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Do You Have Wall-to-Wall Carpets?

 Wall-to-wall Carpets:  Cozy Contaminant Collectors

Four years ago we rented a home with hardwood floors by chance.  We lived in that home for the first year of my first baby's life, which was when I started obsessing about toxins and such.  During my research, I came across a lot of unfavorable information about carpet, like this quote from The Green Guide:

Wall-to-wall carpets trap years of tracked-in dirt, soot, animal dander, flea eggs, molds and fungi, dust mite droppings and the volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) that evaporate from conventional pesticides, cleaning products, paints and finishes and glues—including those in the carpet itself. This potent mix of allergens and irritants can trigger everything from watery eyes and sore throats to asthma attacks, dizziness and fainting spells. (Source)
The more research I did about flooring, the more fortunate I felt to have a hardwood floor!  I also quickly discovered that hardwood floors are wonderfully kid-friendly because it is so easy to clean up spit up, spills, and other messes (think potty training), and because they are so much fun to play on (cars and balls roll better, jigsaw puzzles are easier to put together, a toppled tower makes more noise).   Since that home, we've moved 3 more times, and each time, number one on my list of must-haves for the new rental: hardwood floors.  We do use our own area rugs and small washable rugs throughout the house.  But I just can't stand the thought of renting a place with wall-to-wall carpet.   What did the former occupants track onto, exhale into, and spill on that carpet?  What cleaners did they use to remove stains? What is the carpet and the adhesive and padding beneath it made of?  How did the owners clean it before we moved in?

But what if (gasp!) your home does have wall-to-wall carpet?  What then?  Well, here's what I would do:
  • Leave your shoes at the door so that you don't track in the "dirt, soot, animal dander, flea eggs, molds and fungi, dust mite droppings and the volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) that evaporate from conventional pesticides, cleaning products" mentioned in the quote above.  We do this, even though we have all wood and tile floors.  We have boxes or shoe racks at the front door, garage door, and the back door.  When guests come over, I prominently display our shoe box (labeled "SHOES"), and usually they comply without me having to say a thing.
  • Vacuum often using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA-filter. Dust often too.
  • Open your windows every day
  • Minimize odors and stains: eat in the kitchen, smoke outside, keep pets outside if possible, clean up spills immediately, etc.
  • Clean your carpet using non-toxic materials. When you need to deodorize or spot clean, use a green cleaner.  One of the green questions I get asked most often is for advice on cleaning carpets.  Parents especially are very aware of how much time their kids spend on the floor, and they want a non-toxic way to remove stains and get the stink out.  For information on DIY carpet cleaners, click here.  If you want a store-bought cleaner, I've heard good things about Biokleen's carpet cleaner from friends.
  • Hire a green professional cleaner when you need to have your carpet professionally cleaned, preferably one who discloses all ingredients in their cleaning products.
  • Grow houseplants to help clean your air. 
  • Buy a carpet made of non-toxic eco-friendly materials, if you are thinking of replacing your carpet, or installing a carpet in your new place (because you remain unconvinced by my rant above).
  • Pay special attention to the carpet in children's bedrooms and play areas.    If you can't do everything on this list, focus your efforts on the rooms where your kids spend the most time. Kids live low, and they inhale and eat a lot of the junk on and in your carpet.  

What are your green tips for living with carpet?