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Which Carpet Cleaning Products Are Not Safe?

by Jeff in Carpet Cleaning, Green Carpet Cleaning Products

Healthy Child Healthy World is an indispensable resource for trustworthy information on environmental toxics.  I often refer my clients to this article for questions about about the safest options for professional carpet cleaning, as well as stain removal for those in between times when you need to get something cleaned up quickly.

Our carpet cleaning products and methods meet Healthy Child’s recommendations for safety and are certified by both the EPA and Green Seal.  You can read more about the specifics here.

Healthy Child Healthy World

by Aisha Ikramuddin

Among the inevitable things in life is the fact that all carpets will get dirty over time. Carpets and rugs, of course, take a lot of abuse from rambunctious children and pets, dinner guests who spill, people who refuse to wipe their feet before entering–the list goes on and on.

So it is also inevitable that carpets have to be cleaned somehow, at some point. Like other cleaners, carpet cleaners may contain toxic ingredients, some of which are not listed on labels because they are considered “proprietary” or “trade secrets”.

Some carpet cleaners–especially spot removers–can be particularly dangerous, because they contain chemical solvents similar to those used by dry cleaners. These chemicals dissolve dirt without soap and water, but give off strong odors. Other potentially problematic ingredients in carpet cleaners include other compounds that produce lots of fumes (like formaldehyde), acids, pesticides, disinfectants, lye (sodium hydroxide), fragrances and many others.

Fabric and carpet stain repellents or “guards” may contain plastics and other potentially dangerous ingredients. The key ingredient in 3M’s popular Scotchgard® line of products, perfluoro-octane sulfonate (PFOS), was once portrayed as chemically inert, but recent research shows that it is a persistent organic pollutant (POP). PFOS, a suspected hormone disruptor, accumulates in the environment and the tissue of animals and humans. Despite ample evidence of PFOS’s persistence, 3M kept it on the market for 40 years. In spring 2000, 3M announced it would phase out PFOS products by the year 2002. The safety of another perfluorinated compound, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the main ingredient in Teflon®, which is used to coat non-stick pans and in fabric protectors, is currently under investigation.

During application and while drying, the chemicals in carpet cleaners and protectors evaporate and may concentrate in the air, causing indoor air pollution. This is more likely if the room is not well ventilated, the weather is hot and humid or the room is damp. Indoor air pollution can cause headaches, irritation to eyes, nose and lungs, asthma attacks, congestion, sneezing, coughing, fatigue, nausea and other symptoms.

There is some speculation that there is a link between carpet cleaners and Kawasaki Disease, though there is limited evidence to support this. Long-term exposures may increase the risks for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, depending on the chemicals involved.

Carpet shampoos usually leave a sticky residue on carpet fibers. The residue is usually hard to see or feel–though it can make carpets feel rougher and you may be able to smell it. Not only does the residue attract and latch onto dirt, but children, who crawl and play on carpets, can inhale these residues and get them on their hands, which often go into their mouths.

Dry shampoos, powders and foams may also linger on carpet fibers. These products generally contain solvents and detergents that must be applied for a specific period of time, then vacuumed to remove the cleaning product. A residue may be left behind or the product may sink deep enough into carpets to avoid being pulled out by the vacuum cleaner. Powders or dusts are easily inhaled and may irritate airways and cause asthma attacks. In fact, anti-dust-mite carpet treatments sometimes contain tannic acid or benzyl benzoate, both of which are skin, eye and respiratory irritants. Deodorizing powders often contain fragrances that irritate asthmatic lungs as well.

To remove shampoo residue from your carpet, see How to Keep Carpets Clean without Dangerous Chemicals . Healthy Child Healthy World recommends that children stay out of the house for at least four hours after carpets have been cleaned by any method. This can help reduce the risk of Kawasaki Disease, which may be linked to carpet cleaning.

Dangerous Chemicals Found in Some Carpet Cleaners

  • Solvents Butoxyethanol and other glycol ethers,Tetrachloroethylene, Perchloroethylene
  • Acids and other corrosive chemicals Hydroxyacetic acid, Hydrofluoric acid, Nitrilotriacetic acid, Sodium hydroxide, Sodium carbonate
  • Mildewcides and Disinfectants Tributyl tin, Formaldehyde, Phenol
  • Other chemicals Butane, propane and isobutanes (aerosol propellants), Dibutyl phthalate, Nonylphenol ethoxylate (surfactant), Octylphenol ethoxylate (surfactant)

You can find out if a carpet cleaning product you use or are considering contains any of these ingredients on the Household Products Database, produced by the National Institutes of Health. You can also search by ingredient.

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