My carpets need professional cleaning, but I don”t want chemicals and fumes in my house

My carpets need professional cleaning, but I don”t want chemicals and fumes in my house. Some companies advertise “safe,” but I’m not sure.

—Suzie Franklin DeFazio, via e-mail

Traditional commercial carpet-cleaning solutions contain a cocktail of noxious synthetic chemicals. One, perchloroethylene, commonly called “perc” in the industry, is a notorious dry cleaning additive known to cause dizziness, fatigue and nausea if ingested or inhaled. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also links perc to kidney and liver damage. Another chemical, naphthalene, a solvent manufactured from coal tar, is considered toxic to the human central nervous system and a possible carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

These and other harsh chemicals get into the air of a room when applied during cleaning, and can also be ingested by kids who play on the floor soon afterwards. Besides such on-site health threats, carpet cleaning chemicals can pollute local groundwater if disposed of improperly (such as directly down your drain). Wastewater from carpet cleaning requires treatment and/or filtration in order to neutralize contaminants.

Thanks to growing awareness about the potential health impacts of carpet cleaning, a new breed of professional services has sprung up that eschews dangerous and polluting chemicals in favor of more natural solutions. Some of the newer and more green-friendly cleaning solutions used by professional services are plant instead of chemical based, and include such brand names as Bi-O-Kleen, Capture, AFM SafeChoice, NatureClean, SimpleGreen and Seventh Generation”s Natural Citrus Carpet Cleaner.

Most carpet cleaning services are local businesses, and many have greened-up their processes in recent years. If you need your carpets cleaned you should call around and ask questions. If a service doesn”t know whether their cleaning solution is plant or chemical based, or if they don”t have systems in place to treat or transport wastewater responsibly after cleaning, they should probably be avoided.

A few chains also stand out for their commitment to more natural operations. ChemDry, a division of Home Depot, uses carbonating cleaning bubbles instead of harsh chemicals to remove dirt from carper fibers. The company claims it uses a fraction of the water of other services and avoids harmful detergents, solvents and enzymes. Another is Zoots, which operates “green” dry cleaning stores in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States and which was recognized by Inc. magazine in 2006 as one of the top 50 green companies in the U.S.

Keeping carpets clean to begin with is one way to minimize the need for too many professional cleanings. The green living website,, suggests spot cleaning carpet stains with a homemade non-toxic solution consisting of equal parts white vinegar and water. The solution can be sprayed onto stains and then sponged up a few minutes later in combination with warm soapy water. Meanwhile, hardier stains might warrant an overnight treatment with a paste made from salt, borax and vinegar, which can be vacuumed up the next morning. For more ideas, Sierra Club Canada”s “Safe Alternatives to Household Hazardous Products” offers a plethora of additional home remedies for spot cleaning carpets.

CONTACTS: ChemDry; ; Zoots; Eartheasy; Sierra Club of Canada”s “Safe Alternatives to Household Hazardous Products” .