Tuft Talk - April 2012
By Frank Hurd
What is wrong with carpet? Why are consumers deselecting it? There is nothing wrong with carpet! Carpet is a flooring product that brings value to the consumer’s home. Unlike any other floorcovering, it provides exceptional warmth and comfort underfoot. It enhances sounds and helps reduce distracting noise. In fact, the only room Elvis Presley recorded in at his Graceland home had carpet not only on the floor but also on the walls and ceiling. It just sounds better with carpet. Carpet goes a long way in protecting the consumer and their breakables, as it softens falls. The carpet of today is not the carpet of our parents; it is a fashion statement for the consumer, adding beauty and style to any room.
The second question—“Why are consumers deselecting it?”—is much more complicated and worth exploring. There are many myths about carpet that are widely believed yet untrue. The leading misconception is that carpet somehow contributes to asthma and allergy reactions, and persons with a predisposition to these conditions should remove the carpet they have and certainly not buy more. Those in retail sales positions have the opportunity to educate the consumer, debunking these myths in the process.
When confronted with this opinion on the sales floor, there are a few points that you can discuss with the consumer. First, the facts show that nothing could be further from the truth. When Swedish citizens started deselecting carpet in 1975, there were under a million people with allergic reactions; by 1990 when the use of carpet was at an all-time low, persons with allergic reactions had increased three-fold to over three million. The deselection of carpet in Sweden was the result of intensive discussions and reports in the 1970s claiming that carpet was the source of harmful contaminants that initiated allergic reactions. As a result, Swedish consumers and public building officials severely reduced their use of carpet. Carpet’s share of the total floorcovering market in Sweden dropped from 40% in the mid ’70s to only 2% in 1992.
Based on historical figures published by the Swedish Statistical Central Bureau in the early ’90s, Professors Roshan L. Shishoo and Alf Börjesson from the Swedish Institute of Fibre and Polymer Research published an article for Carpet & Floorcovering Review, focusing on this inverse relationship between carpet use and allergies. Shishoo and Börjesson argued that the removal and decline of carpet usage did nothing to improve conditions for allergic patients.
Let’s try to understand how this myth came about: an assumption was made that since pillows and bed sheets contribute to the aggravation of asthma and allergies, the same must be true for carpet, since it is also composed of soft fibers. However, not only does the Swedish study discussed above counter this argument, but so does research by Dr. Allan Hedge of Cornell University. Dr. Hedge actually found that carpet can improve indoor air quality by trapping allergens. For this to be true, consumers must keep their carpet clean and dry, and you should take the opportunity, during the sales process, to recommend that your customers clean their carpet with CRI certified Seal of Approval/Green Label vacuums.
Common sense is as effective in making the argument as research is. Dust and allergens on a hard surface are stirred up every time the air conditioner or heater fan turns on and re-suspends them in the breathing zone. In fact, just opening and closing doors is enough to stir aggravating dust into the breathing zone. If this happens with hard surface flooring, why does it not happen with carpet? The simple answer, as Dr. Hedge points out, is the carpet traps the dust particles and allergens, thus preventing them from being re-suspended into the breathing zone and making carpet a better product for persons with asthma and allergies. With carpet, there is far more surface area per cubic foot to trap dust than with other flooring types.
A misconception closely related to the asthma and allergy myth is that carpet emits harmful chemicals into the environment that can cause health issues. When a customer expresses this concern, explain how, in the early 1990s, the carpet industry confronted this concept head on with the Green Label Program that has grown into Green Label Plus.
The Green Label Plus program evaluates all potential emissions after the carpet has been installed for 24 hours and certifies products that release half or fewer of the emissions considered safe. The 24 hour timeframe for measurement is the most stringent of any product category. Other flooring products are often measured at 14 days.
So what accounts for that new carpet smell? It is 4PCH, which is the byproduct of the latex used to bond the carpet components together. It is important to note that the level of off-gassing from carpet is too low to elicit irritant responses and, hence, too low to act as a trigger for asthma. For consumers who are concerned about it, point out that if they air out their home, this smell and the 4PCH will be gone quickly, as it is a very short-lived emission, and emphasize that 4PCH is an unremarkable chemical from which there are no known health complications. This myth should be one of the easiest to debunk with the consumer.
Now let’s talk about that myth that carpet is hard to maintain. If the proper chemicals and tools are used, carpet is no harder to maintain than any other flooring. Furthermore, carpet will last much longer than many consumers believe if it is properly maintained.
The problem, however, is that many consumers have heard about or experienced a carpet cleaning failure that resulted in resoiling or color change because of the product used to clean the carpet. It is true that many of the well known cleaning solutions don’t work as advertised and only make the spot or stain worse; likewise, many vacuum cleaners don’t clean adequately. However, the CRI Seal of Approval program tests and certifies cleaning solutions and spot removers for the following: overall cleaning effectiveness; rate of resoiling after using the product; pH level of the solution, so that it doesn’t adversely affect the carpet dyes and fibers; surface texture change in the material cleaned, meaning that the product does not affect the carpet pile even after repeated use; absence of optical brightens, a trick to make you think carpet is clean that can leave patches of carpet lighter and can lead to color change by a yellowing effect; the colorfastness of the material cleaned, making sure that the product doesn’t cause a color change in the carpet.
The carpet industry now also tests and certifies vacuum cleaners under its Seal of Approval/Green Label program to see if the vacuum removes the dirt from the carpet, contains the dust particles so that they don’t re-enter the breathing zone, and does not damage the carpet while accomplishing the first two. This program has produced more efficient vacuum cleaners that, in many cases, have been redesigned to meet the stringent criteria established by the carpet industry. No other floorcovering has any program like the carpet industry’s for providing the consumer with effective tools for maintaining their investment. If the consumer uses the products certified by CRI, there is no question that they will extend the life of the carpet on the floor.
As we all know, today’s consumers are looking for environmentally friendly products, and carpet fits the bill. True, carpet is primarily a petroleum-based product, but this does not exclude it from being an environmentally friendly product. Most manufacturers produce products with recycled content and have a number of eco-friendly options for the consumer to choose. In addition, the industry worked with interested stakeholders to develop an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for assessing sustainable carpet (NSF 140). As part of its efforts to meet this innovative standard, manufacturers have implemented extensive reclamation programs, removed any potential harmful chemicals from their chemistries, significantly reduced their energy and water usage, and reduced the weight of their products. The Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), started in 2002, has facilitated the diversion of over two billion pounds of post-consumer carpet from our nation’s landfills. If the consumer wants an environmentally friendly product, carpet is a good solution, and, as a bonus, it is produced almost exclusively in the United States, a claim no other floorcovering can make.
Another common perception is that carpet is so yesterday, the floorcovering of previous generations, boring and outdated. In the past, it was commonly said that you could have any color of carpet you wanted as long as it was beige. Today’s carpet comes in varied patterns, colors and styles to meet any taste. With the advent of computers, it is possible to create any design in a carpet. The consumer of today is looking for fashion as well as functionality, and carpet is a very good choice on both counts.
The myths about carpet outlined above have driven the deselection of carpet. It is hard to quantify if any one misconception is the biggest contributor to the phenomenon, but the collection of these myths has clearly hurt the image of carpet in the mind of many consumers. An educated retailer can easily debunk these myths for the consumer by understanding all the facts about carpet.
Copyright 2012 Floor Focus