Itchy couch, chair, carpet, fabric diagnosis & cure: here we explain how to diagnose and cure the causes of itchy furniture or itchy fabrics in buildings. Is the itchy couch caused by mold, dust mites, insects, fiberglass dust, or other contaminants? How should we clean an itchy or allergenic couch or chair? Do we need to test itchy furniture or fabrics? Is steam cleaning effective in fixing an itchy couch? Is ozone treatment safe and effective for furniture?
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Twenty Questions & Sampling Techniques to Diagnose Itchy Furniture Fabrics
There are lots of reasons why a particular fabric or piece of furniture may be itchy or cause allergic, skin, or
respiratory or even asthmatic reactions in people. Some people find particular fibers, such as wool, irritating. But
here we are considering the possibility that a fabric or piece of furniture may be contaminated with something
that is bothersome or even harmful.
We wrote this material in reply to a reader who asked us to assist in diagnosing an itchy couch covered
with a Microfiber™ fabrics. Microfiber fabrics have not been reported to me as a particular source of skin or
An itchy fabric on a couch is a bit more than I can diagnose accurately just by email but
you might have a reaction to the fiber of the fabric itself, or to a chemical coating that could have been sprayed on it (a fabric guard or some such) or if it's old or has been wet or dirty, maybe to dust mite fecals or insect fragments or some other contaminant.
Note: the particle collection methods used to test indoor carpeting for allergerns & irritants may be helpful for testing upholstered furniture. See CARPET TEST PROCEDURE for details.
A List of Questions to Help Diagnose the Cause of Itchy Furniture or Fabrics
- Are you sure that the itch complaint can be traced to specific items of furniture? For skin-related itch and fiber complaints see your doctor. In addition to consulting your doctor who may in turn decide to refer you to a dermatologist, you might also benefit from reviewing the ITCHING & SCRATCHING RESEARCH found in our article concerning MORGELLONS SYNDROME.
- Does the couch have removable cushions that you can test (by skin contact or shaking dust loose) for irritability separate from the couch itself, or more generally, is there more than one fabric type on the couch?
- If there is more than one fabric (say different-fabric cushions) are you equally irritated by all of them?
- Has the couch ever been wet or in a room that was flooded?
- Has the couch been exposed to high humidity?
- Have there been pets on or around the couch? Has the couch been exposed to fiberglass insulation dust and debris? (FIBERGLASS HAZARDS)
- Has there been a rodent problem including maybe inside the couch?
- How old is the couch?
- Did you buy the couch new?
- Has the couch been sprayed or treated with any chemicals? (Stain preventers, water repellents, insecticide, pesticide)
- If the couch is not new, has it been in other buildings besides its present location, if so what's its history?
- Have you lifted or flipped back the couch to inspect the condition of its underside for evidence of rodent damage, water damage, or mold?
- Do your complaints change when you vacuum the couch? That is if your vacuum is aerating problem particles you might notice it when vacuuming?
- Can you get a sample of new fabric from the couch manufacturer or supplier (often a furniture store has fabric samples) and can you see if that fabric is equally irritating.
- Can you go to a furniture store where you can sit or lie on a couch covered with this same fabric to see if you get the same reaction? (Keep in mind that a couch at another location could also be contaminated - we don't yet know if it's the fabric itself or a contaminant).
- Do you have a history of allergies, skin conditions, stress, or illness that might be factors in sensitivity to this item?
- Do other people also get any reaction when sitting on this piece of furniture or on others just like it but in other buildings?
- Do any other furnishings in the home cause similar problems as those associated with this particular item?
- Can you suggest other questions to add to this list?
- Can you send me a photo of the couch including close-up of the fabric?
- Do you have any literature describing the fabric used to manufacture the couch and its fabricator? What about the material used to stuff the couch and its cushions?
Itchy Couch Sample Analysis Options
We would not spend much on fabric or fabric-contaminant samples and testing unless you're hoping to salvage expensive furniture, suspicious that the furniture complaint might be indicative of a larger problem in the building, or you're dealing with a serious medical risk or allergy. But if those conditions apply or if your curiosity justifies it here are two test options we could pursue:
- Can you send us a fabric sample? Even a few threads might be sufficient for a diagnostic examination in the microscope; in particular if taken from a soiled or stained area. (The fee for that type of sample analysis is $100. so let's not do this unless you have good reason to believe your sample is representative of some soiling or irritating material.)
Do you want to try to send a particle sample for us to examine in the lab? ($50. /lab fee per sample) If so use the tape procedure and sample mailing instructions are at Six Easy Steps to Get and Mail a Mold Test Kit to our Lab for 24-Hour Analysis and Report
- OR you can try creating a vacuum sample of the couch by holding a new, clean paper towel over the end of a vacuum cleaner nozzle, mark in pen or pencil the area which will be receiving particles, then turn on the vacuum cleaner and vacuum 4 sq.in. of suspect surface. Fold the paper towel in over the vacuum-area, place that into a plastic bag and mail it to me. (The fee for that type of sample analysis is $100.)
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Technical Reviewers & References
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Click to Show or Hide Citations & References
- Fiberglass building insulation and HVAC duct work insulation hazards
- "IgG Food Allergy Testing by ELISA/EIA, What do they really tell us?" Sheryl B. Miller, MT (ASCP), PhD, Clinical Laboratory Director, Bastyr University Natural Health Clinic - ELISA testing accuracy: Here is an example of Miller's critique of ELISA
http://www.betterhealthusa.com/public/282.cfm - Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients
The critique included in that article raises compelling questions about IgG testing assays, which prompts our interest in actually screening for the presence of high levels of particles that could carry allergens - dog dander or cat dander in the case at hand.
http://www.tldp.com/issue/174/IgG%20Food%20Allergy.html contains similar criticism in another venue but interestingly by the same author, Sheryl Miller. Sheryl Miller, MT (ASCP), PhD, is an Immunologist and Associate Professor of Basic and Medical Sciences at Bastyr University in Bothell, Washington. She is also the Laboratory Director of the Bastyr Natural Health Clinic Laboratory.
- Allergens: Testing for the level of exposure to animal allergens is discussed at http://www.animalhealthchannel.com/animalallergy/diagnosis.shtml (lab animal exposure study is interesting because it involves a higher exposure level in some cases
- Allergens: WebMD discusses allergy tests for humans at webmd.com/allergies/allergy-tests
- Animal Allergens: Dog, Cat, and Other Animal Dander - Cleanup & Prevention Information for Asthmatics and regarding Indoor Air Quality.
- Atlas of Mold Related Illness Symptoms & Complaints - long list of both documented, studied mold related illness, and complaints ascribed to mold contamination or allergens in buildings
- Cat Dander: how to inspect and test a building for past or current presence of cats, cat hair, cat dander, and cat allergens
- Fiberglass Insulation Contains Mold© 2005 comments about a field study in process, & more about health hazards from fiberglass insulation
- Humidity: What indoor humidity should we maintain in order to avoid a mold problem?
- Mold Action Guide detailed guide on finding, removing, and preventing indoor mold contamination
- Ozone: The Use of Ozone Indoors for Control of Odors and Mold
Removal in Buildings: A Summary of Hazards and False Claims.
- Pollen Allergens: identification, plant pollen and indoor air quality
- Products to Reduce Mold & Allergy Problems to reduce indoor mold or allergen levels: air cleaners, air purifiers, dust mite covers, vacuum cleaners, crawl space vents
- Recognizing Allergens: What various indoor allergens look like - identification photos to help identify pollen, dust mites, animal dander, toxic or allergenic mold - Common Mold and other Allergens, Irritants, Remedies & Advice
- Rodent control issues, including dander, fecal, and urine contamination of Buildings and Building insulation are discussed at our
- Ozone Warnings - Use of Ozone as a "mold"
remedy is ineffective and may be dangerous.
- Pet control - if you can't say goodbye to your bird, cat, dog, guinea pig, hamster, tropical fish, then limit the
areas they occupy and limit the airflow from that area to sleeping or other areas of the building, use allergenic
bedding, eliminate wall-to-wall carpeting, improve housecleaning including use of a HEPA-rated vacuum cleaner. For more details
see our article Dog, Cat, and Other Animal Dander - Information for Asthmatics and Indoor Air Quality
- Rodents, Mice, Squirrel Control - I find high levels of mouse and rodent dander, fecal dust, and urine-contaminated dust in some buildings,
and high levels of these materials in building insulation in those locations. If you have a mouse problem, particularly if mice and their waste (fecals or urine) are contaminating
the building HVAC or building insulation, may need both steps to clean up or remove infected materials and steps to stop an ongoing
rodent problem. If squirrels are a problem, the cleanup needs to include closing off entry openings into the building. Get some
help from a licensed pest control expert.
- Kansas State University, department of plant pathology, extension plant pathology web page on wheat rust fungus: see http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/path-ext/factSheets/Wheat/Wheat%20Leaf%20Rust.asp
- "A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home",
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency US EPA - includes basic advice for building owners, occupants, and mold cleanup operations. See http://www.epa.gov/mold/moldguide.htm
- US EPA - Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Building [Copy on file at /sickhouse/EPA_Mold_Remediation_in_Schools.pdf ] - US EPA
- US EPA - Una Breva Guia a Moho - Hongo [Copy on file as /sickhouse/EPA_Moho_Guia_sp.pdf - en Espanol
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
- Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto, have provided us with (and we recommend) Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates' Technical Reference Guide to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment
Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.