Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Chemical-free Cleaning Guide

February 1, 2011

So, you''re renovating, replacing or setting up your offices with new carpeting, furniture, lighting and the whole decorator thing — congratulations.

It''s great for morale and it boosts productivity; everyone''s happy and it''s a win all around.

Except for the fact that all those new furnishings have a common downside: They all give off toxic gases; they all affect the health of the staff that just got the new digs.

Toxic Source: Carpeting

For new carpets, there are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present.

These include toluene, benzene, formaldehyde, ethyl benzene, styrene, acetone and a host of other chemicals, some of which have already made the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency''s (EPA) list of Extremely Hazardous Substances.

Known carcinogens such as p-Dichlorobenzene are in new carpets, as are chemicals that produce fetal abnormalities in test animals.

These chemicals also cause hallucinations, nerve damage and respiratory illness in humans.

Other compounds in new carpeting that affect your health are adhesives, stain protectors, mothproofing and flame retardants.

That "new carpet smell" comes from phenylchlorohexene (4-PC), associated with eye, nose and upper respiratory problems that are suffered by many new carpet owners.

4-PC is used in the latex backing of 95 percent of U.S. carpets.

Fire retardants often contain polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), which are known to cause damage to thyroid, immune system and brain development functions in humans.


A recent California study identified toxic chemicals found in furniture that can be linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption and reproductive and neurological dysfunction.

These toxins are particularly dangerous to office workers and can also cause serious harm to infants and children.

The study tested a sample of 350 pieces of furniture in stores and domestic residences and found that most of the furniture had high levels of toxic halogenated fire retardants.

This analysis suggests that product contamination is widespread, exposing the affected population to a significant and unnecessary risk.

The furnishings you spend the most time around can contribute to poor health.

Most commercial carpeting, sofas, armchairs, tables and other furnishings are often treated with chemicals that scientists and researchers are now linking to disorders of the brain, respiratory system, digestive system and other major functional systems of the human body.

Memory loss and brain damage, skin rashes, pleurisy, asthma, cancer, birth defects, etc., to name a few.

Who knew your new office could be so scary?

The Sources Of Risk

There are three sources of the health, safety and environmental risks we face from our new carpeting and furniture: Ingestion, inhalation and absorption.

  • Ingestion – Children are perhaps the largest at-risk population for the accidental ingestion of cleaning chemicals. This can occur in a commercial environment where child daycare is available.

  • Inhalation – Toxic indoor air quality is the primary inhalation risk. This is a gradual contamination, which occurs as people breathe in the residual vapors from toxic carpet and furniture off-gassing and cleaning chemicals. When toxic fumes are inhaled, they can enter the human bloodstream and quickly travel to organs such as the heart, brain, kidneys and liver. Theimmediate results may be headaches, drowsiness, sinus infections and muscle aches.

  • Absorption – This is created by the chemical residual left on floor and furniture surfaces and after the cleaning is done. Absorbing a chemical substance through your skin is often unsuspected. Many of the toxic chemicals used in carpet and furniture materials and cleaning fluids can penetrate through our skin when we touch a treated surface days or even weeks later.

Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Elliott Affiliates Ltd. of Hunt Valley, Maryland. For more information, visit He is widely recognized as the leading authority in the design and utilization of best practice, performance-driven techniques for janitorial outsourcing and ongoing management.