The Lowdown on Carpet Bacteria

Here's what you should know about carpet bacteria and how to get rid of it

Creepy crawlies in your carpet? Here's what to know about bacteria lurking underfoot.

A piece of candy slips from your fingers and lands on the carpet. Do you throw it out? Or do you tell yourself with an inward shrug, “oh well… five second rule,” and pop it into your mouth with barely a second thought. Most of us follow the “five second rule” as if it’s one of the golden rules, and accuse those who don’t of being germaphobes. But what actually gets transferred to your piece of candy after a few seconds on your carpet? Is there really anything lurking in our carpets that could make us sick?

According to an Aston University study, a survey of 500 people revealed that 87 percent of them eat dropped snacks.

A study from Rutger’s University, showed the transfer of bacteria can begin in less than one second, dependent partly upon the stickiness or surface moisture of the food. And what kind of harmful bacteria could we actually be transferring into our mouths when following this popular rule?

Common Carpet Critters

According to molecular biologists, eating food off the floor is a bit like playing Russian Roulette with your gut. Harmful agents like fecal bacteria often get tracked onto carpets from the bottom of our shoes and from the feet of our beloved pets, making no floor surface as safe bet when it comes to dropped snacks.

Eating dropped food is not the only risk posed by carpet bacteria. It can also be transferred to people who sit, play, or nap on carpets. According to New York University’s microbiology study, 28 percent of households were found to be heavily contaminated with bacteria which can live on dry surfaces, such as carpets and hard flooring, for days, or even months.

According to microbiologists, rugs are microbe and bacteria parks, with an average of 200, 000 bacteria found per every square inch, making it 4000 times dirtier than most toilet seats. If your vacuum’s suction and beater brush doesn’t reach to the bottom of your carpet, your home is likely to have communities of E. coli bacteria, salmonella, staphylococcus and other bacteria teaming in your carpets. This bacteria can be brought to the surface by you, your children, and pets rolling around and playing on the carpet.

What Illnesses Can be Caused by Common Carpet Bacteria?

Bacteria thrive in carpets due to the skin cells, pollen, and food particles that collect there, as well as what is tracked in on the bottom of shoes and bare feet. But can these bacteria really make us sick?

E.Coli comes in a variety of strands with differing effects. E.Coli can cause diarrhea, respiratory illness, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections. It’s generally tracked into carpets from outside.

Staphylococcus Aureus (Staph) is a common bacteria that lives in the nose and on the skin, even in healthy people. Staph invades the body through cuts or scratches in the skin and can cause anything from minor irritations to very serious infections, some of which are antibiotic resistant. Staph can be deposited into carpets from sneezing, and through hands, fingernails and blood.

Salmonellosis (Salmonella) can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Approximately 40, 000 cases are reported each year and it’s presumed that many milder cases go undiagnosed. Infants and young children are most susceptible. It’s spread to carpets from feces from animals, birds and reptiles.

A Simple Solutions

So should we throw out all of our carpets and live with bare floors? No. One simple solution that goes a long way, is to avoid wearing outdoor shoes indoors. Also helpful is to have a mat both inside and out, and to wipe feet thoroughly before entering. High powered vacuum cleaning at least once per week, and steam cleaning once a month, is also helpful in reducing common bacteria from carpeting. Another good tip is to use washable carpets to cover high traffic areas around entrances.

Some Good News!

The good news is that even though studies prove that carpets harbor harmful bacteria, A Rutgers research study recently revealed that carpet has a lower rate of transmission to dropped foods than either tile or hardwood floors. Transmission to dropped food occurs much faster from hard surfaces than from carpet.

Resources— Rutgers Today, New York Times, HuffPost, Men's Health, Green Carpet Cleaning