VOCs: The Hidden Toxins in Synthetic Carpets

Carpets designs

There are many advantages in choosing synthetic over wool carpets. They are usually cheaper, fire-resistant, and very durable. Since most of them do not easily stain or develop mould and mildew, you may save costs on cleaning and maintenance as well.

However, synthetic carpets are found to emit harmful toxins through VOCs, but what are they and what can you do about them?

What are VOCs?

Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are carbon-based chemicals that have a very low boiling point, which causes them to sublimate or evaporate easily and enter the air in their surroundings. These chemicals are not inherently harmful to our health and can either be natural or man-made. However, most VOCs found in synthetic products are known to be toxic.

Examples of common VOCs include acetone, benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and methylene chloride. Long-term exposure to excessive VOC emissions can lead to several respiratory problems, cancer, and damage to the kidneys, lungs, liver and central nervous system. When exposed to high amounts of VOCs, you may immediately experience symptoms like nausea, dizziness, headaches, loss of coordination, and eyes, nose and throat irritation.

How dangerous are the VOCs in synthetic carpets?

VOCs are common in many household products, furnishings and building materials, such as plywood, vinyl, plastics, air fresheners, and cleaning materials. The concentration of these chemicals also tend to be more prominent indoors than outdoors. Due to the confinement, the VOC levels in indoor air could easily rise to dangerous levels.

Compared to other household and indoor materials, what makes synthetic carpets especially dangerous is the high concentration of VOCs. Most of the chemicals and materials used to treat and assemble these carpets are known VOC sources, like petroleum byproducts, stain repellents, latex or vinyl, nylon, PVC, artificial dyes, fire retardants, and antimicrobial treatments, to name a few. In fact, that “new carpet” odour are VOC emissions.

Synthetic carpets do not only emit VOCs when they are new, and may continue emitting these chemicals for over five years since installation. Older synthetic carpets may contain more of these chemicals that have since been banned from the market. They would also accumulate toxins from smoke, sprays and fumes, and gradually release them over time along with their inherent VOC emissions.

What can you do?

woman choosing carpet design

Whether at home or at the workplace, having an efficient ventilation system could greatly reduce the indoor concentration of VOCs.

If you are looking to buy new carpets, go for organic materials such as wool or hemp, and choose glues that are suitable for indoor use. Should you still choose to buy synthetic carpets, stay away from the area during carpet installation, since the emissions can be quite high. Make sure the area is well-ventilated during installation as well, and continue to ventilate the place for several days afterwards.

When cleaning the carpets, choose products that contain minimal or no VOCs. If you are hiring carpet cleaning services, consider checking the products and procedures they use as well.

Not all VOCs are harmful, and exposure to low levels does not usually affect us. However, it might be best to avoid contact with them and not risk contracting illnesses. When choosing products that contain little to no VOCs, you are not only prioritizing your health, but the environment as well.