From the moment you install your brand new carpet, it begins transforming from a soft surface to lounge upon with your family to a haven for dander, dust, bacteria, mold, mildew, dust mites, fecal matter and other allergens. According to the research of Dr. Philip Tierno, a microbiologist and immunologist at NYU’s Langone Medical Center and author of The Secret Life of Germs, your carpet “probably contains about 200,000 bacteria per square inch, making it 4,000 times dirtier than your toilet seat.” This is the same carpet young children love playing and napping on, that you walk across barefoot dozens of times a day.
“Rugs are botanical and zoological parks,” Tierno told Men’s Health Magazine. He went on to say that hundreds of thousands of different types of species live there, and that these invasions occur because the average person sheds about 1.5 million skin cells every hour. These skin cells then embed themselves in the rug, serving as food for dust mites and germs.
“Add in food particles, pollen, and pet dander, and you have a gratis buffet,” Tierno says. “And since a vacuum cleaner’s suction and rotating beater brush don’t usually reach the bottom of the carpet, you’re bound to have communities of E. coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, and other bacteria down there.”
Dr. Charles Gerba – affectionately known as Dr. Germ – is internationally renown and a professor of Environmental Microbiology at the University of Arizona. “Every time you walk on the carpet or roll around on it with your kids, you disrupt the bacteria, bringing some closer to the surface,” Gerba says. A lot of this can be chalked up to the debris we track in with our shoes.
Gerba is also surprised at how many germs are brought into the home on the bottoms of shoes. “I’m starting to make myself paranoid,” he said. “It seems like we step in a lot more poop than I thought.” In particular, wet or damp shoes can bring in moisture and dirt; this moisture can lead to mold and mildew, and the general spread of all sorts of things you’d rather not be in your home.
Famous shoemaker Rockport, in a bid to see if washable shoes made a discernible difference, commissioned Gerba to see what all is being tracked into our homes. The Baltimore Sun reports that in his initial test, Gerba swabbed for bacteria on 26 shoes worn by test subjects for three months or more. He cultured the samples and identified nine microbial species that can cause intestinal, urinary, eye, lung, blood and wound infections. All of that, waiting for you on your carpet…waiting to make you potentially sick. Gerba found that the bacteria on our shoes “are surviving for long periods of time. We’re tracking them around for quite some distance.”
And it’s possible, since many of us have been guilty of invoking the “five-second rule”; that is, if said object – usually food – is dropped on the floor but remains there for less than five seconds, it’s perfectly safe to consume. Dr. Roy M. Gulick, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Weill Cornell Medical College, told the New York Times, “The five-second rule probably should become the zero-second rule.” A study published by Clemson University researchers in The Journal of Applied Microbiology, 99 percent of bacteria is transferred immediately when food hits the floor.
As Gerba told the Baltimore Sun, “Kids are pretty intimate with the floor,” citing studies that found children younger than 2 bring hands, toys or something else to their mouths 80 times an hour as they play; kids ages 2 to 5 do it 50 times an hour. “They’re shoving a lot in their face, right where the germs want to be.”
Although hardwood floors are not immune to being a breeding ground for germs, they are easier to clean and harbor fewer germs than carpeted areas. Extra vigilance should be used to keep these areas as sanitary as possible. Regularly vacuuming with a high-quality HEPA-sealed vacuum can help remove irritants and debris. Steam cleaning hard floors can also provide a level of cleanliness and sanitation for those uncarpeted areas of your home.
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