Health Hazards in the Area Rug Cleaning Industry

Jeff Ellis 1

New Member
Dec 25, 2009
Exposing Hidden Health Hazards in the Area Rug Cleaning Industry

Americans are waking up to the serious risks posed by indoor air quality, and one of the biggest problems is right underneath their feet.

SOUTH HACKENSACK, N.J., Feb. 14, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- With medical costs on the rise, Americans are more concerned about healthy living than ever. Yet, an invisible threat exists; it's called indoor air pollution. The associated health risks have been among the most overlooked of problems in modern society. "Your carpet probably contains about 200,000 bacteria per square inch, making it 4,000 times dirtier than your toilet seat." -Phillip Tierno, Director of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, NYU [Men's Health].
Numerous government and private health institutions have discussed the direct correlation of indoor air pollutants and bacteria with a host of serious allergies, skin irritations, and respiratory illnesses. Setting higher EPA standards for indoor air quality has been a long overdue discussion, and the spotlight is now on a highly unregulated carpet and rug cleaning industry. Up until now, organizations such as the Carpet and Rug Institute have educated the public with guidelines on how to choose the right carpets, rugs, and cleaning products, while others simply hand out seals of approval alongside membership. The real challenge lies in industry-wide education, followed by industry-wide collaboration to mitigate public health risks.
The EPA has supplied the public with information on "Residential Asthma Triggers and Indoor Air Quality", but it does not address any preventative measures or sanitary recommendations for household area rugs. According to the government, vacuuming a wall to wall carpet and 'keeping it clean' is about the extent of their solution.
Most area rug cleaners advertise the new EPA guidelines which mention hidden health hazards due to dust, dust mites, and indoor allergens. Many encourage consumers to wash their rugs and solicit for business, but will often disregard the cleaning practices required to ensure these guidelines are met. Given all the latest organic and green cleaning price gimmicks, the question becomes: how does an average mother go about choosing a reliable cleaning service? How would one know if an elderly parent with asthma isn't being affected by the same rug after it was cleaned?
One of the biggest obstacles consumers face is that the market has been saturated with wall to wall carpet cleaners perpetuating the myth that topical steam cleaning, spot cleaning or chemical dry cleaning is adequate for an area rug.
Good Morning America had recently published an article entitled "The Indoor Pollution Threat You May Not Have Known Existed" which provides a few good tips. However, most literature still fails to provide a comprehensive to do list for homeowners. Many homes have area rugs likely in need of attention, and homeowners aren't always to blame.
To illustrate some of the many area rug cleaning industry hazards, a simple Google Image search for area rug cleaner is a good place to start, and very revealing. Harsh chemicals used in cleanings, alongside massive water usage are at the top of a long list of industry problems. Other major concerns include pollutants like asbestos, lead, mildew, fumes and gases released during renovations, as well as dangerous pesticides tracked in from the outdoors.
In a world rapidly changing for the greener, the biggest hurdle for cleaners is the capital investment required to keep up with technology that protects consumers. Unfortunately, many are falling short of the mark. Some carpet cleaning outfits will outsource to professional rug cleaners, and it will often take a bit of interrogation for a consumer to find out they're not the actual company cleaning your rug.
One company has been undertaking efforts lately to shed light on what they consider an 'industry trapped by antiquity' due to the lack of scientifically oriented approaches to cleaning. RevitaRUGS, a strong proponent of green cleaning initiatives, has managed to turn an entire South Hackensack facility into one green operation, right down to the lighting fixtures.
"We hope that by creating greater public awareness we can help revolutionize an entire industry." -Azita Goldman, VP Business Development, RevitaRUGS.
When asked about indoor health hazards, they point out that one of the most important things consumers should know is that a rug acts just like an indoor air filter, and should be treated as such.
According to RevitaRUGS, common rug cleaning machinery has no discretion for rug pile, type or material. Many cleaning machines are near obsolete, as they are not equipped to adjust for pile height, thickness and material for different rug types. Wool, silk, hand-made, and machine made rugs all require different methods of cleaning and care.
The excessive use of soap and unfiltered water eventually causes buildup of organic and inorganic matter in the rug's foundation. This buildup leads to irreversible damage and becomes an attractant for further dust and dirt, defeating the purpose of cleaning.
"The practice of submerging a rug into a cesspool of previously contaminated water and soaking it for hours with soap, while employees in rubber boots scrub it with a floor scrubber, is not a very hygienic approach to cleaning." -RevitaRUGS
Needless to say, a customer should not expect a clean bill of health. With respect to hand-made heirlooms, or expensive Oriental and Persian rugs, when exposing the rug fibers to this damaging process it will degrade the material and depreciate the value.
After a damaging floor scrubber and suds bath, re-contamination during the drying process usually results due to excess moisture; it serves as a petri dish for mold and bacteria. Proper drying is not only important for the prevention of mold and bacteria, it is vital for protecting rug fibers. Since natural dyes tend to bleed (known as color runs) when exposed to water for excessive periods of time, prolonged wetness can cause deformation of the rug when hanging to dry. Although hanging a rug in the sun to dry is plausible if the air is fresh and hot, humidity is very low, and the factory is not situated within urban pollution, in absence of these conditions along the US eastern seaboard, rugs are usually dried indoors. However, indoor heaters, blowers, and so-called drying rooms are situated in uncontrolled climates and therefore cannot guarantee a sterile drying process.
The good news is, there are viable alternatives for consumers. At less than 10 gallons of water per rug, RevitaRUGS has helped set new industry water conservation standards. Water is first purified at their facility to remove all excess minerals such as calcium, magnesium, lime, chlorine and other solutes. This purified soft water allows for less use of detergent and aids in the removal of previously embedded crystallized salts, otherwise known as soap scum. This makes colors more vibrant and naturally softens the rug.
They've created a patent pending primary stage drying system where 90% of water is extracted within minutes. After thorough inspection, a rug enters a computerized brushing machine which automatically adjusts for pile height, then gently combs the rug in the direction of its pile. This process uniformly restores the natural direction and luster of the rug pile to its original state. Afterwards, the rug is transferred to a fully enclosed, environmentally regulated chamber. The chambers are engineered with de-humidification and temperature control, dust free walls, and filter-circulated air. In these enclosures, low humidity and air circulation quickly wick out any remaining moisture.
Just like wall to wall carpet, dust removal for area rugs should take into account proper filtration required to prevent fine dust from resettling during the elimination process. The old fashion way of a dust tumbler or any beater device, without such filtration, is not effective since fine dust resettles back into the rug. Most companies who sell vacuum cleaners for wall to wall carpet are vigorously competing and reinventing themselves for the best hypo-filtered vacuum, since consumer awareness about airborne allergies, dust and other serious indoor air pollutants is fast becoming a trend.
"Dust in the air stream poses a serious health threat to children, older people, and those with respiratory illnesses. It is also a health threat in the work environment which is commonly overlooked by employers. Current scientific knowledge, along with a full and in-depth understanding of how rugs are made, hand or power loomed, will help alleviate these problems significantly." -RevitaRUGS
Amidst hundreds of green cleaning claims with no unified government standard for area rug cleaning industry regulations, choosing a service wisely is an arduous task. Basically, anyone with access to soap, water, and a floor scrubber, polisher, or multi-task machine can claim to clean an area rug properly. Consumers should be looking for businesses that deep clean, disinfect, and systematically remove dust particles, in addition to using mild soaps and pure water to effectively reduce allergens and improve indoor air quality.
RevitaRUGS, in fact, has brought the U.S. market decades of highly specialized cleaning experience, courtesy of their sister corporation, the Shirzad Corporation. It is now possible for 100% safe cleanings of fine antique and silk, utilizing pure laboratory grade water softener systems, perfume-free organic soap, and patent pending processes still under wraps. For the latest news on environmentally conscious, organic rug cleaning, you can visit the RevitaRUGS blog or contact their in-house biologist with any questions. They also have an educational area rug cleaning process video for a deeper look into the latest green cleaning technology on the market.