Keeping your carpet clean and fresh doesn’t have to be toxic – here are some green, natural and safe recipes and ways to keep your floors clean and allergen-free.In our very first house we had mostly hardwoods, which I both loved and disliked. I loved it because cleaning up spills and potty training is WAY easier, but my feet were always cold and I longed for soft, squishy carpet. Now we’re in a house where soft, squishy carpet abounds and it feels like luxury compared to hardwoods! Never thought I’d say that, since hardwoods are definitely the most popular on HGTV, making me believe people everywhere love hardwoods, too.
What’s So Dangerous About Carpet?
According to the EPA, carpets have come a long way in reducing “chemical emissions, energy usage, and water usage associated with manufacturing processes.” However, they are still coated in a hoard of chemicals, but some of the worst are the flame retardants (source). The craziest part is that flame retardants do not stop fires – they just delay them for a few minutes (did you know these awful chemicals are also on our children’s pajamas? ACK!). In new carpets, some of the other chemicals, which are known carcinogens and produce fetal abnormalities in laboratory animals, include toluene, benzene, formaldehyde, ethyl benzene, styrene, and acetone (source). In older carpets, even though the VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) they contain have dissipated over time, they are still covered in toxins brought in off shoes and dust and may contain chemicals that are now banned.
What Can We Do About It?
1. Rip Out the Carpet and Replace It With Green Carpet, Hardwoods or Tile
Obviously, this solution is going to be the most costly. It’s not something my family can do right now. But, if you’ve got the budget, it’s the sustainable wave of the future! The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recommends buying carpets that have:
- Low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
- No toxic dyes
- Reduced energy use (from manufacturing)
- Reduced or improved air emissions (from manufacturing)
Fibers that are safe and eco-friendly include (use for rugs or for broadloom):
- Wool that has not been treated with unsafe chemicals (see examples here at Home Depot). Wool is naturally flame retardant and repels liquids and is the best, but most costly choice.
- Hemp is mold and mildew resistant.
- Check out healthyhome.com for many varieties of carpets that are untreated, green, AND biodegradable!
- Bamboo flooring is sustainable as bamboo grows very quickly and is abundant.
2. The Cheap, DIY Way – Smart Cleaning to Reduce the Toxins & Maintain Cleanliness
So, if you’re like me, replacing your whole house with hardwood and expensive wool rugs would be totally fabulous, but just isn’t in the family budget yet. In the meantime, here are the cleaning practices we can employ around the house to keep toxins and dust (which carry toxins from the carpet and our shoes) at bay:
- Leave your shoes at the door and have good doormats at each outside entrance to stop dirt and toxins from ever coming in.
- Dust often but do it wisely – feather dusters just stir up the dust into the air, so use a wet cloth instead (I sometimes use a little olive oil to dust and an old, wet rag). Dusting is very important when you have babies and toddlers who are always on the floor and will breathe in or ingest any dust and dirt.
- Vacuum often to get rid of dust and dirt that carry toxins and allergens.
- Buy the best vacuum you can afford with a HEPA filter. Cheaper vacuums are not sealed well and dust and dirt can escape and blow back into the air. My favorite vacuum (as you can tell from the picture) is an Oreck vacuum (where to buy) – they last FOREVER. My mom has had her Oreck for 15 years, and has had no problems with it! They are so lightweight and powerful.
- Steam clean your carpets by buying a steam cleaner that doesn’t use chemicals. The steam will kill dust mites and bacteria, and I’ve found, really fluffs up the carpet and makes it look newer. I have a Haan Steam Cleaner (where to buy) with carpet glide attachment and LOVE it. I use it on hardwoods, tile, and carpet. It comes with microfiber pads, so there’s no waste either!
- Clean stains, spots and smells with a homemade green cleaner – My favorite thing to use on spills is my Baking Soda Carpet Cleaner. The baking soda, combined with tea tree and lavender essential oils (where to buy high quality essential oils) does an amazing job of deodorizing and drying up spills. It’s so green you never have to worry about the fragrance or chemicals if your children and pets are all over it!
3. Hire A Green Carpeting Cleaning Company To Thoroughly Clean Your Carpets
One of the worst things we can do is to have the carpets (which are already laden with toxic chemicals) cleaned with more toxic chemicals! So, hire a green cleaning company once every couple of years who will use safe, organic cleaning products or even just steam clean. Here are some companies across the U.S. to try:
ChemDry has franchises all over the US, read my review of their service here.
Here is how Chem-Dry cleans:
We use an organic method of hot carbonated water extraction to attack dirt, dust, oils and allergens in carpet fibers and on hard surfaces. Our carpets dry more quickly and stay cleaner and healthier for longer than any other cleaning method; we’re proud that the Carpet & Rug Institute has given our process its Seal of Approval.