Are Carpets Good or Bad for Allergies?

A sick woman blowing her nose

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Carpet has long been regarded as the enemy when it comes to allergies and asthma because it traps allergens, dust, pet dander, and more. Many experts advise those with allergies and asthma to remove carpeting. Even the Mayo Clinic makes this recommendation to "allergy-proof" a home:

"Remove carpeting and use hardwood or linoleum flooring and washable area rugs. If that isn't an option, use low-pile instead of high-pile carpeting and vacuum weekly with a vacuum cleaner that has a small-particle or high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Shampoo the carpet frequently."

However, studies over the past two decades are conflicted about whether carpeting can be a problem for allergies and asthma. While some of these studies are funded and promoted by the flooring industry itself, others are from reputable scientific sources.

2008 Sauerhoff Research Review

Toxicologist Mitchell W. Sauerhoff published a study in 2008 titled Carpet, Asthma, and Allergies — Myth or Reality. Sauerhoff reviewed scientific literature on the potential correlation between carpet and allergies and asthma. And he came up with some conclusions in favor of carpeting. He wrote: 

“Carpet does not cause asthma. VOC emissions from new carpet do not act as triggers for asthma or allergies. Carpet does not increase the incidence or severity of asthma or allergies in children and adults.”

Sauerhoff summed it up by saying “well maintained carpet is safe”—i.e., carpet that is regularly cleaned and dry to prevent mold growth.

2018 Indoor Carpeting Study Review

In 2018, researchers with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health published a review in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that looked at 49 studies between 1980 and 2017 on the effects indoor carpeting might have on air quality and health conditions. Most of these studies showed both an increased presence of known allergens in rooms with carpeted floors, as well as a higher incidence of health symptoms including asthma attacks and allergies. The researchers wrote:

"We have not found peer-reviewed evidence supporting the notion that modern carpets now are unproblematic for the indoor environment. On the contrary, the literature suggests that the use of carpets is linked to increased levels of indoor dusts, allergens, and microorganisms, and associated with increased risk of a number of health outcomes including mild cognitive effects, irritative symptoms, and asthma."

The researchers acknowledged that more and larger studies still must be done, especially on new types of carpeting, before knowing the full picture of how they can impact allergies and asthma. However, for now they recommended caution in using carpeting for homes and offices.

Always Seek a Physician's Advice

Ultimately, your doctor is the best source of information for how a flooring material might affect your allergies or asthma. Many substances can trigger symptoms, ranging from simple dust to chemical compounds in the air. And not everyone reacts to these substances in the same way.

For instance, some people with allergies or asthma might be able to tolerate carpeting if they're good about keeping it clean. Regular, thorough vacuuming of carpeting is essential to remove allergens from the environment. For cut-pile carpets, using a vacuum with a beater bar or powerhead attachment is most effective. (Do not use a beater bar or powerhead attachment on a looped style/Berber carpet.) Periodic shampooing of the carpeting also is ideal for a deep clean.