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Carpets have been around for thousands of years. The oldest known carpet, believed to be over 2000 years old, was found in the 1940s in a Scythian tomb in southern Siberia.

While the carpet in most of our homes is not quite that old, it sometimes looks that way. More importantly, it can be dangerous to your health.

Here’s the dirt

For most adults living in their homes, carpet poses a significant health risk.

On average, most carpets can accumulate up to 40 pounds of dirt in a year. Depending on where you live, most homes contain about twice the amount of dust in the air compared to the air outside. Scientists believe thousands of dust mites can survive on one ounce of carpet dust.

Dangerous germs found in carpets can make you ill. The Norovirus, linked to causing stomach flu, can survive on an uncleaned carpet for more than one month. But using an older vacuum can cause more harm than good. Microbiologists have identified air blown from a running vacuum cleaner as one of the five places in the home with the highest number of germs.

Carpet is dangerous in other ways too. According to the Center for Disease Control, falls are the number one cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in older adults. Often those falls are due to worn carpet on stairs or carpet in poor condition throughout the house.

Clean up your act

Carpet isn’t a bad thing, but it does require extra care and maintenance, both to prolong the life of your carpet and prevent health risks for your friends and family.

Most carpet cleaning experts agree the frequency of vacuuming depends on the amount of use your carpet gets. If you have pets, most suggest vacuuming daily. On average, carpet should be vacuumed at least twice per week. However, if you’re still using the vacuum you received as a wedding gift, your efforts aren’t amounting to much. The lack of suction in older vacuums isn’t enough to effectively remove the dirt and debris that accumulates in carpet. A new vacuum with a HEPA filter system would be a great purchase in the near future.

Along with regular maintenance, carpets should be professionally cleaned every 12 to 18 months, or depending on use. Some experts say every two years is adequate. While there are numerous health concerns about the chemicals often associated with professional cleaning, many cleaning companies offer steam cleaning or milder cleaners that do not pose a health risk.

Finally, hiring an expert to visit your home is a great way to identify the hidden hazards often lurking in the dark corners. An expert can repair buckled carpeting or secure loose-fitting pieces, both common hazards for tripping or falling. This expert can also evaluate the conditions of stairs or other carpets to determine if carpet needs to be replaced.

Carpets do have a lifespan, so sometimes simply replacing a poorly fitted or worn carpet with something can be easily cleaned and maintained is a wise investment in overall safety.

We love our homes. And we want to be sure that home provides the safety and comfort we rely on day to day. So, look down. The first place to start is literally where you are standing.

Amy Osmond Cook, Ph.D., in her bimonthly columns, uncovers the many factors that help a person stay healthy, live longer and have a better quality of life.