5 Ways Your Home's Carpeting Can Make You Sick

Here's why your flooring could be to blame for your health woes, according to doctors.

Having carpeting on your floors can help insulate a room, provide a soft landing as you walk, and contribute to a cozy atmosphere. It's also a cost-effective way to lay down flooring, compared to the alternatives. However, experts say that before you call the contractors, you should consider not only the aesthetic and financial value of a carpet but also the ways this particular type of flooring could impact your health. They warn that carpets can cause a range of serious symptoms, which can affect even those in the best of health. Read on to learn the five ways your home's carpeting can make you sick, according to doctors.

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They can expose you to thirdhand smoke.

Woman with COVID coughing

If the carpets in your home were there when you moved in, they may pose a risk by exposing you to thirdhand smoke from the former tenants or owners.

"A recent study found that carpets can absorb and retain harmful chemicals, like those found in tobacco smoke. Even after smoking has stopped, these chemicals like to linger," explains Phil Green, MD a private general practitioner at Tower Health in the U.K. "When disturbed, they can be released into the surrounding air, posing health risks to those around. Thirdhand smoke exposure has been linked to respiratory issues and other health problems, making these recent findings truly concerning."

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They can trap allergens and contaminants.

Steam cleaner on rug

Old or poorly maintained carpets can also trap allergens and contaminants, which can compromise the air quality in your home, says Naheed Ali, MD, PhD, a physician and medical writer.

"Carpets can trap dust, dirt, pet dander, and allergens, creating an environment that can exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma and allergies," he explains. "These particles can become airborne when disturbed, leading to breathing difficulties and discomfort, especially for individuals with sensitivities."

Ali notes that by vacuuming regularly and having your carpet professionally cleaned periodically, you can help mitigate this issue. "It's essential to maintain proper cleaning routines to prevent the accumulation of potentially harmful particles in the carpet fibers," he says.

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They can harbor mold.

young man vacuuming carpet

Mold and mildew growth is another health concern associated with carpeting. "If moisture is not effectively managed, it can seep into carpets, providing a breeding ground for mold and mildew. These fungi release spores into the air, which can lead to respiratory issues and allergic reactions when inhaled," Ali says.

The physician notes that high humidity levels and spills that aren't promptly cleaned can contribute to this problem.

"To minimize the risk of mold growth, ensure proper ventilation in areas with carpeting, promptly address any moisture issues, and consider using dehumidifiers if necessary," he suggests.

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They can contain harmful chemicals.

rolled up carpets
Dmitry Markov152 / Shutterstock

Even a perfectly maintained carpet can cause health issues, due to chemicals used during manufacturing and installation. In particular, experts warn that they can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air.

"VOCs are gasses emitted by various products, including carpets, adhesives, and finishes, and they can contribute to indoor air pollution," explains Ali. "Prolonged exposure to high levels of VOCs can lead to a range of health issues, from eye and throat irritation to more severe symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and even organ damage in extreme cases. Opting for carpets that have been certified as low-VOC or seeking out natural and eco-friendly carpeting materials can help mitigate this concern."

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They can spread germs and bacteria.

Woman washing carpet with brush at home

Another way your carpet can make you sick is by trapping and spreading germs and bacteria. These germs can make their way into your home via your shoes, pets, children, and a range of other sources, and are harder to remove from a carpet than they would be from a solid surface.

"The difficulty in carpets is that it's easy for things to live, grow, and spread," explains Nabil Salib, MD, a general practitioner at MyDoc Urgent Care. "A carpet can quickly become a cesspool of germs and bacteria and, unfortunately, people don't clean them nearly enough."

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Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. If you have health questions or concerns, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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