Carpet pads manufactured from recycled foam products are causing unease among environmental researchers. The problem is flame-retardants added to foam padding prior to a 2005 ban. Commonly referred to as PBDEs, these flame retardants slowly migrate into the carpeting and bind with dust, which can be released into the air and inhaled.
Why the concern? Some tests show that over the long-term, even low concentrations of PBDEs may cause problems with hormone systems and brain development.
For families with infants and children — who spend many hours on the floor — this could be a particular worry. Unfortunately, unless you purchased the carpet pad for your home, there’s no easy way to identify if yours contains PBDEs.
If you’re concerned about your home’s carpet pad, you have three options:
- Use eco-friendly carpet cleaning methods to minimize dust.
- Tear out the old carpet pad and replace it with one that is certified as low-VOC or with another flooring material.
- Cover wall-to-wall carpeting with an area rug in rooms where children play.
Eco-friendly carpet cleaning
- Vacuum at least twice a week, using a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter — a special filter designed to remove 99.97% of very fine particles, such as dust. Don’t overlook corners, floorboards, and under furniture. Dispose of the bag, or clean it and the filter after each vacuuming. Quality HEPA-equipped vacuums typically cost between $200 and $500.
- Have carpet cleaned once or twice a year; select only services that use steam cleaning or chemical-free systems. Prices start at about $40 per room. Some professional carpet cleaning services now use environmentally friendly products that are plant-based. Ask about what products they use.
Non-toxic carpet pads
If you opt to remove the old carpet pad and replace it, look for carpet pad products manufactured using 100% new materials and that are certified for low-VOC emissions.
Carpet pad products designed with indoor air quality in mind will prominently list information concerning total VOC emissions, materials used (whether there are any waste or scrap materials incorporated), and the absence of PBDEs or other hazardous materials.
Carpet pads that typically rate as non-toxic include:
- frothed polyurethane (similar to memory foam)
- slab rubber (avoid waffle weaves as these break down over time)
- 100% sheep wool, and natural fibers such as felt, horsehair, and jute
Wool carpet pad manufacturers say that the product absorbs odors, VOCs, and formaldehyde, resulting in improved indoor air quality. When sink-in softness isn’t your goal, natural fiber pads have less “give” underfoot.
New padding costs $2.50 to $6 per square yard. Expect to pay $1 to $2 per square yard to pull up the existing carpeting and remove the padding, plus another $1 to $2 per square yard to dispose of the old padding. Reinstalling the carpet costs between $2.50 and $5.50 per square yard.
Grand total? Expect to pay $7 to $15.50 per square yard to remove the old carpet pad, install new padding, and reinstall your existing carpet.
Consider carpet alternatives
Because dust can bind with other hazardous chemicals besides fire retardants (lead and pesticides, for example), and carpeting serves as a wall-to-wall dust-catcher, consider replacing carpets and padding with a more natural alternative that reduces dust accumulation. Good green flooring options include:
- linoleum ($2 to $3 per square foot)
- cork ($3 to $6 per square foot)
- solid wood ($8 to $14 per square foot)
- ceramic tile ($1 to $20 per square foot)