Intro - With the rising numbers of people who suffer from allergies, the topic of sensitivities to home construction materials is more prevalent than ever. Many people equate a carpet allergy with wool fibres or dust mites, but there can be a variety of allergens causing a reaction.
One of the most common ways that people are allergic to carpet isn't a carpet allergy at all but instead an allergy to the fecal matter of dust mites (not the mites themselves as some people believe). Dust mites live on organic matter such as shed skin flakes, making a carpet an ideal place for them as you shed tiny bits of skin where ever you go. The best solutions to a dust mite allergy are to vacuum regularly, use an air filter, and regular washing of bedding.
When considering carpets for a household with allergies, there are a few options. Carpets come in two basic sub-types: natural and synthetic fibre. Natural fibre carpets range from wool to many types of plant fibre like sisal, coir (coconut husk), jute, and seagrass. When people are allergic to a natural fibre carpet, it is usually lanolin on the wool that is causing the problem if it is actually the carpet that they're allergic to and not another element of the carpet that's causing issues.
The alternative to natural fibre carpets is, of course, synthetic fibre carpets. However, some people may be allergic to synthetic fibres or to the backing or adhesives in the carpet. If you are allergic to adhesives or carpet backings (like latex) remember that these things can be found in natural fibre carpets as well; not all of a natural carpet is natural after all.
To test to make sure that you're not allergic or overly sensitive to a new carpet that you'd like to install in your home, ask the retailer for a small sample piece from the roll that they'd be using to carpet your home. Put the piece of carpet into a container and seal it up. Leave the container—clear glass works best for this—in a warm sunny area for a few days; after the sample has had time to out-gas, open it up and check it for irritating odors. Don't forget to do a touch test to see if you have any contact sensitivities to it as well.
Your best bets if you are actually allergic to carpet fibres or the other materials used in them are numerous. First, talk to your carpet retailer about carpets that qualify for LEED points; these carpets produce less of the harmful VOC gasses. If your reaction is minimal to a particular type of carpet, ask the retailer to air out the carpeting before it's installed so that it gives off less fumes that you find irritating; take the time to air out your house well as much as possible after the carpet is installed as well to cut down on noxious fumes.
If worse comes to worse though and you just don't think that you will be able to live with a carpet due to extreme allergies to carpet material or extreme dust mite allergies you may want to look in to other options such as hardwood, linoleum/marmoleum, or bamboo floors. If this seems like a better option for you, check with your retailer to ensure that the product you choose is low or non-VOC as these products are also made with adhesives.
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