How clean is your carpet, really? A Worcester carpet cleaner finds out!
A Worcester Carpet Cleaning agent examines two previous surveys on what lives in your carpets and what that could mean for human health.
I have been cleaning carpets in Malvern and Worcester for more than a decade now, and I have to confess that whenever I empty the water out of my hot water extraction machine I am always amazed at what debris is revealed in the carpet cleaning process. Amongst the black water (it is invariably black after I have gone over a carpet that hasn’t been cleaned for more than a period of twelve months), I often find flecks of paint, small splinters of wood, items of decomposing food, human and animal bits and pieces (I won’t describe those in more details!) and often small cosmetic and household items, such as a hairpin or a small screw.
Indeed, I did wonder if I could make a sculpture from all the items that I have sucked out of Worcester’s carpets over the years: perhaps I would call it ‘The World under our feet,’ or ‘Denizen of the rugs.’
But it got me thinking nonetheless about more worldly matters: the carpets I clean day in and day out are as much environments for fauna as any woodland or park. And so, I decided to launch my own ‘literature review’ of what creatures and microbes live in our carpets and share our homes with us.
The results were . . . unexpected (and quite alarming).
There were two studies that have received national press coverage in the last few years that really caught my attention. The first, commissioned by Rug Doctor (a carpet cleaning company nonetheless), was show cased in the Daily Mail in 2014 under the click-bait heading of: “The Killers in your carpet!”
Apparently, millions of us living in Briton could be at risk from life-threatening diseases from our ‘filthy carpets.’ The study, according to the Mail, claimed to find that the "Vast majority of carpets are embedded with horse and fox manure, urine, vomit, tar and human and pet hair, dust mites, pollen and traces of skin.” (If you fancy getting your carpet cleaned right now then I’m available!!)
But fox manure? Where’s that all come from? Is the country flooded with vulpine defecators who steal into houses in the middle of the night and do their business? I might be more inclined to believe that mouse droppings might get in there to an extent that could be described as ‘vast majority’ but foxes? They really must be quite Fantastic! (And as for horse manure - well, you’d think you’d notice!)
Jesting aside, the study on our unclean carpets then pointed out this was all made possible by the fact that at least 40% of us don’t take our shoes off in the home (I imagine this means keeping them on for at least an hour after entering the property, rather than kicking them off just a few minutes of carrying in the shopping before locking up the car again). This is the mechanism for spreading much of these life-threatening illnesses that the byline warned us of.
And these potential illnesses are not to be taken lightly: the swabs from the bottom of peoples’ shows showed that high levels of bacteria were present from E Coli and Pneumonia and Salmonella.
Now, I have cleaned many, many carpets in Worcester and Malvern over the last decade. I have seen children playing on them, and I am quite positive that, in some houses I have been as a guest or professional, I have seen some cherubs eat something that has been on the floor, perhaps a crisp that has fallen free from a plate. In fact, I have even done so myself at times (and the fox dropping flavour went thankfully unnoticed). Surely, if our carpets were so dangerously impregnated with these escapees of Porton Down’s biological weapons unit, wouldn’t we be suffering far more cases of E Coli and Salmonella poisoning nationwide?
I suspect the methodology can be looked at for this carpet cleaning study and might be found wanting: we are told that it was carried out by using swabs on the soles of peoples’ shoes of various ages (not the location, or the time year, or whether they were taken inside peoples’ houses or if they were just stopped outside a shopping mall and interviewed. It doesn’t say they didn’t examine the carpets themselves mind, but the Mail article implies that the study focused on the soles of peoples’ shoes - most probably outside on a busy thoroughfare where the market researchers hijacked their respondents, and these results were then extrapolated to what would be in our carpets as we walked inside in our contaminated shoes).
The study continued to worry us by explaining that of the people surveyed (the sample size wasn’t given), it said that 91% of us let children play on the carpets (where else are they supposed to?) . . .
. . . whilst 22% of people admitted to having sex on their potentially hazardous and unclean carpets!
(Now that crisp I ate that had fallen on the carpet is making me feel decidedly queasy! Not only that, but I’m feeling left out too! What’s so wrong with me, who once stood in at the last minute in a school play to act the role of Quasimodo - so talented I didn’t even need make-up - that I never get the invites to risk carpet burns on my knees and elbows too? Well really! Huff!)
Nonetheless, moving swiftly on, let’s have a look at the second carpet cleaning study carried out by Bissell, another carpet cleaning brand. This survey gave some hints to the methodology used: with 2000 people being surveyed about the state of their carpets and how often they were cleaned, as well as what they actually did on them.
This one was slightly more recent too, being published in the likes of the Mirror in 2016.
According to them: “At least 26 million adults in the UK never wash their carpets.”
By a quick ‘back-of-the-fag-packet’ calculation (hard for me as I don’t smoke!) we know that there are 64 million people in the UK, of which 76% are aged 19 and over - hence classed as adults. That roughly means that there should be 48 million adults in the UK, and some of these might be sharing homes by being married. (Marriage and co-habitation accounts for 52% of adults). Backed up by national statistics of there being 27 million homes in the UK, then we can very roughly assume that it’s 1.7 adult per household. So, if we have 26 million who never wash their carpets, then that’s just over 15 million properties, which is about 60% of all properties that never have their carpets cleaned.
Then this figure needs to be put into context: how many are rented properties? How many simply don’t have carpets?
Going by my gut feeling and experience, 60% isn’t a bad place to start - but I think I would put it higher in truth. Malvern and Worcester are rural areas, and that usually means mud and walkers and pets - and thus carpets that need cleaning. So in theory we should be in a relatively ‘high demand’ area for our service, yet I doubt that we appeal to more than 25% of the residents.
I could go back to my ‘customer/buyer personas’ for my Worcester carpet cleans, but this, alas, is highly sensitive information that I guard behind a triple-locked password on a server buried deep underground, but in reality I suspect that the 25% figure is closer to the truth. So there is potentially a lot more business out there, if I can convert these segments!
The research from this carpet cleaning company then goes on to mirror what was also discovered in the previous survey: again, E. Coli raises its head (though not sure if they have one of these?), along with Salmonella, asthma and eczema causing microbes and pollutants.
The study also highlighted the presence of the common dust mite! All houses, I think it is safe to safe, have these little critters, and they feed upon decomposing skin cells left by us humans as we go about our daily lives. And being living things, they also excrete as well - apparently up to 20 times a day! It is their droppings which are the main cause for concern: Even the New Scientist magazine reported (way back in 2006) that contact between human skin and dust mite droppings could make our epidermis more permeable to allergies and irritants.
So, would I, as a professional carpet cleaner in Worcester and Malvern, still abide by the five second rule?
We’ve probably all heard it: if you drop food on the floor or carpet then you have a safety window of five seconds to retrieve it and eat it before any microbes or dust mites can climb aboard. I have to confess I have done this during my lifetime, with no noticeably outward negative affects, but this research has made me wonder if it’s worth it. Perhaps if I had pets I wouldn’t do it, but we do have to consider that human beings are quite tough things too - we have evolved to live in environments with millions of bacteria and viruses and amongst microscopic ecologies, and the vast majority of them are totally harmless to us (such as the famed and sweetly named ‘water bear’ - microscopic animals that can survive even in space, surviving UV and solar radiation!).
So, whilst I would not recommend to anyone else to eat things off the floor, regardless of the seconds, I have to admit doing it myself - though I probably won’t so much after doing this research (and aren’t those dust mites just yummy!)