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Is Carpet Better For Your Allergies?

The common perception is that carpet is more likely to aggravate allergies to dust, pollen, and pet dander than hard floors. For years, asthma and allergy sufferers have been told that they’re better off with vinyl, laminate, tile, or hardwood floor than with carpet.

Even the Mayo Clinic recommends hard floors for allergy sufferers. From their website:

“Carpeting can be a reservoir for allergy-causing substances (allergens) that trigger asthma. Carpeting in the bedroom can be especially problematic because it exposes you to carpet dust throughout the night. Hard-surface flooring such as vinyl, tile or wood is much easier to keep free of dust mites, pollen, pet dander and other allergens.”

But what if it’s not that simple? Over the last few decades, studies on the effects of different flooring on allergies have started to produce conflicting results.

The European Community Respiratory Health Survey

In 2002, the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology published a study of more than 19,000 people in 18 different countries. The study examined dampness, mold exposure, and house dust mite levels and their effects on asthma and allergy sufferers.

Their results? “Fitted carpets and rugs in the bedroom were related to fewer asthma symptoms and bronchial responsiveness.” In other words, asthma and allergy sufferers who slept in rooms with soft floor coverings tended to exhibit fewer symptoms than those with hard flooring surfaces.

The German Allergy and Asthma Society

In 2005, the German Allergy and Asthma Society (DAAB) conducted a study whose results were published in the magazine ALLERGIE konkret. This study indicated that wall-to-wall carpet, contrary to popular belief, actually helped improve air quality.

While it’s true that, as the Mayo Clinic article says, carpet can be a place where dust, dander, and other allergens can gather, the DAAB study indicates that this might actually be a good thing. In rooms with hard floors, allergenic particles are more easily stirred up into the air, where they can be inhaled into your nose and lungs and aggravate your breathing.

Carpet, on the other hand, traps those microscopic particles so that they’re not floating around. When carpet is vacuumed, the particles are pulled directly into the vacuum, which usually has a filter to keep them from getting into the air — they skip your breathing tracts entirely.

The Jury’s Still Out

The fact is, there are studies that indicate that carpet makes allergies and asthma worse — and there are studies that indicate that carpet makes them better. In reality, there are probably too many factors to truly give you a straight answer — what kind of furnace you have, where you live, whether you have the windows open, whether you have kids or pets, whether you have indoor plants, and so on and so on.

So What Can You Do?

The short answer is not to worry about this too much. If you like carpets in your house, go ahead and get carpets! There are other, much larger factors that will have a greater effect on your allergies or asthma than your choice in flooring. That said, there are some things you can do to help alleviate your allergy risk no matter what kind of floor you have.

Clean Often

Whether you’re mopping and sweeping hard floors or vacuuming carpet, more is generally better. Vacuum at least once a week, probably more if you have pets or kids. Leaving your shoes by the door will also help you keep outside pollutants out of the house.

Don’t skimp on the vacuum, either. You generally get what you pay for — sure, you can get a vacuum cleaner for under $100, but it won’t do nearly as good a job as one in the $500 range. If you have serious allergies or asthma, you should definitely be looking for a vacuum with a HEPA filter built in — these high-quality filters will trap even the tiniest of particles and keep them out of the air.

Get An Air Purifier

You can help keep the air clean in between cleanings — especially in bedrooms, where air quality problems can seriously compromise the quality of your sleep — with an air purifier. They’re relatively inexpensive, quiet, and equipped with HEPA filters to keep your air clean and pure.

Keep The Windows Shut

This is a tough rule to follow, especially in the pleasant temperatures of spring and summer, but the air outside is full of the exact allergens that will aggravate your allergies the worst. Keeping the windows closed and using fans to cool your home instead will cut your allergen count substantially.

The bottom line is that carpets probably won’t cure your allergies, but they’re not the villains they’re made out to be either. So pick the flooring you like best, make a promise to vacuum regularly, and enjoy your comfy carpets!