Floors collect all the things that we bring into our homes, and not just from what’s on our shoes — although those can be the worst. Just think about where the average person walks throughout their day, from public restrooms to city sidewalks, and you will have an idea of the filth that gets tracked inside. Our intent, of course, is to be able to wipe away these dangers. Surfaces such as ceramic tile easily reveal a spotless floor. However, despite diligent cleaning and removing your shoes before entering your home, microscopic uglies may still be hiding in surfaces that are difficult to thoroughly clean and dry, such as carpet. The fact that carpets trap these particulates — even from a careful cleaning — is enough to make you cry. Oh, baby!
What Is in Your Carpet?
Envision a cloud of dust around the “Peanuts” comic strip character Pig Pen, and you’ve got a good visual for what’s actually happening when dust kicks up from your carpet. Researchers in Finland and from Purdue University recently published the results of their research on the suspended dust that babies create when they crawl on carpet. Specifically, researchers compared the difference between a crawling robot baby and a walking adult, and what kind of particles are resuspended in each activity.
Researchers discovered that crawling created, on average, 8 to 21 times more resuspended fungal and bacterial particles in the baby breathing zone than in the adult zone, and that a walking adult created much less airborne particulate matter in the baby breathing zone than a crawling robot did.
While a hard surface such as ceramic tile can be easily cleaned, carpet poses challenges to removing fungi and bacteria. Other than making us cringe, are any of these particulates particularly bad for your baby? Let’s examine some of them.
Our skin sheds constantly, and we leave a trail of our skin cells wherever we go, no matter how often we bathe. These cells find their way onto all the surfaces of our home, including the carpet. Although this may be off-putting, skin cells are not harmful to our health; but dust mites that feed on those cells can be.
The fecal pellets and body parts that dust mites leave behind are a major contributor to allergies and asthma. Allergies to dust mites can be mild to severe, depending on the sensitivity of the sufferer. One person may get a runny nose, while another may have an asthma attack.
Dander is flecks of skin that our pets shed and, like us, our pets shed constantly. Some people develop allergies to animal dander, saliva, or feces. All of these allergens can settle on the surfaces of our homes.
Cockroaches can thrive in many different climates. They create allergens that are shed in their feces, which can become airborne and disperse. Researchers think that cockroach allergens may even cause asthma in children. Cockroach allergens can be present even if the insect itself is not in your house. Yikes!
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Unlike dust and dander particulate matter found lurking in carpets, VOCs can be part of carpet itself. VOCs may be used to make carpets, carpet pads, and carpet glues. That “new” smell you may associate with carpets could be due to these compounds. Some adverse health issues that may result from long-term exposure to excessive amounts of VOCs include allergy symptoms, breathing problems, and even cancer. You cannot remove VOCs from materials, but you can control your exposure to VOCs and dodge the potential danger by simply avoiding products that contain VOCs. Ceramic tile is produced (fired) at extremely high temperatures, producing what is called an “inorganic” material that has zero VOCs. Additionally, ceramic tile contains none of the following contaminants found in some other flooring options:
- No formaldehyde: Some wood products may contain formaldehyde. Certain levels of formaldehyde can irritate asthma and other respiratory disorders, but ceramic tile does not contain formaldehyde.
- No polyvinyl chloride (PVC): PVC is a resin used in some vinyl flooring and is regularly a subject of concern among health experts and builders. Ceramic tile is free of PVC.
- No plastic: Ceramic tile contains no plastic and has none of the health or environmental concerns associated with plastic.
Mold spores are everywhere, but unless moisture is also present, they will not grow into visible mold. Once that happens, allergic reactions are common. Mold can even trigger asthma attacks in sensitive people.
Since we cannot remove mold spores from the environment, it is important to reduce moisture in order to avoid health issues from mold. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends the following to reduce moisture in your home:
- Use bathroom vents, air conditioners, and fans for increased ventilation.
- Prevent condensation by improving insulation near cold surfaces such as windows, pipes, and exterior walls in your home.
- Remove carpeting from areas that may become damp, such as near sinks, in the bathroom, or on concrete floors.
- Dry any damp building materials within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold from growing.
Any affected area that is larger than about 10 square feet will require a professional to safely clean up the mold.
Can You Handle the Truth?
Now that you know what can lurk on the floor for your baby to stir up and breathe in, you may be wondering how to get a handle on it. These health issues are caused by the microscopic particles of organic material that get trapped in hard-to-clean surfaces such as carpet.
Three common strategies prevail when it comes to controlling these potentially harmful irritants:
- Control moisture.
- Clean and dry surfaces thoroughly to remove particulates.
- Replace probable particulate traps, such as drapes and carpets.
You may find it difficult to control overall moisture in your home, especially in climates with high humidity and an air conditioner or dehumidifier can help. Vacuuming may not get to all the tiny irritants in your carpet and cleaning your carpet may inadvertently add to your troubles. You must make sure your carpet is completely dry after cleaning, and don’t forget to dry the carpet pad (which doesn’t get exposed to moving air like the carpet). Completely drying out a carpet and carpet pad takes time and often professional help before those tiny moisture-loving allergens settle and turn into bigger problems.
Ceramic tile is a surface choice that can easily be cleaned with a little soap and water (or simply water). Most importantly, ceramic tile can be thoroughly dried. Properly installed ceramic tile forms a waterproof barrier that keeps moisture-feeding irritants at bay and creates a healthy living space — the key to an optimal flooring choice for allergy sufferers. Because ceramic tile is a hard-fired surface, it won’t harbor dust mites and is inhospitable to bacteria, fungi, mold, and other irritants that contribute to allergies. Additionally, ceramic tile options are available with antimicrobial properties that can suppress and even destroy harmful microorganisms, such as mold, fungi, bacteria, and viruses.
Repeatedly replacing carpet that has trapped allergen particulates or has suffered moisture issues can be costly. Carpet has a low life cycle, making it higher in cost over its lifespan than other flooring options.
Healthy and Smart — Don’t Be Floored by Indoor Allergens
You may not be able to control all the contaminants that enter your home, but you can make the best choices that allow you to keep your home as clean and healthy as possible. Ideally, removing and replacing particle-trapping surfaces with smooth surfaces will keep allergens under control and allow you and your baby to enjoy a healthy and happy home.
You can simply wipe down ceramic tile and remove potentially unhealthy particles without causing them to be resuspended as you clean, and you do not need to use harsh chemicals that can introduce their own irritants and harmful effects.
Ceramic tile combats many other flooring surface issues by being a smart choice as well as a healthy choice:
- Stain-resistant: Ceramic tile doesn’t stain easily and is easy to clean, often with just water.
- Water-resistant: Liquid spills can ruin other flooring types.
- Scratch-resistant: Dents, scrapes, and cuts often seen in other flooring aren’t the same danger for ceramic tile floors, even after years of heavy traffic.
- Fade-resistant: Ceramic tile does not fade, so you can feel free to redecorate and move your furniture at any time.
- Slip-resistant: Ceramic tile offers many slip-resistant options so that you can make the best flooring selection for your family.
- Reduced embodied carbon: Compared to other flooring products that need to be replaced more frequently, ceramic tile’s long life means it is both cost-effective and a smart choice for reducing embodied carbon, as well as other negative environmental impacts, such as resource use, and demolition waste.
Choosing ceramic tile for your home provides your baby with a safe environment in which to learn about the world!