Academic Evidence Shows Carpets in Schools Can Improve Indoor Air Quality by Trapping Contaminants and Allergens, says Cornell University Expert

Carpets in Schools Can Improve Indoor Air Quality by Trapping Contaminants and Allergens

According to Alan Hedge, a professor of design and environmental analysis at Cornell University, carpets in schools can help to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) by capturing and holding dirt, contaminants, and allergens that would otherwise become airborne. This is supported by research indicating that exposure to dust-mite allergens, which can trigger asthma attacks in children, is rare in schools, and carpets can effectively trap these allergens, especially when using high-efficiency microfiltration vacuum bags. Hedge’s findings contradict growing concerns that carpeting in schools compromises IAQ and contributes to respiratory problems, allergies, and asthma in children.  Regular carpet cleaning is essential to maintain the positive impact of carpeting.

Hedge argues that as long as schools keep floors clean and use high-efficiency microfiltration vacuum bags, carpets can be a healthy, safe, and economical floor covering in schools and day-care centers. Synthetic carpets, which have electrical charges that attract potential contaminants, are better than wool. Furthermore, modern carpeting that sports the green IAQ testing label can help to improve air quality by emitting less chemical contamination into the air than many types of vinyl-based floor products do.

Hedge’s research was prompted by proposals by some school districts to ban carpets in schools, following advice from allergists in Florida and Vermont that carpets were contributing to asthma and other respiratory problems in children. However, Hedge maintains that mite-allergen exposure is most likely to occur not from carpets but from pillows, bedding, mattresses, sofas, and clothing, all of which come into closer contact with the face for longer periods of time.

Hedge suggests that Sweden’s decision to ban carpeting in schools in the late 1980s has not helped to reduce childhood asthma rates as expected, but rather led to an increase in asthma rates, for several reasons, including children becoming allergic to other allergens, especially from cats and dogs.

In conclusion, both smooth floor coverings and carpets have advantages and disadvantages for schools. Hedge recommends combining the strengths and benefits of carpeting for areas under desks and where sitting and teaching activities occur, but to use smooth floorings around wet sink areas and boot/shoe storage. Nonetheless, it is critical to keep any floor covering clean and dry to eliminate any IAQ risks from biological contaminants such as bacteria, fungi, and dust mites.

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