Feature Article

The Chemicals on Our Carpets and Textiles

The array of water-, dirt-, and mold-repellent chemicals added to carpeting and fabrics is dizzying. Which are causes for concern, and how can we minimize exposure?

To protect it from soils and stains generated by heavy foot traffic in the Raleigh Convention Center, tvsdesign specified Beaulieu carpeting, which is protected with topical perfluorochemicals and stain repellents.

Photo: Brian Gassel, tvsdesign

Commercial carpeting and textiles are subjected to dirt, spilled drinks, pathogens, cleaning chemicals, and a variety of other abuses. Fibers can absorb liquids or allow them to pass through into cushioning beneath, making cleaning difficult, particularly for furniture. Manufacturers add treatments that repel water and oils; antimicrobials to keep mold, mildew, and pathogens at bay; and flame retardants for safety. For architects and designers, specifying these products and understanding their complex chemistry and manufacturer claims is daunting.

Treatments may help prolong a product’s life, but the long-term health and environmental impacts of those chemicals are unknown, and in some cases may be cause for concern. An in-depth look at some of these chemicals and how they are used can help us untangle when and where certain treatments may be superfluous or even pose unnecessary risks, and which applications might necessitate certain treatments despite the associated risks.

Published February 28, 2011