What is Off-Gassing and How to Fight It

We get calls frequently to clean brand new carpets. It may sound like a crazy request, but it isn’t at all. New carpet smell can be pretty nauseating, and that isn’t just in your head. I am going to get a bit scientific here, but stay with me.

Synthetic carpets are made from nylon fibers with a polypropylene backing. Of the chemicals released from carpet, most notable are two (styrene and 4-phenylcyclohexane (4-PC)) that come from the latex backing used on 95 percent of carpets. The “new carpet” aroma is the odor of 4-PC off-gassing, which is an eye– and respiratory-tract irritant that may also affect the central nervous system. The adhesive used to affix the carpet to the floor typically contains benzene and toluene, some of the most harmful VOCs (or Volatile Organic Compounds).

Typical reactions to new carpet VOCs include headaches, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, and asthmatic reactions. Longer-term effects are also possible; the CHE lists benzene as having a strong link to leukemia and lymphomas, while styrene is associated with cognitive impairment and hearing loss, among other conditions.

Carpets can emit VOCs for five years or possibly more, although the off-gassing decreases significantly several months after installation. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends vacuuming the new carpet with a HEPA filter vacuum and cleaning with hot water extraction, which can remove a good portion of the VOCs.

Our customers have asked us about various products that claim to reduce these VOCs if used when cleaning the carpet. Time is the only thing that will guarantee removal of VOCs, so we don’t put stock in these products – but our method of hot water extraction with all natural, non-toxic, hypoallergenic and no VOC cleansers is our recommendation for the most effective reduction of the VOCs. (The extraction process does not necessarily assure that emissions from carpet will not pose problems for some people.)

If you do decide to take matters into your own hands, our one rule of thumb is this “Never put onto your carpet what you cannot THOROUGHLY rinse out.”

Below are two images of a brand new carpet after an “odor eliminating” product was poured on it. This was done they day before the scheduled service, and after we told him we would not use this product in our equipment as our process is tested and effective. We tried to remove it – you can see the progress on the right – but he had poured (not sprayed) 3 gallons of onto the brand new carpet and left it overnight. Because it wasn’t properly rinsed, it bleached the carpet.




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