Allergen Removal: An Essential Part of Carpet Care

Although the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirms that we now spend 90% of our lives indoors, which does not mean that we are protected from pollutants. Outdoor pollution, such as smoke and particulates, can enter facilities through open windows and ventilation systems. Other pollutants come from indoors, including allergens such as mold, dust mites, and pet dander.

Carpeting can increase our exposure to air pollutants by acting as a reservoir of allergens. The simple act of walking on a carpet or vacuuming can suspend allergens in the air, where they are inhaled. Allergens that remain on the carpet are often pushed down the pile of the carpet by foot traffic, where they stick to the fibers and are difficult to remove.

Reducing indoor pollutant levels is key to creating a healthier indoor environment. Pollution reduction strategies include a combination of ventilation, pollution source control and pollutant removal. Regular carpet cleaning will reduce the level of allergens and other pollutants in the indoor environment.

What is an allergen?

An allergen is a generally harmless substance that is able to trigger an immune response in susceptible people. For example, if you are allergic to animal dander, your immune system identifies animal dander as an invader and responds by releasing chemicals that can cause symptoms in your nose, throat, eyes, ears, and skin. Allergy symptoms can range from sneezing, watery eyes, and itchy skin to more serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing and swelling of the throat, which can occur in a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.

Why is it important to avoid allergy triggers?

Asthma and allergies have been on the rise since the early 1980s. Over 25 million Americans suffer from asthma and over 50 million suffer from allergies each year; health experts predict that these numbers will increase. Avoiding triggers is not only essential in asthma and allergy management, it will also create a healthier indoor environment that benefits everyone. Avoiding triggers can also help prevent sensitization and minimize the development and severity of respiratory illnesses.

Consider Common Indoor Allergy Triggers

The most common indoor allergy triggers are mold spores, dust mites, and pet dander. Mold thrives in damp or moist environments, including on carpets and other building materials. Mold releases spores that are invisible to the naked eye and can float in the air. Disturbing a source of mold can send spores into the air, triggering allergies and other respiratory issues.

Dust mites are very small creatures that can live in carpets and other indoor textile furniture, where they feed primarily on dandruff from human skin. The accumulation of food and moisture in the carpet can provide an ideal habitat for dust mites. People can be allergic to dust mites and their droppings, which become airborne when disturbed.

Cat and dog allergens are also prevalent in indoor environments. These particles stick to people’s clothes and are carried from homes to other buildings, exposing non-pet owners to allergens. Cat allergens are very small and can remain airborne for hours without any disturbance. Pet allergens can build up in carpets without an effective cleaning program.

Implement cleaning strategies to reduce indoor allergen levels

Regular carpet cleaning is essential to remove dirt and allergens. Vacuums can vary widely in their ability to remove dust and allergens from carpets, depending on the suction power and cleaning head used.

Dry-vacuum your facility’s carpet frequently with a machine proven to effectively remove allergens. Select a machine with a high-efficiency particulate filter (HEPA) and a fully sealed system to ensure vacuumed allergens are not unintentionally released. Cleaning workers who are highly sensitive to allergens should wear a mask when vacuuming, as the task always increases the level of airborne allergens in a room. Consider investing in robot vacuums to reduce your staff’s exposure to dust and allergens.

Periodically wet-vacuum the carpet in your facility to remove allergens. Use a carpet cleaner tested to effectively remove allergens from the floor. Steam cleaning can also effectively remove allergens from carpet. Avoid excessive water use with carpet washers and steam cleaners. Leaving carpet fibers damp can promote mold growth and increase the hatch rate of dust mite eggs.

Proper maintenance of equipment is also important for the elimination of allergens. Poorly maintained cleaning equipment will not be able to clean carpets as effectively. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for equipment maintenance and replacement parts.

If you use detergent to clean carpets, consider its cleaning effectiveness and any potential impact on indoor air quality. Some cleaning products contain ingredients that can trigger allergy symptoms. The American Lung Association recommends using only cleaning products that “do not contain or have reduced amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fragrances, irritants, and flammable ingredients.” Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and ventilate, if possible, when using cleaning products.

Consider other strategies to create a healthier indoor environment:

  • Place mats at facility entrances to reduce the amount of dirt and allergens that get onto the mat from shoes.
  • Use a damp cloth weekly to remove dust and allergens that accumulate on hard surfaces.
  • Keep indoor humidity between 30% and 50% to suppress mold and dust mite growth.
  • If high humidity is a problem, improve air circulation and ventilation in your facility and/or use a commercial-grade dehumidifier.
  • Consider using a portable HEPA air purifier or an HVAC system with a HEPA filter to remove particles and allergens from the air.

Identify healthier cleaning products

When looking for products that contribute to a healthier indoor environment, consider certified products from trusted parties. Check product packaging and manufacturer websites for evidence of independent testing or third-party certification. Selecting products labeled as independently tested and verified is a good way to avoid false product claims and ensure that what you buy will contribute positively to the indoor environment. For example, the asthma & allergy friendly® certification program tests vacuum cleaners and cleaning products for their allergen removal performance and their impact on indoor air.

The references

US EPA. Indoor air quality. https://www.epa.gov/report-environment/indoor-air-quality

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data from the 2019 National Health Survey (NHIS). https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/nhis/2019/data.htm

American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Facts about allergies. https://acaai.org/allergies/allergies-101/facts-stats/

SR Haines, RI Adams, BE Boor, et al. Ten questions regarding the implications of carpeting on indoor chemistry and microbiology. Building and Environment. 170 (2020) 106589.

JA German, MB Harpet. Environmental control of allergic diseases. American family physician. 66 (2002) 421-427.

American Lung Association. Cleaning products and household chemicals. https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/cleaning-supplies-household-chem

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