FLOOR CARE RESOURCES
Is New Carpet Smell Harmful? (and How to Get Rid of It)
Today’s consumers are perhaps more concerned with the health and safety of products than ever before. Peruse Amazon reviews on any number of items from luggage to toys to area rugs and you will find reviewers commenting on whether or not a product has a “chemical smell” when opened. People are bothered by odors and concerned the chemicals they smell could be hazardous to their health. New carpet is one product that comes with a distinct odor, and if you are installing new commercial carpet in your facility, your occupants will likely wonder if there’s cause for concern. So, what causes that new carpet smell?
Volatile organic compounds
The smell of newly installed carpet is caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “Volatile” refers to the fact that the compound evaporates readily at room temperature, making it easy to smell. VOCs are found in many newly manufactured building materials and furnishings, and they are responsible for new car smell, new carpet smell, and the smell of fresh paint. VOCs are also found in sheet vinyl floorcovering, wall coverings, floor finishes, and adhesives.
The VOCs creating new carpet smell come from 4-phenylcyclohexene (4-PCH), a by-product of the synthetic latex binders used to hold the carpet backing together. Although new carpet does produce this compound, emissions from carpet as measured during EPA studies ranked among the lowest overall contributors to indoor air quality issues. Most of the VOCs present in carpet dissipate within 24-48 hours after installation. Another possible source of VOCs comes from the adhesive used during carpet installation, but these can be mitigated by discussing installation options with your supplier.
Are new carpet VOCs harmful?
Concerning the VOCs found in carpet, the EPA has conducted laboratory tests and extensive government reviews and found no connection between 4-PCH and any kind of adverse human health outcome. As a result, the EPA describes 4-PCH as an “unremarkable chemical.” Although new carpet VOCs are not harmful, many manufacturers have worked to produce low VOC carpet to reduce strong odors that may cause discomfort for consumers and workers.
A long-held myth is that new carpet smell is caused by formaldehyde used in the production of carpet. Formaldehyde has not been used in carpet production in the U.S. since the late 1970s, and current industry standards are in place so that all new carpet produced is monitored for this chemical. The latex backing of some carpet may cause alarm for those with a latex allergy, but the latex used in modern carpet is synthetic and not linked with the allergic reactions caused by natural latex.
Recommendations for facility managers
Armed with the facts, you can assure your occupants that the odors from new commercial carpet installation are not harmful; however, strong odors can still cause discomfort, so how do you eliminate that new carpet smell? The EPA suggests the following tips:
- Choose a low-VOC product whenever possible. Look for products with the Carpet and Rug Institute Green Label Plus seal of approval. These products have been independently tested and meet strict criteria for low emissions.
- Discuss the installation method with your supplier. Request the lowest-VOC adhesive that meets manufacturer recommendations or consider tack-down carpet to eliminate adhesive use. Note: All carpet should be installed according to the Carpet and Rug Institute industry standards.
- If possible, request that the supplier unroll and air out the carpet off-site before it is brought in to be installed.
- Ventilate spaces where commercial carpet is installed for 72 hours to eliminate new carpet odors faster.
There is no evidence that new carpet smell is cause for alarm, but as a facility manager the comfort of your occupants is important, so it makes sense to reduce odors wherever possible. It’s also important to note that carpet can harbor new odors as a result of spills or moisture that can eventually develop mold growth, and that is a health concern. From the day it is installed, proper maintenance (link to our maintenance article) is key to keeping commercial carpet clean and healthy for building occupants. Learn more about how Reliable Floor Care can help you develop a comprehensive maintenance plan for your facility. Contact