Carpet Care: How to get a Non-Toxic Refresh

This is not a fear campaign, I promise!   I just want to give some facts on carpeting before we get down to how to keep it in your house.  The first three facts of the following  are from forceofnature.com, a trusted non-toxic cleaning product we recommend. 

Carpeting is known to emit VOCs and retain allergens–so why keep it?

Sometimes bare floors or area rugs don’t give the warmth and comfort of nice carpet under your feet, and sometimes budget doesn’t allow you to replace carpet.  So, carpet it is–but let’s make it clean carpet!  Here’s some non-toxic ways to clean and maintain your wall-to-wall carpet.

Professional Carpet Cleaners:  Carpet cleaning companies have made their fortunes for decades on “deep-cleaning” and images of families and pets rolling around on pristine carpets.  Actually, mold experts recommend leaving carpet cleaning to the professionals, because of the dangers of incomplete water extraction.  Here are our tips for getting the safest, most effective professional carpet cleaning.  

  • Be aware of the traditional chemicals used by professional cleaning companies.  Just like dry cleaners, preferred chemicals dissolve dirt without soap and water, but these chemicals can give off toxic VOCs that linger on the carpet and in the air, causing headaches and sickness (sfgate.com).   The chemicals they use, as well as the ones in over-the-counter carpet cleaning products, are not required to be tested for toxicity by the EPA, unless the agency can prove that they pose a safety risk.  The EPA just does not have the resources to test all cleaning chemicals for toxicity, so most applications for a new product are approved within a matter of weeks (today.com).   
  • Be aware of the equipment used: if steam or water is used, truck-mounted equipment is generally more powerful and able to remove most of the steam and water injected into the carpets during cleaning.  With portable equipment, significant water can remain after 48 hours and allow mold to grow.
  • Be aware of added fragrances.  In fact, it’s not just the ingredients that clean the fibers that are toxic; the fragrances that make it smell good and market the product are most likely phthalates, which are possible carcinogens and definitely hormone-disrupting. 

Now that you know what to avoid, there are many methods out there, however the safest carpet cleaning service is called “dry steam” or “steam vapor”.  It does not soak the carpet with water, which will encourage mold growth, it should not use toxic chemicals, and it is the best way to reduce dust and allergens in the carpet, actually killing dust mites in the process. (moldsafesolutions.com–this article is great reading on all methods of carpet cleaning).  Dry steam begins with a thorough vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum, then a non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning solution is added and the carpet is scrubbed with a rotary floor machine to loosen dirt stuck in the fibers.  Finally, the dirt and solution are removed using a high-powered HEPA vacuum.

For heavily soiled carpets, there is also a dry method called green encapsulation carpet cleaning.  Encapsulation cleaning has been around for several decades, but now companies are offering non-toxic chemicals to get the job done.  “...Encapsulation chemicals surround each particle of dirt and crystallize it, so it repels other soil. The dirt particles, then rise to the surface of the carpet and are easily removed with normal vacuuming. This process helps carpets stay cleaner because it does not leave behind a layer of sticky residue. Encapsulation carpet cleaners also incorporate acid dye resistors, surface tension modifiers, and polymers, which eliminate the need for rinsing.” (cleaning.lovetoknow.com)

What if I can’t afford a safe carpet cleaning service? Should I rent a machine from the local hardware store and do it myself?

Uh, no.  It turns out (see 1st and 2nd bullet above) that these machines recommend use of their brand-name detergents, which often have disclosed and undisclosed toxins, and although they look powerful, are not powerful enough to remove enough water to prevent mold from growing in your carpet.  The Rug Doctor site says “When used correctly, it should take no longer than 2 hours for your carpet to dry after deep cleaning with a Rug Doctor Deep Cleaner.” Okay…. We all want to use equipment correctly, but let me tell you, it’s super-easy to over-wet the carpet!  The same goes for purchasing a home-grade hot-water cleaner like Bissell or other brands.  They simply do not have the power to remove all the water they put into the carpet.

What we do recommend: in this case, and for the rest of your flooring care needs, a good HEPA vacuum cleaner will help remove dust mites and allergens.   In fact, this is the first step in the dry steam process mentioned above: to use a good HEPA vacuum to remove surface dust and allergens. Next, use a non-toxic cleaner to remove stains on the surface of the carpet.  Our two top picks:

  • Total Clean i2: as the first product in our Natural Home Collection, Total Clean i2 is a very versatile weapon in your home cleaning arsenal.  Not only useful for solid surfaces like counter tops and showers, Total Clean i2 is non-toxic and removes most stains from carpet as well as brand-name cleaners.  This is the power of iodine.  To use on carpet, test first in an inconspicuous area to determine color-fastness.  Then lightly spray the stain with Total Clean i2, let it dry thoroughly, and vacuum with a HEPA cleaner.  Because Total Clean i2 contains iodine, any leftover liquid that seeps into carpet that does not dry right away, will not harbor mold–it will actually kill mold because (tincture) of iodine has “very high antimicrobial activity against microorganisms including Aspergillus spores.” (2019 study)
  • Force of Nature: Like Total Clean i2, Force of Nature is a multi-surface cleaner.  Force of Nature has been tested by an independent laboratory (Toxic Use Reduction Institute, the University of Massachusetts) to show that it is not only non-toxic, it cleans as well the most popular branded carpet cleaner, Resolve.  For carpet, follow the website recommendations: “On spills and stains, treat the problem as quickly as possible like you would with any other stain remover. Always first test in an inconspicuous spot to ensure the dyes used are truly colorfast and wait until the tested area is dry before proceeding. This is because there is a wide variety in the types of dyes, fibers, and processes for making fabrics and rugs colorfast. Blot the spill, spray Force of Nature, then wipe (repeat if necessary). It cleans as well as Resolve and won’t remove color like bleach does on colorfast rugs and upholstery.”

As many pet owners know, fleas can totally make themselves at home in carpet.  Flea eggs that fall off the pet onto carpet can hide there, hatch there, and jump right back onto the pet (or us!) to start another lifecycle.  In this case, we recommend Wondercide Indoor Pest Control for Home, which is made with essential oils.  To use on carpet, “Test a small area prior to full application on surfaces. Use warm water and cloth or mop to remove excess spray. Use this flea spray for home and furniture on carpets, bedding and anywhere your pets hang out. Kills fleas in the house and will eliminate the entire flea life cycle.” 

We still recommend removal of carpet for those most sensitive to allergens, dust and mold, but for the rest of us, it’s possible to keep these contaminants at bay with regular HEPA vacuuming and non-toxic cleaners–a good thing for bare feet and healthy play areas!

Photo by Katja Rooke on Unsplash