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Can a Carpet Make You Sick?

Part 1 of 2

Chemical emissions from new carpeting, cushions, and adhesives may cause allergic reactions and sensitization. The samples of carpets that have caused problems in experimental studies cut across all different types of carpet fibers and brands, both natural fiber treated with various chemicals during production, and synthetic fibers.

It is also important to keep in mind that if you suffer from allergies, carpeting is probably not the best choice for your home.

There is evidence of a link between adverse health effects and the levels of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) emitted by new carpet, especially a substance called 4-phenylcyclohexane (4-PC). Some people report allergy or flu-like symptoms caused by newly installed carpet.

When a new carpet is installed, it may produce an odor. If you can smell it, then that will often mean VOCs are being emitted from the carpeting or the adhesives.

Finally, manufacturers of carpets and related products have begun to acknowledge publicly that floor coverings and adhesives have the potential to irritate respiratory systems and eyes and cause allergic reactions when installed.

Some of the allergic reactions that people attribute to new carpets actually may be associated with dust and other particles that become airborne when old carpeting is removed.

In one study sixty dust samples from schools in Norway were analyzed for major allergens from cats and mites. The concentration of the major feline allergen Felis domesticus was about 11x higher per unit area in carpeted floors as compared with smooth floors.i In most cases, experimental histamine release caused by challenge with carpet dust was higher than for smooth floor dust. These results emphasize that there are higher allergen concentrations in carpeted floors.

In 1992, after many complaints from the public of eye and throat irritation, the carpet industry reached an agreement with the EPA to submit products for examination to ensure that emissions of certain VOCs fall below industry standards. Carpets whose emissions fall below industry standards carry a label that certifies they have been tested and have passed.

But do not allow a certification label to lull you into a false sense of security—especially if you are chemically sensitive. The “green” label program has come under fire from some congressional representatives, Consumers Union, and attorneys general from several states. There is a concern that the “green tag” labeling program may have the unintended effect of leading consumers to believe their carpet is “safe,” and that any adverse health effects they might experience are not caused by carpeting.

Read part 2.


i Dybendal, T. & Elsayed, S. “Dust from carpeted and smooth floors. V. Cat (Fel d I) and mite (Der p I and Der f I) allergen levels in school dust. Demonstration of the basophil histamine release induced by dust from classrooms.” Clin Exp Allergy, 22(12):1100-6 1992 Dec

ii Weber, B. “Bells and whistles for the ‘healthy’ American home.” The New York Times, January 21, 1999: B1