New Carpet Smell: What is it? Is it harmful? And how to get rid of it.
Ignorance is no longer bliss when it comes to our health—the information’s out there.
But what about the new carpet smell?
Is it safe? How can you avoid it? How long should it last? Can you get rid of it faster?
I’ll answer all of these questions in detail, but let’s start with what it is…
What is the new carpet smell?
The new carpet smell is fumes off-gassed (released) from the carpet. The fumes are called volatile organic compounds (or VOCs for short), and one of the most notorious carpet VOCs is called 4-phenylcyclohexenem, aka 4-PC.
The thing with VOCs is they aren’t unique to carpet. Pretty much anything that has a smell is releasing VOCs. Some of the most common culprits: furniture, candles, cooking equipment, paint (it’s one of the biggest offenders), cleaning chemicals, flooring, and just about everything else in your home. Oh yeah, and also that new car smell.
The more important question may be…
Is the new carpet smell harmful to your health?
This is the more difficult question to answer because it likely matters how much you are expeosed. I think pesticides is a good comparison:
If you work in a field spraying pesticides all day without protection, you are likely to have health issues related to the exposure someday. This would be comparable to someone who works in creating products with VOCs.
If you eat foods with pesticides on them every day, you may have some health issues over time (and this is debated) due to the pesticides. This is like someone who is exposed to carpet high in VOCs and doesn’t take precautions.
If you eat mostly organic but are occasionally exposed to some pesticides, you’re unlikely to have a concern from pesticides. This is likely someone who buys carpet but takes the precautions in this article.
So, what exactly can VOCs do? A lot of this is still debated, but just like a list of a medication’s side effects, it’s not short:
Long-term exposure is linked to cancer, kidney and liver damage, as well as central nervous system damage. Short-term exposure can lead to illness and affected individuals may have anything to irritated eyes to headaches to nausea and dizziness.
There are not enough studies to determine what levels of VOCs are safe and which can cause adverse effects, and it’s likely that it varies from person to person.
Similar to pesticides and hormones in your food, avoiding them completely is impossible, but making an effort to keep them as low as possible is in our best interest.
My overall takeaway is I know I can’t eliminate my exposure to VOCs, but I want to reduce them where I can (I’ll cover how later in the article). This is especially true for high-risk groups…
Does everyone need to limit VOCs? Who is most at risk?
We don’t know how much is too much for VOCs, but there are a few sets of people they are especially sensitivity to VOCs:
- small animals
- elderly (especially those with pulmonary/lung issues)
- asthma or severe allergy sufferer
This doesn’t mean people in this situation can’t have carpet. Remember, all flooring, furniture, and nearly everything in your home has VOCs. It just means you have to take precautions.
Luckily, the carpet industry has realized that consumers want more eco-friendly products, and they’re releasing carpet that off-gas less.
Where do most the fumes come from in carpet?
Most of the VOCs in carpet come from the latex backing, but it can also come from the carpet fiber, glue or other adhesive materials used in installation.
How to limit VOCs
Now that you understand indoor air pollution, I’m going to teach you how to reduce it when you have your new carpet installed. You can use any of these recommendations alone, but combining these tips will be extremely effective at lowering your homes VOC levels.
Look for the green label
The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) started a program where they give a “green label” to carpet emitting low amounts of VOCs. So what carpets qualify? The CRI took the standards from the California Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendations for VOCs and added even stricter standards to their guidelines.
To get the lowest VOC emitting carpets, ask your retailer to show you the CRI Green Label carpets, or look for the label yourself—it is shaped like a greenhouse and has the CRI logo on it. There is also a “green label plus” certification that you may come across; this is the green label with even stricter standards. You can find this label on carpet, padding, and even some vacuum cleaners.
Ask your installer to air it out
It’s not unreasonable to ask your installer to air out your carpet before bringing it in your home. Carpeting is stored in large roles, and this doesn’t allow the carpet to “breathe.” Ask your installer if they’ll unroll it and let it sit out for a week before bringing it to your home. Since the first few days are the worst for VOCs, this should help reduce the level of indoor pollution your carpet releases tremendously. This (and many of the following steps) is especially important if you don’t have a green label carpet.
What about the glue?
Sometimes it’s not the carpet emitting contaminates, but it’s the glue used to install the carpet. Typically carpet with padding is installed with tack strips—this doesn’t require glue. Carpet installed directly to the floor or using carpet tiles may require glue. You can purchase glues that have lower amounts of VOCs, and this is something you should definitely consider in these cases.
Make sure it’s nice weather
A sunny 70 degree day with a nice breeze is perfect, but any weather that allows you to keep your doors open will do. For most parts of the country, this means scheduling your carpet installation in the spring or fall. This will allow the VOCs to escape your home. Think of a car running in a closed garage versus an open garage—the fumes aren’t going to affect you nearly as quickly with the open garage (although we hope VOCs are not close to as potent as your exhaust, but the point remains).
Blow out the pollutants
To add to the previous point, there are other steps you can take to remove the contaminants from your home. Turn on ceiling fans, active your central air conditioners fan (most have a fan-only mode), and any other big fans you may have to get the air moving. This works best with the doors and windows open, but even if you can’t open up your home, the circulating air will help diminish the VOCs.
Take a short vacation
The VOCs are by far the worst the first 2-3 days and after that they gradually decline. Take this opportunity to get out of your house. Take a short vacation, even if it’s a weekend vacation at a hotel nearby. Maybe make plans with friends to head out to a casino or a nearby city for a ball game and a night out. Plan ahead and you can combine this with a vacation you already planned, so the time away from home doesn’t add to your expenses.
Use the right vacuum and get it cleaned
Once you’ve taken all of these steps, VOCs aren’t a big issue, but you still have a few things to worry about when it comes to carpet and your health. Allergens can get trapped in your carpet. Some say this is a good thing because it’s better in your carpet than in the air where you can breathe them in.
Regardless, you’ll want a good vacuum. There are “green label” vacuums (just like the carpet), but you can also look for a vacuum that has a HEPA filter—make sure that it has the filter for the air the vacuum blows out, and not just the air it sucks in. It’s also a good idea to have your carpet professionally cleaned yearly to reduce bacteria build up.
I’ve got a list of my best vacuums for allergy sufferers, and each of this has the sealed system described above.
Optional: use an air scrubber
Air scrubbers are basically industrial air purifiers, and they are overkill for home homeowners. Here are a couple of situations where you might want to invest in one (they’re about $500):
- You plan on doing multiple home remodeling projects
- Or you don’t mind the cost and want to make sure your air is as clean as possible
Will it clean out all the VOCs? Unlikely. There’s really not a lot of good information I could find an exactly which VOCs it eliminates. However, these are usually in commercial work settings to keep workers safe, so I’d imagine it should take care of most of your floor pollutants (the scrubber combined with the charcoal filters).
Captain’s tips on what to do next:
If you love the new carpet smell, this article is pretty disappointing.
On the bright side, each of these suggestions is powerful in reducing the amount of air pollution in your home.
So what should you do next? Here’s what I’d recommend:
- Once you’ve figured out how to reduce the VOCs in your carpet, check out our unbiased carpet buying guide to learn how to get the best deal and the best carpet for your home
- If you want to go with another floor, check out our flooring options page for a comparison and the best fit for your home
- Looking for a carpet installer? You can click here to get a free estimate from pre-qualified installers in your area. (I get a small commission to support the site if you do this, but I really think it’s a great service)
Any questions on the new carpet smell, off-gassing, and VOCs, let me know in the comments below.