How To Shop for an Environmentally-Friendly Rug

updated Jul 16, 2020
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

You’ve probably heard that indoor air quality is more polluted than outdoor air thanks in no small part to off-gassing chemicals in our household furniture and accessories. So to help combat that, you’d like to get an “eco-friendly” rug. But you’re probably wondering: what does that even mean? Get informed and confident about your purchase with these 5 shopping tips:

1. Look for natural fibers. Over 90% of all the carpets and most machine-made rugs are made of petroleum-based synthetic fiber, which can off-gas a lot of VOCs. In contrast, natural fiber rugs are made from renewable resources, are biodegradable, many (like wool) have natural stain resistance, and they emit low amounts of VOCs. Try to choose from the following fibers: untreated or minimally-treated wool, organic cotton, jute, seagrass, sisal, and coir.

2. Look for non-toxic backing and underlay pads. It’s important that rug backings and underlay pads are also made of untreated natural materials to prevent off-gassing. Look for pads made from untreated wool or camel’s hair felt that are sewn, not glued, to a jute backing. Or, look for a natural latex backing, wwhich is preferable to foam rubber, synthetic latex, or plastic.

3. Ask about the chemical treatments. Even if the rug was made with a natural fiber, many times those fibers can still be treated with stain, insect, or flame repellents, all of which can emit VOCs. For example, sheep raised with conventional farming practices are often dipped in pesticide baths to control parasites such as lice, ticks, and mites, which creates a lot of health risks for the sheep and the workers. Wool fiber is also traditionally processed with solvents and detergents. Cotton farming consumes on average 25% percent of all chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and relies on large amounts of synthetic chemicals, including fixers and dyes. Organic cotton, on the other hand, is grown and processed without dioxin-producing bleach, defoliants, pesticides, or artificial fertilizers. So look for rugs that are labeled as organic, untreated, minimally-treated, or non-toxic.

4. Look at the certifications. Trying to find out all these details as an individual consumer can be difficult, if not impossible sometimes, so that’s when it’s good to buy a rug whose environmental and health claims have been verified by an independent organization. The best certifications guarantee that the rugs in question are made from renewable resources or recycled materials and that the company has taken steps to reduce pollutants and waste from the manufacturing process. A few certifications to keep your eye out for:

5. Check out Take Back programs for synthetic rugs. If you do purchase a synthetic rug, check if the manufacturer has a take-back program. When a rug or carpet is returned to the manufacturer, it’s either used to make a new carpet (closed loop recycling), cleaned, refurbished and given to a charity (repurpose), or stripped into its components and made into new, lesser products like auto parts, carpet pads, plastic lumber, sound barriers, landscape timbers, nylon pallets, and parking stops (downcycling). The Carpet America Recovery Program (CARE) is an independent organization designed to encourage manufacturers to assume responsibility for a carpet’s lifecycle, including its disposal. Check out their website for rug recycling locations.

Related Posts:
Shopping for Healthy and Eco-Friendly Area Rugs
• Where To Buy an Affordable, All-Natural Chemical-Free Rug?
• The GoodWeave Rug Sourcebook: Good Ethics, Good News
• EarthWeave Bio-Floor Area Rugs and Carpets

(Image: Angela Adams. Originally published 2010-09-16)