ICS Magazine

Is Carpet Cleaning Effective Against Allergies?

October 7, 2005
Properly performed carpet cleaning can help you breathe easy.


Q: A customer asked whether or not our cleaning their carpets and upholstery would reduce their allergies. I told them that it would, but I am not sure if that is true. Is carpet and upholstery cleaning effective at solving allergy problems?

A: Allergy is defined as a "harmful, increased susceptibility to a specific substance," also known as "hypersensitivity." Allergies are triggered by substances called allergens. Allergic reactions to allergens stem from exposure to variety of sources and the list can be very extensive. Some of the more common indoor sources that might be reduced by cleaning include but are not limited to: molds; dust mites; skin flakes, urine, and saliva from cats and dogs; body parts and droppings from dust mites; body parts, secretions, and droppings from cockroaches; hair, skin flakes, urine, and saliva from rodents; secondhand smoke; and nitrogen dioxide from combustion products.

It is common that allergic reactions are mistakenly believed to be a cold. Some of the symptoms of a cold and allergies are similar: sneezing and a stuffy or runny nose. But, if the symptoms are accompanied with a fever, sore throat, aches and pains, then it is probably a cold. With allergies, there is never a fever, the nasal discharge is clear, and eyes may become red and itchy. Colds usually last about a week; allergies can last all year.

Colds

  • Result from a virus infection;
  • Symptoms may also include a fever and aches and pains;
  • Usually takes a few days to hit full force; and
  • Symptoms should clear up within several days to a week.

    Allergies

  • Symptoms begin almost immediately after exposure to an allergen;
  • Symptoms last as long as they are exposed to the allergen; and
  • If the allergen is present year-round, symptoms may be chronic.

    The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that allergies affect as many as 40 to 50 million people in the United States; allergic diseases affect more than 20 percent of the U.S. population; and that allergic diseases are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States. According to the American College of Ecology, Asthma and Immunology, 50 percent of all illnesses are caused by or aggravated by polluted indoor air.

    Whether cleaning will reduce allergic reactions is dependent upon several factors. The first is the occupant's predisposition to react to allergens; second, are the allergens that the occupants will react to present in the living environment; and finally, are your cleaning services going to appropriately and thoroughly address the removal of those allergens?

    You won't know whether your cleaning services will reduce allergic reactions if you don't know what the occupants will react to and whether or not those allergens are present in the environment you are going to clean. If you are going to provide carpet and upholstery cleaning services to a portion of the home, then you will probably remove only a limited amount of the allergens that are present. Even if you clean the entire carpeted area of a home and all of the upholstered furniture, you may still leave pockets, sometimes referred to as a sink or reservoir, of allergens that will potentially cause reactions.

    The only way to ensure that cleaning will reduce allergic reactions is to: develop a continuous program of thorough cleaning of all locations where allergens may be present; create a plan to control infiltration of bioaerosols by managing the source; maintain HVAC systems and change filters regularly; control pests such as cockroaches and rodents; limit exposure to pets that occupants are allergic to; use cleaning products that are less likely to cause reactions; avoid secondhand smoke; and control moisture problems.

    In the case of dust mites, occupants need to:

  • Wash and dry sheets weekly.
  • Launder pillows, blankets, comforters and mattress pads at least four times a year.
  • Encase pillows and comforters in allergen-impermeable covers.
  • Damp-mop hard floors (tile or hardwood, for example) once a day.
  • Dust and vacuum once or twice a week to remove accumulated reservoirs of allergens.

    If performed correctly, carpet and upholstery cleaning can help reduce allergens. Since there are other sources of allergens, it is not likely that the reactions would be eliminated. Even if the reactions were reduced or eliminated, the relief would generally be temporary. A program of control and maintenance would be required to provide continued relief. There are companies that are starting to recognize that there is an opportunity to provide a greater range of services that can be designed to address asthma and allergy problems.