Most parents feel that a carpet or rug on the floor is a desirable feature of a home where children are being raised. Obviously it is far more comfortable and safe for a child to play on a carpeted surface rather than a stone or wooden floor especially on a cold winter day. Not only does the carpet/rug provide warmth in the winter it also provides protection against falls and stumbles so common among small children for whom the floor is the primary play space.
However, carpets and rugs on the floor are not an unmixed blessing as they tend to act as sponges, soaking up and releasing pollutants. Carpets and their under pads are a haven for dust mites and other pollutants such as animal dander, lead dust and chemicals from cleaners and other pollutants all of which have been shown to contribute to and worsen allergies and asthma.
Moreover the very act of trying to protect the family from such pollutants by cleaning the carpet could create even more problems. Many of the chemicals used to clean carpets are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which vaporize easily into the air affecting the breathing process of both children and adults. Some of these VOCs include benzene, styrene, toluene, xylene and formaldehyde. Carpets can emit these fumes for as long as five years and while doing so continue to absorb allergenic dust and toxic cleaners.
The only way of completely removing these pollutants that affect the health of all members of the family is to remove the carpet/rug. Wood, cork or ceramic floors are easily cleaned and do not absorb the type of pollutants that carpets do and if a softer surface is needed these floors can always be covered with washable rugs. Should it be your decision to remove a carpet or rug never do so if there is a pregnant woman or a person with asthma in the home as the removal will release a great deal of dust and VOCs into the air.
If a person feels that he/she can't give up the comfort of a carpeted living room or stair case there are ways of reducing the risks of carpeting the home. Purchase only carpets made from natural fibers with organically grown wool, cotton, hemp, jute ramie or goat hair sound options. Also make certain that the carpet purchased has been made with either undyed or vegetable dyed fibers.
To minimize the effects of VOCs the carpets purchased should not have stain repellants such as "Scotch Guarding" and the under padding should be made of untreated wool or camel's hair rather than padding made of foam rubber, latex or plastic that often contain dangerous chemicals.
Before installing a new carpet, vacuum the floor thoroughly and clean both sides of the carpet and the padding to be installed beneath it. It is advisable to tack down the carpet rather than gluing it down as adhesive usually contains harmful chemicals. After installation of carpets in the home a "cleaning out" period should be put into effect and should usually be not less than 72 hours.
To control the allergens that live in carpets it is advisable to vacuum the carpet at least twice a week with a strong suction machine using a particle filter capable of trapping a dust particle down to at least 0.1 microns. Avoid using any carpet spray or powder that contains tannic acid which is a skin and respiratory irritant that "neutralizes" dust mite allergens but does not kill them. Carpets soak up more allergenic material in humid environments and thus it is advised not to use wall to wall carpeting in bathrooms or kitchens.
Most importantly, keep children out of the house for at least four hours after carpets have been cleaned using any method. This should reduce the risk of Kawasaki Disease which might be linked to carpet cleaning.