Whether it’s decorating the nursery or play area, you may be looking to replace carpeting or purchase a new area rug and coming up short when looking for non-toxic options. Although more difficult to find, there are safer products on the market – you just need to be able to deal with the lack of showrooms, coordinating purchase and installation through a local flooring store (for carpets) and yes, a higher price tag.
So why are the majority of carpets available on the market unhealthy options? Synthetic carpets are made of nylon, PET or polypropylene. These synthetic carpets often emit toxic off-gassing and almost all are backed with chemicals such as PVC, Styrene and 4-phenylcyclohexane (or “4-PCH” which is responsible for the new carpet smell). Carpet adhesives may also contain Benzene among other chemicals of concern. Styrene is listed as a probable human carcinogen and null is listed as a known human carcinogen – chemicals you definitely want to avoid. Carpets are often treated with additional chemicals such as flame retardants, mothproofing (by using null), stain repellents, and dyes.
There are healthier options! The list below outlines natural alternatives to synthetic carpets and rugs. Due to the fact that these products are not using the toxic chemicals outlined above, there is very little off-gassing that occurs. Regardless of synthetic or all natural options, look for products which have met the Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI) Green Label Plus requirements which specifies emission limits for a number of chemicals from carpets, cushions and adhesives. Per the Carpet and Rug Institute, 13 chemicals from carpet products are independently measured for emissions and 15 chemicals from adhesives (including Benzene, 4-PCH, Styrene and Formaldehyde) are measured to ensure compliance for Green Label Plus approval.
Note that CRI is a trade association that represents most manufacturers in the carpet industry so the Green Label Plus approval should be a minimum requirement. As stated in the article The Green Jungle by The International Interior Design Company, “The Green Label rating system of CRI, a trade association representing about 95 percent of all U.S. carpet manufacturers, is second-party certified, Bonda says. “They’re doing good work, but it’s still self-certifying, not third-party,” she says.”
The following manufacturers offer 100% wool carpeting which is definitely a healthier option than synthetics, however, you need to be aware of the disadvantages to having wool carpeting before you invest in order to make an informed decision! The following are important considerations:
- Cost – wool carpeting is much more expensive than synthetic options. It can cost 4 to 10 times more
- Fading – wool carpeting is more prone to fading in the sun so constant direct sunlight may be an issue in some areas of the home
- Shedding – just like a woolen sweater, wool carpets also shed – the wool can get on your clothes when you lie or sit on the carpet
- Insects – wool attracts moth and carpet beetles (their larvae feed on wool). Some carpeting has mothproofing chemicals applied but the options listed in this posting do not. Regular vacuuming, cleaning of spills and foot traffic will help prevent issues. For areas which are in dark, hard to reach spots (i.e. under furniture), natural repellents can be used. Natural repellents for moths and carpet beetles are cedar and lavender and great repellent tips can be found in this article.
- Staining – wool can stain more easily with alkaline substances such as wine and harsh cleaners
Nature’s Carpet is a manufacturer (and distributor) of 100% New Zealand wool carpets and is CRI Green Label Plus Approved. They have a “green spectrum” of products ranging from what they call “light green” (containing 100% wool with a backing of premium synthetics considered to be low toxicity) to “dark green” (containing 100% undyed wool with no chemicals added and an all natural rubber and jute backing considered to be ultra low toxicity). Their products are biodegradable and are primarily manufactured in Australia. The Dark Green option is their best in terms of limiting chemical exposures as it does not contain synthetics (even the adhesive is made of a natural rubber bonding agent) and is free of water or stain resistant finishes and mothproofing. Per their website:
- The spinning of the wool takes place in a dedicated plant, so it does not mix with materials which are not 100% natural.
- The attractive range of colors in the Nature’s Carpet collection is achieved by employing non-metallic dyes or naturally occurring colors in the wool. No chemical dyes are used. Just like the wool that lies on the sheep’s back through intense sunlight, rain, sleet and snow, our carpets have a natural colorfastness to protect against fading.
- The dual backing of the carpet is manufactured from natural jute, a vegetable fiber grown in Bangladesh and other developing countries without using any pesticide or chemical fertilizers.
When I contacted them for further clarification on the “ultra low toxicity” statement on their green product spectrum, they responded with the following – We are not suggesting that the finished product is odorless. What we are saying is the product offers the end user a product with next to zero off gassing of volatile organic compounds. They have a limited number of retailers who carry their products but you can order samples to be shipped free to you. You will need to work with a local flooring store to then get quotes and delivery timelines.
Earth Weave Carpet Mills
Earth Weave Carpet Mills is a manufacturer of 100% pure British wool that is biodegradable and CRI Green Label Plus approved. The carpets are made in the USA and do not contain dyes, mothproofing or stain protection. They use a natural rubber adhesive free of VOC’s and a hemp/cotton primary backing. Jute is used as a secondary backing. Per their website, the sheep are raised in a free range environment. Earth Weave Carpet Mills also manufactures area rugs using the same wool used on the face of the carpet. They then serge the edges to give the rug a finished edge.
Earth Weave manufactures their carpets and rugs in the USA and have been in business for over 15 years. They also offer a great, non-toxic carpeting option! You will need to contact Earth Weave Carpet Mills to find retailers who carry their products.
Green Depot carpets are handmade in India from 100% New Zealand wool, a natural latex backing and a natural latex sealer . They are CRI Green Label Plus approved and are free of mothproofing and stain resistant finishes. Green Depot also offer really cute kids rugs (check out the “Smart Car” rug) handmade in India using natural materials that have not been chemically treated. The Smart Car rug in particular is made of wool fiber woven with cotton but the composition of their rugs vary from wool, hemp, cotton, seagrass and/or a combination of these fibers.
The rugs are also CRI Green Label Plus approved and are free of flame retardant chemicals, mothproofing and stain resistant finishes like the carpets. Per their response on my inquiry, they have stated that their rugs are VOC-free though natural fibers sometimes will have a naturally occurring scent associated with the fiber.
Green Depot offers another great option with super cute kids rugs in their range of products! They have a number of stores listed on their website and if you are not near one of their locations, you can call to speak to one of the representatives about obtaining carpet samples.
What if you can’t avoid synthetic carpeting? For cost or other reasons, if you can’t replace existing synthetic carpets or if you need to install new synthetic carpeting, there are ways that you can reduce your exposure to the chemical off-gassing: If you can’t replace existing synthetic carpeting, use the suggestions outlined by Healthy Child Healthy World. If you can’t avoid the installation of new synthetic carpeting, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission advises the following:
- Ask the retailer to unroll and air out the carpet in a well-ventilated area before installation.
- Ask for low-emitting adhesives if adhesives are needed.
- Consider leaving the premises during and immediately after carpet installation.
- Be sure the retailer requires the installer to follow the Carpet and Rug Institute’s installation guidelines.
- Open doors and windows. Increasing the amount of fresh air in the home will reduce exposure to most chemicals released from carpet. During and after installation, use window fans, room air conditioners, or other mechanical ventilation equipment you may have installed in your house, to exhaust fumes to the outdoors. Keep them running for 48 to 72 hours after the new carpet is installed.
- Contact your carpet retailer if objectionable odors persist.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper carpet maintenance.