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How Carpets and Furniture Affect Indoor Air Quality

Carpeting is often one of the dirtiest things you have in your home. It can trap a variety of air pollutants[1] and allergens, such as: dirt, dust, pet dander, dust mites and mold spores.

Proponents of carpeting will argue that these pollutants are trapped by the carpet fibers, removing them from the indoor air. While this statement is true, it requires the carpeting to be thoroughly cleaned and maintained consistently from the date of installation. 

If your carpeting is a bit older or hasn’t been cleaned regularly, it could be causing some significant air quality issues in your home.

Why Is Old Carpeting Bad for Indoor Air?

Old carpeting can retain a buildup of pollutants and allergens that becomes difficult to remove. These pollutants are churned up every time someone walks across the floor and they are released into the air you breathe. 

This problem isn’t confined to the dust and dander created in your home. Harmful particles from outdoors can be brought inside and tracked into the carpeting, only to be released later through foot traffic in the home. If you have a central HVAC system, the pollutants will then be circulated throughout your entire house. 

Adding to that, if your carpet suffered any previous moisture damage, it could be harboring mold spores as well. Mold spores are a big health concern as they can worsen symptoms for anyone in the home who experiences allergies, asthma or other respiratory illnesses. 

Small children and pets are especially susceptible to pollutants trapped in carpet fibers since they spend more time on or near the floor. 

What You Can Do About It

Replacing your carpeted floors with hardwood or linoleum is the best way to combat the air quality concerns mentioned above. These types of hard flooring are easier to clean and don’t have the potential for pollutant buildup that carpet does. 

If you want carpeting in your home, consider replacing your old carpeting and be sure to clean and maintain the new carpeting moving forward. If you have children or pets in the home, keep in mind that you will have to clean your carpets more often to account for increased dirt and dander. 

Helpful tip: when vacuuming, be sure to ventilate your home to reduce the amount of pollutants you are exposed to. And never open the vacuum canister or bag in the home. Always empty it outdoors! 

Certain cloth-covered furniture has the same detrimental problems that carpeting does. These should be thoroughly cleaned regularly as well. Choose rugs that are easy to remove and clean.

The Role of VOCs

But to make matters worse, even new furniture and carpeting can cause indoor air quality (IAQ) concerns, particularly due to the manufacturing processes. 

Not only can carpets emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), but they can absorb VOCs and emit VOCs through secondary emission[2]. So, scientifically speaking, hardwood floors truly are best for optimal IAQ.

Furniture is also a big culprit[3] of VOC emissions, and in many cases much worse than carpeting. This is due to the substances used to seal and maintain wood or adhesives. Now, it’s not practical to stop using or buying furniture when you need it. But there are things you can do, including: 

  • Choose Low-VOC Products: Opt for furniture, paints, cleaners, and other household items labeled as low-VOC or VOC-free to minimize emissions.
  • Ensure Proper Ventilation: Maintain good airflow by opening windows, using exhaust fans, and considering whole-house ventilation or air purifiers with activated carbon filters.
  • Allow for Off-Gassing: Before bringing new items into your living space, allow them to off-gas in a well-ventilated area to reduce indoor VOC levels.
  • Use Natural Cleaning Products: Utilize natural cleaning alternatives or make your own with ingredients like vinegar and baking soda to avoid VOC exposure from conventional cleaners.
  • Regular Maintenance and Testing: Keep your HVAC system clean, change air filters regularly, and consider testing indoor air quality to identify and address sources of VOCs and other pollutants.

It should be noted that air purifiers are not adequate enough[4] to remove gaseous pollutants such as VOCs or formaldehyde. 

Should you Upgrade your Furnace Filter?

For the same reason as mentioned above, furnace filters will not remove VOCs. And while using the highest MERV rating[5] filter you can find may sound like a good idea, the job of your furnace filter is to keep dirt and dust particles out of its own internal components. It is not meant to filter the air in your home. 

Your furnace needs to breathe and more expensive filters can cause enough air restriction to damage the system. If your furnace takes 1’’ filters, choose one with a MERV rating up to 7 or 8. Higher MERV rated filters will often create problems for your HVAC system.

A better solution for improved air quality is a whole-home air purification system. These units tie into your existing HVAC system and are the most effective solution for indoor air quality. A few secondary air purifiers in your bedrooms can also make a big difference – but make sure it’s adequately sized.

Do you Need a Duct Cleaning if you have Old Carpets?

Duct cleanings can be very useful in some situations. Older homes can often benefit from a thorough duct cleaning. However, you will likely get better results by having your carpets and furniture professionally cleaned. This is where the majority of the pollutants and allergens are trapped.  

If you see a lot of dirt and dust buildup in the return air vents, you might consider having your ducts cleaned. And since this is not a recurring service item (you don’t need this performed often – once will be enough for many).

Be sure to choose a licensed HVAC company that offers duct cleanings if you chose to have one done. However, if you have your ducts cleaned without also having your carpets cleaned, you are only solving half of the problem. 

References

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  1. Becher, R., Øvrevik, J., Schwarze, P., Nilsen, S., Hongslo, J., & Bakke, J. (2018, January 23). Do Carpets Impair Indoor Air Quality and Cause Adverse Health Outcomes: A Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. MDPI AG. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15020184
  2. Noorian Najafabadi, S. A., Sugano, S., & Bluyssen, P. M. (2022, December 18). Impact of Carpets on Indoor Air Quality. Applied Sciences. MDPI AG. http://doi.org/10.3390/app122412989
  3. Yan, M., Zhai, Y., Shi, P., Hu, Y., Yang, H., & Zhao, H. (2018, July 12). Emission of volatile organic compounds from new furniture products and its impact on human health. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal. Informa UK Limited. http://doi.org/10.1080/10807039.2018.1476126
  4. Ye, Q., Krechmer, J. E., Shutter, J. D., Barber, V. P., Li, Y., Helstrom, E., … Kroll, J. H. (2021, October 27). Real-Time Laboratory Measurements of VOC Emissions, Removal Rates, and Byproduct Formation from Consumer-Grade Oxidation-Based Air Cleaners. Environmental Science & Technology Letters. American Chemical Society (ACS). http://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.1c00773
  5. (n.d.). What is a MERV rating? | US EPA. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/what-merv-rating
Owner / FounderDerek Gaughan
Derek is the owner and lead content producer for Air Koality. His primary focus is on reviewing residential air quality monitors and air purifiers. An alumni of Pennsylvania State University, he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Sciences and an MBA with a focus on Information Systems. He also completed The EPA Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Master Class Professional Training, in addition to passing the Mainstream IAQ certification.

Expertises: air quality, IAQ

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