As with most all types of cleaning chemicals these days, many carpet cleaning chemicals are now available that have a reduced impact on human health, the environment and building users, whether in a residence or commercial facility.

Having such products available is fortunate because there are published studies dating back to 1982* that have found a correlation — in rare cases — between just-cleaned carpets (typically using the extraction method), the chemicals used to clean them and respiratory problems such as coughing, sneezing and even asthma attacks.

When chemicals have the possibility of causing these kinds of reactions to occur, they are referred to as “chemical irritants.” Sometimes these irritants cause reactions during or shortly after the carpets have been cleaned. In other situations, it may take a day or two, even a week or longer, before facility users have a health reaction.

The possibility of such reactions occurring is a problem for carpet cleaning technicians because, very simply, when taking on a new job, they never know what they are walking into. For instance, in one day they may clean several homes — all with children, all relatively similar in size with comparative soiling — cleaning the carpets using the same chemicals, equipment and methods, with no unfortunate after effects… except in one household. In this one case, members of the family began having a respiratory reaction almost as soon as the carpets were done being cleaned.

While the odds of a negative reaction are small, obviously no technician wants any client to become ill or have any reaction — except a happy one — after he or she has cleaned the client's carpets. The following are steps technicians can take to help protect the health of all clients when it comes to the chemicals used to clean carpets:

  • Before beginning, ask your clients, especially those with children, if there are any respiratory health problems you should be aware of.
  • If respiratory problems are an issue in the household, avoid prespraying the carpets; the airborne mist may contribute to respiratory problems. Mix the water/chemical solution in the tank.
  • Reduce chemical concentrations if possible, especially if a potential respiratory problem exists.
  • Clean carpets using cool or warm water; hot water can raise indoor humidity, which can exacerbate respiratory problems.
  • Alternatively, work with a facility maintenance distributor to select green carpet cleaning chemicals that have fewer chemical irritants or chemicals designed to have less impact on the environment.
  • Weather permitting, encourage customers to leave windows open as long as possible after the cleaning process to improve ventilation. Using air movers is another option; typically as the carpet dries, the chemical irritants that may cause respiratory problems dissipate as well.
  • Use low-moisture extractors or machines with enhanced moisture-recovery systems.
  • Instruct clients to avoid returning home or using the facility until carpets have dried.

Probably the best advice I have to offer is to expect the unexpected. Working with an astute distributor, make sure you have as part of your chemical arsenal those chemicals that have the least impact on the environment. Doing so can help save the job and keep your customers healthy as well.

Michael Wilson is director of marketing for AFFLINK, a sales and marketing organization for the facility management, healthcare, education, industrial, hospitality, and related industries.  The company is also developer of the eLev8(r) process, analytical tool to help provide supply chain solutions.  He may be reached through his company website,

*K. Kreiss, M. Gonzalez, and K. Conright, "Respiratory Irritation Due to Carpet Shampoo: Two Outbreaks," Environ Int 8 (1982): 337-341.