No matter what kind of flooring you choose, there will be some kind of health concerns associated with its installation and upkeep. Key to addressing those concerns is awareness of risk factors and how best to mitigate them. Fortunately, innovation in the flooring and floor care industries has produced safer and more environmentally sensitive product options across the board.
Hard Floor Surface Dangers
Hard surface flooring may employ potentially hazardous chemicals during application or in the form of sealants, stains, or paint. For example, some wood laminate flooring contains formaldehyde, trace amounts of which are released during installation. The level of formaldehyde in the product is subject to regulation and must remain below the level at which “sensitive” persons would experience irritation or other health effects. However, there have been recent cases where improper measurements led to the sale of flooring that exceeded those limits.
Once it’s installed, some types of flooring may continue to release potentially harmful compounds into the air in a process called off-gassing. PVC, or vinyl, flooring is particularly high-risk in that regard, sometimes releasing compounds that may include lead, cadmium and phthalate plasticisers for years.
Carpets and VOCs
Carpet generally releases some volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air after installation, so it’s best to ventilate newly carpeted areas for up to a week, until the odour dissipates. Most of these compounds are not directly correlated with any direct health risks, although they may potentially aggravate existing conditions like asthma. Most modern carpets release fewer VOCs than other common products like paint. Newer, environmentally preferred carpets release lower levels of VOCs in order to meet standards for the Carpet and Rug Institute’s CRI and Green Label Plus programs. Looking for those symbols can help you make safer product choices.
Unlike carpets, hard surface floors don’t trap dirt, dust, or other debris, which tends to get stirred back up into the air or collect around the margins of the space if it isn’t removed regularly. This can be a particular issue with pets that shed, since the allergens aren’t contained. On the other hand, hard surface floors don’t provide a habitat for dust mites or mould which can contribute to allergies and other adverse health reactions in carpeted areas.
The Best Way to Manage Health Related Floor Concerns
The reality is that regular cleaning is required to keep any space clean and healthy. Sweeping hard flooring clears loose debris and wet mopping generally removes most other soiling. Regular vacuuming removes surface level soil from carpet, preventing unhealthy buildup. Both hard surface and carpeted floors will require periodic deep cleaning to remove oils, dirt, and other material that won’t come out with lighter cleaning.
For carpets, the most effective way to deep clean is to use a hot water extractor. Periodic extraction helps improve air quality and keep indoor spaces healthy, but there are a few potential health risks involved with the process. The primary risk associated with the extraction cleaning process it that an operator can leave the carpet over wet, introducing the possibility of mould or mildew growth. Fortunately, those risks are easily mitigated by using the latest extractor technology.
Combining Efficient Equipment with Safer Chemicals
Any time you’re handling chemicals, including cleaning products, care should be taken. The risk from exposure can be reduced by using environmentally preferred solutions such as those offered by CFR which are free meet the standards to be recognised by the EPA’s Safer Choice program. In addition, proper training for chemical handling and machine operation will help to improve the safety of both operator and building occupants.
Risks from mould or mildew growth can be mitigated in three ways: First, using low-moisture extractors such as CFR’s which use micro-droplet technology that puts less water down into the carpet than traditional extractors. Second, using a wand that recovers a higher volume of the water that has been put down into the carpet. Third, ensuring that the carpet is dried quickly and completely immediately following extraction. The first two methods should greatly reduce drying times, but adding a blower and ventilating the room will further speed the drying process.
Quickly drying carpet is essential because mould and mildew need moist conditions to take hold. Traditional extractors leave carpet wet enough that it may take many hours to dry, creating exactly the kind of opportunity that mould needs to grow. Hard surface floors also need to be dried quickly. Mould is less of a risk with hard surface flooring, but slip and fall accidents are much more common (and represent a large proportion of cleaning-related accidents).
Flooring choices, from product selection to installation and ongoing cleaning, can definitely have an impact on the health and wellness of building occupants and those whose job it is to maintain them. Thankfully, new products and technologies have made today’s flooring safer, healthier, and more efficient than ever before. Taking advantage of those technologies and following safer cleaning practices will, we hope, help you maintain healthy spaces at home and work.