet in a few rooms when my daughter was younger, as I think that soft surface would have been cozy for her.
I’m not going to recommend wall-to-wall carpet in this blog. They can be a sinkhole of allergens, as well as for toxins tracked in from outside. And some carpets can be toxic, with ingredients ranging from glues used to attach the carpet to the floor to antimicrobial/fungicidal pesticides, 4-phenylcyclohexene (4-PC) from latex binders, or a general chemical soup.
One of the great mysteries about rolls of carpet, according to Rosalind Anderson, Ph.D., is that one part of it might be toxic while another isn’t. And some rolls have enough toxicity to make people sick, while other rolls don’t — even if they have been manufactured in the same way.
If you choose carpet, the healthiest choices are to:
1. Nail, don’t glue, the carpet down.
2. Choose natural fiber carpet when you can afford it (specify that you want organic wool carpet).
4. Avoid styrene-butadiene-rubber latex combinations and polyurethane carpet backing.
5. Look for a Carpet and Rug Institute label.
6. Try a nontoxic carpet sealant. If you recently got new carpet and it still smells even if the glue has dried or it was nailed down, you may not know if it is toxic — but you probably want the smell to go away. When a colleague of mine moved into an apartment that had new carpet, the smell gave him headaches and flulike symptoms. He used a nontoxic carpet-sealing product from AFM Safecoat that substantially reduced the smell. The sealant itself had no detectable odor. He needed an extra coat in the closets, but other than that the sealant really did the trick.