Which carpet cleaners are safe for the environment and my family’s health?

Which carpet cleaners are safe for the environment and my family’s health?

—Roger Schatz, Chicago, IL

Most of the carpet cleansers on store shelves today contain toxic ingredients such as petroleum solvents and glycol ethers that are effective on tough rug stains but harmful to both the environment and our health.

First concocted in industry labs in the 1950s, these chemicals have been linked to a wide range of human health maladies. According to Cynthia Wilson of the Chemical Injury Information Network, aside from the headaches and respiratory, throat, nose and eye irritation that can result from just mild exposure, longer-term exposure can result in damage to the central nervous system, kidneys and liver—even the inhibition of the body’s ability to produce blood.

Fortunately, in recent years a number of companies have come to the fore and developed kinder and gentler alternatives. Seventh Generation’s non-toxic, biodegradable Carpet Cleaner, for instance, uses natural citrus and hydrogen peroxide to remove spots and stains due to everything from coffee and pet stains to ground-in dirt, grease and other oil-based soils—all without leaving behind potentially hazardous fumes or residues. The company claims that if every household in the U.S. replaced just one bottle of solvent-based carpet cleaner with its product, Americans would prevent 11 million pounds of petroleum-based solvents and glycol ethers from entering our environment.

Meanwhile, Earth Friendly Products” Everyday Stain and Odor Remover employs natural enzymes instead of harsh chemicals to lift carpet stains and get rid of pet odors. And the company’s Carpet Shampoo with Bergamot and Sage, for use in carpet-cleaning equipment, is free of phosphates, chlorine, petrochemicals and other harsh chemicals. Bi-O-Kleen, Enviro-Rite and Natural Choices are a few other green-friendly brands with similar formulations. Large natural foods markets like Whole Foods and Wild Oats usually stock a wide range of these products, but they can also be obtained online via Kokopelli’s Green Market and directly from the makers” websites.

For big or particularly messy jobs, outsourcing the task to green-friendly pros might be the easiest way to go. Bio-Tech All Natural, for instance, which serves the San Francisco Bay area, employs natural enzymes in an all-natural cleaning process that deep cleans carpeting without chemicals in area homes and offices. It’s patent-pending “Naturell Clean” product is available in some janitorial supply and carpet maintenance supply stores and is also employed by other commercial cleaning establishments.

Another alternative for cleaning seriously soiled carpets is to rent a steam-cleaning machine. Steamatic and other manufacturers offer environmentally friendly all-in-one units that dispense hot water and emulsifiers (which attract debris) and vacuum up everything but the carpet fibers and base. Given that many carpets are laden with unhealthy chemicals right off the assembly line, steam cleaning might just get your carpet cleaner than the day it was installed.

CONTACTS: Chemical Injury Information Network, www.ciin.org; Seventh Generation, www.seventhgeneration.com; Earth Friendly Products, www.ecos.com; Kokopelli’s Green Market, www.kokogm.com; Bio-Tech All Natural, www.bio-techan.com; Steamatic, www.steamatic.com.