To Carpet or Not to Carpet, That is the Question

ByVivian McNeil


Springtime hails the welcoming of flower buds and fresh green grass. These colorful growths enhance the moods of the winter blues club, except for one unfortunate group, the poor allergy sufferers. Freshly cut grass, while to most a welcoming smell, to allergy sufferers, brings tears to their eyes. Sneezing and headaches are just some of the milder symptoms. Some people cannot sit outside in the warm sun to catch up on their badly needed vitamin D, others choose to keep wads of tissues nearby or wherever they go.

Seasonal allergies are bad enough, but what about year-round indoor allergies caused by various allergens inside our homes? Dust and dander are the major causes of indoor allergies but there are several other factors such as dirty AC vents, mold, and last but not least carpeting on the floors.

Let’s say you have already tried calling a vent cleaning company. You researched and asked around for a reliable company that will do the job without compromising your sensitive HVAC ductwork. Not only did your AC start working more efficiently but your electric bill is beginning to go down as well. Obviously, your AC was not working at an optimum pace. How could it when there was so much dust lint and dirt clogging the system?

Your allergy did improve, but it still has not disappeared.

Your best friend mentioned to you that he had found mold in different parts of his house, starting from the ceiling wallpaper in his bathroom to the floor beneath his bedroom carpet. Could these problems be the reason that your allergy has not abetted?

All I can tell you is my own experience with wall-to-wall carpeting. When building my dream house I splurged on the main level floors. Beautiful parquet floor shine in my living room, dining room, and den. My playroom has a lovely and practical slate floor that seems to last forever. Ceramic tiles highlight an otherwise simple white kitchen. So who can complain?

That is until you step on the first step of the staircase to go up to the second floor where the bedrooms are. I have already changed the wall-to-wall staircase carpeting three times and it’s more than ready for a fourth change but I refuse to go with carpet again. I have an unfinished hardwood floor underneath the step carpeting which would have to be treated and stained and when I am ready, willing, and able that is the path to improvement that I will ultimately take. This major renovation will have to wait because the first home improvement in line is to remove all the carpeting from the bedrooms.

Our bedroom floors (or lack of them) are where I scrimped to save cash. Instead of putting down regular wood flooring, we put carpeting straight onto the floorboards. This was a mistake for many reasons, more than because the floors sometimes creak. The first time I had complaints about mold, dust, and other negative vibes, was when my not-so-new son-in-law asked to sleep in another room instead of the one he usually slept in. This happened again with my second son-in-law when he also advised us that there was some kind of allergy problem in that same room. We have a very reasonable contractor who we called in to tackle the problem of removing the carpet and installing wood flooring. He took me to Lowes, where I chose a simple yet classy hardwood flooring that was not that pricey and already pre-finished. I dread having my floors stained in the house since the last time I scraped and stained my downstairs floors the odor was so strong that some of the food staples smelled of the shellac and stain and had to be disposed of. It was a pleasure to have pre-finished flooring installed. (One important point that I was warned about by friends who have tackled new floors is that you must be careful that the finished floors you purchased have a safety approval because people can get seriously sick from breathing in unhealthy finishes).

To my utmost astonishment, when the kindly contractor removed the carpet, there were stains from mold and mildew on the raw floors. He explained to me that even a small cup of water that spills on a carpet can cause mold. Even if the carpet dries quickly, the water has already seeped through to the floor causing dampness that does not dry completely ever.

Now, you have the seeds of the mold growing secretly each day. Multiply this spill numerously especially if you have youngsters dwelling in these bedrooms. Not to go into specifics, but if a toddler has an “accident”, even if they let you know, it is already too late to alleviate the problem. No matter how fast you try to dry out the carpet, be it a blow dryer or towel, the water has already penetrated the carpet, gone through the padding, and onto the floor. You might not even smell the odor of the mold, since it is underground but the repercussions multiply.

Mold is a type of fungus that spreads everywhere in your house. Moisture is the nourishment that mold spores need to grow and carpets are great at trapping moisture because once moisture becomes trapped in the dense weave and fibers of the carpet it never fully dries. Mold develops very quickly on the backing of the carpet. It would seem prudent to carpet dark places such as closets but ultimately you may not notice the moisture for a while and by that time there was plenty of time for the mold to spread as it grows. Incidentally, many years ago, I decided to clean out the closet in my daughter’s old room (she had moved out many years before). I could not believe it but there was a large corner of the closet carpeting that was damp. “How could that be?”, I asked myself. I then realized that the closet shared a wall with the bathroom and that wall was where the bathtub was.

There is no way to prevent water from getting under the carpet and padding except to keep plastic sheeting on top of it at all times. This would eliminate one of the main advantages of wall-to-wall carpeting, the soft, warm feeling when you walk around barefoot. Nothing beats the feel of carpet under your cold feet when you wake up in the frigid winter. It’s sort of like immediate versus delayed gratification. Give a child one candy and tell them that if they don’t eat it now they will get another one. How many children can wait for the second treat without eating the first one?

However, this is not the same situation. Anyone who has or is close to someone with severe allergies knows that they will do anything to conquer this medical condition. Why not buy a flat natural fabric area rug, if necessary, and place it near the bed? At least, no family member will have the discomfort of stepping on a cold floor during the colder winter season. Make sure to shake out the small area rug outside often and if washable put it in the washer or give it to the cleaners to try to keep it dust-free. This is not a perfect solution since by definition area rugs are supposed to keep floors clean, thereby attracting dirt and dust. Heated floors are costly but practical for people who want both the cleanliness of bare floors and the warmth of carpets.

About twenty years ago, I went to visit my dear friend in her newly renovated home. After exploring the beautiful rebuilding of the downstairs of her home, I was invited to see the upstairs bedrooms. I was nearly shocked to see beautiful patterns of parquet floors in each of the bedrooms as well as the hallway. All I could think of were her poor young children getting up on a winter’s morning and stepping down to a cold floor.

Whoever heard of parquet floors in a bedroom? Yes, maybe if I visit the Palace of Versailles or some grand mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, I might come across such decorating. But in a regular suburban home, never! Little did I know that my friend knew exactly what she was doing. I wish that I had done the same when building my home. Many family members would have been saved from allergens, prescription decongestants, and humidifiers.

There is no question in my mind that wall-to-wall carpeting is a breeding ground for mold. The only question is, what type of flooring to use instead? The options are many including less expensive options than hardwood floors. Linoleum has come a long way since your grandmother’s kitchen. Wood-style patterns look almost authentic and add a warm look to a bedroom. This type of floor is a breeze to clean and you will always know and see if there is any moisture on it that can be wiped clean immediately.

Final Words

If you suspect that you have a mold or mildew allergy, don’t give up. First, check your venting system and make sure the AC ducts are spic and span. If that doesn’t solve the problem, check your wall-to-wall carpets. You may be able to locate the source of the mold on lighter color carpets but on darker ones, it may be more difficult. In any case, if there is an option to remove your wall-to-wall carpets, there is a good chance that your allergy symptoms will improve.

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