We’ve got three young children and a puppy, so cleaning the carpet can become a daily event. But are household carpet cleaning chemicals actually safe?
Many carpet cleaning chemicals are not safe to breathe and can cause skin irritation, especially in babies, young children, and pets. Many of these harmful chemicals can stay in your carpet for months. Regular vacuuming plus soap and water for stains are the least harmful way to clean carpets.
Let’s dig down into the subject of carpet cleaning chemicals in greater detail, and discover which ones are the most harmful – and if there are any safer, greener alternatives…
Are Carpet Cleaning Chemicals Safe to Breathe? (Are the Fumes Harmful?)
It depends. Historically, many chemicals in carpet cleaning solutions have been identified as harmful. Today, as a result, there are several choices of “green” cleaners that contain no harmful chemicals and don’t have harmful fumes.
Some carpet cleaners sold in stores have been identified as harmful. Not only do they have chemicals that can irritate your skin, but the fumes can also irritate your lungs (see the long list below). Professional carpet cleaners, too, have been at fault.
If you – a healthy adult – have even the smallest problem with the chemical odor, be aware that pets, children, adults with pulmonary issues like asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and elders may have a more serious reaction.
Are Carpet Cleaning Chemicals Dangerous for Babies & Children?
Again, it depends on which chemicals you have used.
Consider a baby just learning to crawl. They spend a lot of time on the carpet – much more than adults. If your carpet is seldom cleaned, your precious baby could be crawling around in mold and bacteria. But, if you clean the carpet with toxic chemicals, your baby could get sick.
Seems like a Catch-22 situation, but it’s not. You can keep your carpet clean by vacuuming frequently and then by washing it with an eco-friendly cleaner. We have plenty of ideas for eco-friendly choices below.
Even if you clean your carpets with an eco-friendly cleaner, most experts say to play it safe and keep your babies off the cleaned carpet for at least 24 hours. Let the carpet dry thoroughly before letting children back on it.
Are Carpet Cleaning Chemicals Harmful to Pets?
They can be, particularly if they contain ammonia, bleach or 2-Butoxyethanol (see below). Over time, carpet cleaners can cause leukemia and kidney and lung damage to pets. But there are several eco-friendly choices.
Even if you choose a green cleaner, vets recommend that you keep your pets off of the washed carpet for 24 hours.
Which Carpet Cleaning Chemicals Can Make You Sick?
Read the labeling language carefully. Watch out for the words hazardous, warning, professional-strength, fragranced, irritating, corrosive, strong sensitizer, guards, flammable, and dangerous.
Watch out for cleaning solutions with either very high or very low pH levels – between 7 and 8 is a normal range.
Avoid non-green spot cleaners and stain removers. They have the harshest chemicals of all. Finally, check online reviews. Make sure your carpet cleaning choice has only good reviews.
It’s always a good idea to test out any carpet cleaning solution in a small area first. Don’t do an entire room, even if you are in the mood. Start with a closet and wait until it’s fully dry. You may notice harmful effects – to you or your carpet.
Here’s a list of carpet cleaning chemicals to avoid.
- Ammonia is very toxic – fatal if swallowed. It can burn your skin, nose, lungs and eyes due to its high alkalinity. Most carpet experts say not to use it on natural fiber carpets, either. On synthetic carpet fibers, it can strip away the stain guard.
- Benzyl benzoate is sometimes sold as an additive to carpet cleaners because it can kill dust mites, lice and ticks. However, it can also cause a burning sensation on the skin and gloves are recommended – a bad sign.
- Butoxyethanol (aka 2-butoxyethanol) can cause damage to your kidneys that results in blood in your urine. It can harm your central nervous system and cause low blood pressure if ingested.
- Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen but can be found in soaps and animal shampoos.
- Glycol ethers are linked to anemia and can damage lungs and kidneys. It can cause fatigue, nausea, tremors and anemia.
- Hydrofluoric acid is a powerful acid that some cleaners use to re-balance carpet pH after using a strongly alkaline cleaning solution. Hydrofluoric can cause chemical burns and blindness.
- Naphthalene is a solvent. Used to manufacture moth balls, it can destroy red blood cells and it depresses the central nervous system. Because naphthalene evaporates readily, it can be inhaled.
- Perchloroethylene (aka Perc, aka tetrachloroethylene) is commonly used in dry cleaning. It smells sweet. It can cause nausea, diarrhea, fatigue and dizziness. It can damage the liver, kidneys and central nervous system.
- Phenols (aka phenolics or carbolic acid) were once used to clean wounds. Today, they are used in carpet cleaners, Lysol, Dettol and creosote. However, phenols can cause burns to the skin and eyes. It is readily absorbed through the skin and can be harmful to kidneys, liver and the central nervous system.
- Phthalates are an ingredient in synthetic fragrances. They smell – lovely! But they can cause itchy eyes, aches and pains, breathing problems and headaches. Some have been labeled as probable carcinogens. The FDA calls them possibly harmful and the EU has banned them.
- Sodium hydroxide (aka lye) is very caustic and can burn your skin. It will harm eyes, nose and throat and can harm your liver and kidneys.
- Sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) is famously bad. It has caused more poisoning events than any other household cleaner.
- Sodium percarbonate (aka sodium carbonate, solid hydrogen peroxide, sodium peroxyhydrate, oxygen bleach powder, sodium carbonate peroxide or salt hydroxide), boosts the effectiveness of detergents. However, it can also burn and blister if left on your skin and it’s dangerous in your eyes.
Here’s a scary article from Today about the dirty truth of cleaning products.
Are There Any Green Carpet Cleaning Chemicals?
Yes, there are several good ones. Look for a label stating the carpet cleaner is “Green Certified” or have a “Green Seal”. Look for the words pet safe, child safe and non-toxic on the label.
Even if a professional carpet cleaner claims to be green certified, double-check the reviews. Any bad side effects at all will be noted loudly in the reviews. Be sure to start with a closet, not an entire room.
For those of you who prefer to DIY, there’s also a carpet cleaner you can use with everyday, household ingredients. Just like your granny always said – first try soap and water. Use just a squirt of a mild, planet-friendly soap.
Or, try just water. Water is a great green solution. Rent a steam cleaner. Rinse the solution tub out thoroughly, then pour in hot water instead of any soapy, chemical solution. Then steam clean your carpets.
White vinegar, mixed with a small amount of mild liquid detergent and warm water makes a great DIY carpet cleaning solution.
The ratio of vinegar to water varies with your carpet. Always test a small area – like in a closet – first. If your carpet is synthetic, then mix one part vinegar to two parts water. Add a squirt of liquid detergent.
If your carpet is made from natural fibers like wool, then use one part vinegar to one part water with a squirt of detergent.
How Long Do Chemicals Stay in the Carpet?
Those chemicals that evaporate easily may only last a few days. But the ones that are dense may last for months or years.
Try to schedule a carpet cleaning for one or two beautiful, breezy days. Then, open the windows and doors and stay outside with your family until the carpet is dry.
Can You Be Allergic to Carpet Cleaner?
Sorry, but yes. The chemicals can cause contact dermatitis, which means that your skin may become itchy and develop a rash. Hydrocortisone creams may help.
Or, you may develop an allergic reaction from the chemicals off-gassing, which may also trigger an asthma attack. Use an inhaler, a nebulizer or anti-inflammatory medication.
My wife has always been slightly suspicious of the chemicals in household carpet cleaners – especially in the context of having babies, toddlers and pets crawling around on the carpet.
Now I’ve researched how harmful all these chemicals are – I wouldn’t trust many of these cleaning products again to be honest.
We do want clean carpets though, so we’ll stick to regular hoovering plus spot cleaning with good old-fashioned soap and water. 🙂