Natural Carpet: Eco-Friendly Flooring

Natural carpet choices for an eco-friendly house.

| January/February 2005

  • InterfaceFlor’s Spring Planting carpet, made from corn leaves and stalks, is compostable.
  • Made from woody bark, jute carpet has an appealing texture.
  • Seagrass—grown near the sea in China—makes sturdy carpet.
  • Earth Weave Carpet Mills’ 100 percent natural wool is completely biodegradable.
  • InterfaceFlor’s Spring Planting carpet, made from corn leaves and stalks, is compostable.
  • InterfaceFlor’s Spring Planting carpet, made from corn leaves and stalks, is compostable.

Here are solutions to conventional toxic carpeting that won’t trip you up.

Americans love wall-to-wall carpet. More than two-thirds of all floors have it, according to the Carpet and Rug Institute. And why not? Carpet comes in every color, texture, and design imaginable, with prices to fit most any budget. It takes the chill out of cold floors, softens hard surfaces, and quiets the home environment. For the elderly, it provides a safe, nonslip surface.

However, underneath carpet’s warm, fuzzy surface lie a few prickly issues. Almost all is made from petroleum byproducts and synthetics such as polypropylene (olefin), nylon, and acrylic. Most are treated with stain or soil repellents. The backing might be vinyl or synthetic latex, and the padding may also contain PVC, urethane, and other suspect materials. Then there are antistatic sprays, artificial dyes, antimicrobial treatments, and finishes. Carpet—both new installations and old—has been suspect for years as a cause of sick building syndrome (SBS) and multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). Some of the substances formerly common in carpet are known neurotoxins. It’s enough to pull the rug out from under you. Does this mean you have to bag carpet? Not if you choose a less chemically laden path.

Strides have been made to eliminate problematic compounds underfoot and to improve indoor air quality polluted by outgasing from traditional carpet. In 2004, the Carpet and Rug Institute unveiled its Green Label Plus program, an improvement upon the 1992 Green Label initiative, which tags carpet products that adhere to rigid requirements for low-VOC outgasing. All carpets with Green Label Plus certification have passed independent laboratory tests for emissions from thirteen notorious chemicals: acetaldehyde, benzene, caprolactam, 2-ethylhexanoic acid, formaldehyde, 1-methyl-2-pyrrolidinone, naphthalene, nonanal, octanal, 4-phenylcyclohexene, styrene, toluene, and vinyl acetate. The initiative is voluntary, although some states, including California, require that new carpet in public places such as schools meet the standards.

Wall-to-wall wool

Natural options in conventional carpeting exist. Wool is by far the most popular option, but buyer beware: A product labeled “100 percent wool” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s 100 percent free of the toxins above. Most carpet manufacturers chemically treat the wool fibers, use dyes, or rely on synthetic backing, so you should inquire about the content and demand specific answers. If the seller doesn’t know whether it’s all natural, it isn’t. Earth Weave’s Bio-Floor line is 100 percent natural and free of harmful chemicals.

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