Carpet and Asthma: What’s The Deal?
So, for years we were told not to have carpet. We were told that wood flooring, or tile flooring, or linoleum, were better for asthma. There’s a good reason for this. However, new evidence says that carpeting may not be so bad for asthmatics after all. So, here’s what to know about carpet and asthma.
What the experts say about carpet and asthma
They say, when it comes to allergies and asthma, carpets are harmful. This is because carpet may harbor pollutants, such as dust mites, pollen, animal dander, and other allergens. These things can easily become airborne and inhaled. This is especially true when vacuuming.
The remedy here is a different type of flooring. Ideal flooring includes wood, tile, and linoleum. There is a good reason we are told hard floors are ideal for asthmatics. It’s because hard floors can be easily mopped clean. This can keep the air free and clear of potential allergens and asthma triggers.
This is what They always say. By they, I mean everybody says this. The American Lung Association says it. Allergyliving.com says it. Like, every credible allergy and asthma organization says it. So, it’s gotta be true, right?1,2
It's fair to say this is the conventional wisdom.
What do others say about carpet and asthma?
But, I've always been one to question conventional wisdom. Just because everyone else is saying something doesn't necessarily make it true. In fact, if everyone is thinking the same thing, then something is probably wrong. It’s moments like these that get me to thinking things like: does this make sense? Are hard floors really ideal for asthmatics?
Personally, I have always had carpet in my homes. The type of carpet I use is low shag. I have never had an issue with this. My kids haven’t even had an issue with this. Plus, when you sweep wood, tile, and linoleum floors, dust gets airborne then too. Dust and debris creeps up no matter what kind of flooring you have.
My hypothesis here is this is that low shag carpet is fine for people with asthma. So, I set off on to investigate in the wide, wide world of Google.
What the carpet sellers say
I initially got the idea from a blogger. It was a blog at Johnson Memorial Health. The blogger sited three sources that noted studies showing some carpets, when cleaned properly, were just fine for asthma.3
One of the sources, Medscape, is a very credible source, at least in my book. The article, "Properly cleaned carpeting okay for people with asthma," was about a 2012 study. It concluded a good carpet cleaning significantly reduced allergen levels inside carpet and in carpeted rooms.4
Is this trustworthy?
Still, this is just one study. And it was performed in a controlled setting. And there is no indication of what kind of carpet was studied. So, there is definitely room for more research in this regard. But, it shows that getting rid of carpet may not always be necessary so long as carpet is regularly cleaned.
Studies like this are nice because they challenge conventional wisdom.
But, despite that, people who sell rugs and carpets use them to the fullest extent. Carpetyourlife.com is one of these companies. Thespruce.com is another one. And this makes sense, after all, as they are trying to sell their rugs and carpets. But are there claims that carpets are safe for asthmatics actually true?5,6
What a review of literature showed
Studies are great. But the best studies are reviews of studies or reviews of all accumulated literature on a particular subject. Based on a preponderance of all the evidence, they come to the best conclusions. Usually this is the case.
A review of studies about carpet and asthma was published just recently. In fact, it was published in The International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health on February, 2018. So, that’s pretty recent. The review included all literature on the subject from the 1980's to 2018.7
The authors noted a few key facts:
- Solid floors are easier and less expensive to clean. Carpet is harder to clean and more expensive. So, many people delay cleaning far longer than necessary. To me, this is a key finding. It shows that, even if a good cleaning makes carpet allergen-free, most people don't do it often enough. I know for a fact I rarely clean my carpet.
- They confirm that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) may be emitted by carpets. These compounds may trigger allergy and asthma symptoms. But, this effect is less common in newer carpets. Likewise, all new flooring may emit VOCs.
- Overall, the evidence shows that carpet increases airborne pollutants more so than hard floors.
- Earlier studies do indeed show that pollutants (like allergens) can be harbored inside carpet fibers.
- But, these pollutants are only harmful when aerosolized in large amounts.
- Data from newer studies confirm older studies showing that carpets may harbor pollutants, and that these pollutants may trigger allergy and asthma symptoms.7
Potential problems with these studies
The authors note potential problems with this data. And that’s good, of course, because it shows modesty. It shows that the intent is not to be biased. It shows the intent is not to be sheep and go with conventional wisdom.
The problem noted is that most of the literature reviewed failed to note the type of carpet, nor how well ventilated rooms studied were. Still, despite this rather significant flaw, they decided an accumulation of the evidence was not enough to overturn past recommendations. The authors wrote:7
“To reduce the burden of disease, avoidance of widespread use of carpets should be among factors considered. For this reason, use of carpeted floors in schools and kindergartens should also be avoided, at least until more scientific knowledge is provided."
Fine. I can agree with this conclusion.
What I think of carpet and asthma
Personally, this review of literature fails to do anything for me. But neither do the few studies claiming to prove well-cleaned carpet is fine for asthma. As the authors note, I would like to see more evidence. I’d also would like to see more studies comparing low shag carpet flooring with hard flooring. Is one truly better than the other? We still don’t know.
So, lacking further evidence, I think that the decision to put carpet down or to remove it should be made on an individual basis. In my case, since carpet has never bothered me, I have no intention of making any changes based on conventional wisdom.
Have you ever experienced an itchy chin prior to or during asthma attacks?