Friday, May 29, 2009

The Carpet Fact-checker Files

Tales from my carpet fact-checkered past -- Or, How many carpet facts would a fact-checker check if a fact-checker could check facts?

Image courtesy of S Group Advertising
In Wednesday’s blogpost [Contrary to Health Magazine, Carpet Won't Make You Sick], I told you about my first experience with a “fact-checker” – a person whose job it is to check out the information writers put in their magazine articles before the publications go to press. Specifically, the fact-checker I dealt with was from Health magazine, which was supposedly publishing an article on “keeping carpets healthy” in the home.

Today, I’m posting a transcript of sorts – the verbatim text of the statements the fact-checker emailed to me, plus the responses I sent back, which included valuable input from CRI Marketing Director James Beach. In the final version of the article, the publication basically ignored our response, and, at the time, I chalked the whole thing up to experience.

But every dog will have its day, and, thanks to the magic of blogging, so will I. Woof.

Fact Checker Statement: Certain carpet materials give off gas volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which can cause headaches and respiratory problems for sensitive people.

CRI: Many synthetic materials will off gas – carpet is one of the lowest-emitting products a homeowner can bring into an indoor air space and is the lowest-emitting product of synthetic flooring choices. Choosing the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label certified carpet assures users that the products they have chosen are emitting the lowest levels of VOCs available. The Green Label certification is recognized by the EPA and the state of California, and has been adopted by those organizations as their standards for low-emitting carpet. It is important to note that all VOCs from carpet are off gassed within 48-72 hours and are 99.9% gone at that time – and gone forever. There are no lingering or long-term VOC discharges from carpet. More on VOCs and carpet.

Fact Checker Statement: The larger and plusher the rug, the harder it is to remove allergens from it.

CRI: Not necessarily. The Carpet and Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval vacuum testing program tests vacuums. The ones that earn the SOA approval remove dirt and hold on to it, without damaging the carpet. So, much depends on your vacuum. It doesn’t matter whether the carpet is low-pile or plush – proper cleaning and maintenance are absolutely critical to refreshing carpet for the consumer. There are CRI Seal of Approval certified products that will effectively clean all types of carpet. Using good, effective products such as those tested in this SOA program ensures that the products really work. There are name–brand products that don’t work very well. CRI’s SOA Program tests cleaning solutions, vacuum cleaners, and deep-cleaning extractors. The vacuum cleaner program tests for efficacy as well as whether or not the particles are contained in the machine. Just picking a vacuum cleaner simply because it has a HEPA filter on it might not be the best advice if that machine doesn’t effectively remove soil from the carpet.

Fact Checker Statement: Low-pile rugs are a better choice because there is less opportunity for the allergens to get stuck in the fibers.

CRI: We have to disagree with the writer’s assumption that having allergens stuck in a carpet’s fibers is a bad thing. Allergens are with us – they will be in an environment no matter what type of flooring is in a room. Studies indicate that carpet acts like a filter, holding allergens out of the breathing space until they can be removed with a vacuum. Trapping allergens should not be viewed or portrayed as a negative attribute. Allergens affect people ONLY when they are breathed into the lungs or come in direct contact with them. If the allergens are being trapped in the fibers, they are unavailable to taken into the lungs. Studies have also shown that fibers act in such a way that they hold them and control them from dermal transfer i.e. putting your hand or face on the carpet. Carpet will transfer a minimal amount via dermal transfer whereas allergens on a hard-surface are not only kicked up into the breathing zone simply through HVAC and regular walking on them, they also provide almost 90 percent dermal transfer. Here is alink to more information about allergens and carpet.

Fact Checker Statement: Rugs made with cotton, sisal, jute, seagrass, and hemp are often woven into thinner carpets which trap fewer allergens.

CRI: You can manufacture synthetic carpet to be as thin as any of these natural fibers. Also, see comments above that dispute the writer’s assertion that trapping allergens is a bad thing. Cotton is not stain-resistant, and these other natural fibers have issues with durability and comfort.

Fact Checker Statement: Wall to wall broadloom carpet is typically made with synthetic fibers, backings and adhesives that release VOCs. This is also known as a “new carpet smell”.

CRI: The phrase, “Wall to wall broadloom” is redundant. Broadloom carpet can be installed in a room wall to wall, or it can be cut and fashioned into area rugs. Wall-to-wall indicates installation style. Broadloom differentiates the carpet from carpet tile, or 6-foot carpet manufactured for cars, trailers, boats, etc. So just say, “Broadloom carpet is differentiated…”

Fact Checker Statement: Wall to wall carpet made with natural fibers like wool or synthetic products that have earned the Green Label or Green Label Plus from the Carpet and Rug Institute ensure that rugs have low VOC-emissions.

This is a true statement.

Fact Checker Statement: Most carpets get rid of harmful VOCs within several weeks. Crack open a window, or if it’s a new area rug, store it in the garage or basement until the odor is gone.

CRI: See above statement. VOC’s are present from 48-72 hours and then are gone and gone forever. I question the use of the word, “harmful”. Irritating to sensitive people, yes, but harmful?

Fact Checker Statement: Professional carpet cleaning agents are now nontoxic.

CRI: This is true, but I question the use of the word “now”. What evidence does the writer have that they were ever toxic? I am not aware of past toxic substances used to shampoo carpet.

Fact Checker Statement: Thorough cleaning helps control allergen levels. Vacuum at least once a week with a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum cleaner.

CRI: Check the CRI’s list of Seal of Approval vacuums – hepa filters are good, but they need to hold on to the dirt and not shoot it out with the exhaust, and they should not damage the carpet. These factors are what the SOA program tests for. More on CRI’s vacuum testing.

Fact Checker Statement: Area rugs should be flipped over and vacuumed on the back and the front.

CRI: Never heard of it, but what could it hurt? Sounds like a lot of work, though.

Fact Checker Statement: Professionally clean wall to wall and area carpeting once a year.

CRI: Consider using a SOA Service Provider certified by CRI to use safe and effective cleaning solutions and equipment.


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Shannon Bilby said...

Thanks for clearing up all of these facts! It's so great to have a resource that you can trust to clear up this kind of information. Bravo!

Christine Rankin said...

Very interesting how the media researches, checks and then writes what will sell copy and scare the daylights out of the unsuspecting consumer. Thanks for taking us back stage so we could see the real inner workings. We appreciate you and your straightforward reporting of the facts. At Carpet Network, we constantly use the CRI as THE resource.

Bethany Richmond said...

Thanks for these wonderful comments. It's nice to know there are sympathetic ears out there. I understand journalistic cynicism - when I worked as a tv news reporter, I used go right for the bad news as fast as I could. Which is why a blog is such a powerful tool. I am very glad CRI's James Beach and Frank Hurd came up with the idea for a CRI blog, and I am grateful for the exceptional behind-the-scenes leadership of our consultant, Christine Whittemore at Simple Marketing Now.

Jim - Redmond Carpet Cleaners said...

Media is a for-profit business just like any other business. Don't know what the answer is, but thanks for setting the record straight.

Bethany said...

Hi Jim - Thanks for your comment. I don't know what the answer is either, but I think your pragmatism is the right attitude for dealing with media. (and everything else, probably)BR

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