I Can't Breathe! What Are You Spraying?

If you’ve ever heard this come out of the mouth of one of your customers while you’re working in their home or office, you’ve got a couple of things to consider.
  • Your pre-spray is noxious and can cause breathing problems
  • Your customer has sensitivity to what could be any number of pollutants in the air that may include chemicals, fragrances, dust, pollen, dander, proteins, fibers, etc.

Asthma, combined with other lung, allergy, and skin disorders, are growing concerns among our customers. Does that mean that we have to make them our problems as well? Back in the 1970s, if our customer had an issue with the products we were using, we suggested they step outside or go to a neighbor while we cleaned. Today, however, we can’t take such a flippant approach with our customers.

Concerns about product safety, personal health and the indoor air environment are very much on our customers’ minds, so we need to pay close attention to what they’re telling us, both verbally and not. Their fear, which is sometimes unspoken, is that you are using or leaving behind chemicals that will be detrimental to their family’s health. This gives you an opportunity to increase their confidence in your company as you explain the extra precautions you take to secure their families health.

Before we look at the obvious solution of using safe cleaning products in the home, let’s consider the surfaces we are cleaning.

It was not may years ago that carpet was attacked as the cause of indoor air pollution. In fact, many of those ideas are still being taught by health care professionals and other “experts” in the field. As professionals who maintain carpet and other surfaces for a living, we can help dispel some of the misinformation that still abounds.

A study commissioned by the DAAB (die Deutscher Allergie- und Asthmabund e.V. - the German Allergy and Asthma Society) in 2005 shows that using smooth flooring markedly increases the risk of finding an increased fine dust load in indoor rooms, while using “fitted” (wall-to-wall) carpets minimizes this risk. The results of this study were presented to the public in Düsseldorf at the DAAB Conference in June 2005.

The study showed that the average fine dust concentration in indoor rooms equipped with smooth flooring material much higher than in indoor rooms covered with wall-to-wall carpets, and thus exceeds the limit value.

Fine dust is a serious problem for those that suffer from allergies. Carpet will greatly contain that dust until it is removed by the use of an efficient vacuum cleaner. Those who suffer allergies should be encouraged to use a vacuum with a high efficiency particulate filtering system (HEPA).

There were intensive discussions and reports in Sweden in the seventies claiming that carpet was the source of harmful contaminants, resulting in allergic reactions. As a result, Swedish consumers and public building officials severely reduced their use of carpet.

In 1996, Professors Roshan L. Shishoo and Alf Börjesson, of the Swedish Institute for Fibre Polymer Research, pointed out in several publications that the occurrence of allergic reactions and other environmental sensitivity in the general population had increased. They reported that carpets constituted only a small proportion of the total floor covering market in Sweden, having fallen from a market share of 40 percent in the mid-seventies to only 2 percent in 1992.

Professors Shishoo and Börjesson argued that the removal and decline of carpet usage did not mean improved conditions for allergic patients. On the contrary, they missed the advantages of carpet such as comfort, insulation, and noise reduction.

As professionals responsible to care for floor coverings, and in particular carpet, we can give our customers encouragement as it pertains to the health benefits of carpet. When I’m playing with my grandkids on the floor, I’m doing it on a clean carpet or rug, understanding they are in a safe environment.

What else can you do to fight allergens and pollution in your customer’s home?

For the most part, you are already doing it. Having their surfaces cleaned on a regular basis is one of the most important things they can do to reduce the allergens that come into the house from the outside and may be increased by pets or even the household cleaners. Cleaning carpet, upholstery, drapes, rugs, and mattresses will remove proteins that may be causing allergies and improve the air quality in every home.

Before cleaning, ask your customer if they have any sensitivity to cleaning agents or fragrances. For most people, a nice fragrance that accompanies the cleaning is a big plus. However, always be ready when needed to clean fragrance free with low-VOC products that are anti-allergens in nature.

I hope each of you has a great fall cleaning season. Keep up the good work, and keep smiling.

(Author’s Note: For additional information, brochures and studies as they relate to carpet, allergies and cleaning techniques, e-mail Scott Warrington at scottw@bridgewatercorp.net)

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