Modern carpets are wonders of technology, making our homes and workplaces softer and quieter in plush, stain-resistant glory.
But plenty of carpets are still made from petroleum-based synthetic fibers. That means the cushy surface underfoot can contain dozens of chemicals and gases, including volatile organic compounds, called VOCs.
These and other potential toxins in carpets can compromise indoor air quality for years and cause dangerous reactions in the sensitive among us, including little ones and the elderly.
Fortunately, there are cleaner carpets available, with a familiar material among the top contenders: wool.
Wool carpeting is typically all-natural and made from a renewable resource. It is becoming a popular option because it can also offer lush comfort in fashionable styles, but without the chemical impact.
“Synthetic carpets do their darnedest to mimic the look and feel of wool,” said Susanna Schultz, Marketing Manager for Green Depot, a 13-store retail chain that offers building products and services that are eco-friendly in part or full.
Prices for wool carpet are in line with synthetic brands. Nature’s Carpet, for example, starts at $6.47 per square foot at Green Depot. Prices for synthetic indoor carpets can range from less than $1 a square foot to $11 or more per square foot at Lowe’s.
Nature’s Carpet is made from New Zealand wool with natural jute as backing. The carpet is made without chemicals and is colored with vegetable dyes.
Other makers of all-natural wool carpet include Bloomsburg, Earth Weave, Helios, Natural Home and Woolshire. Wool also is being used to make rug pads, as it dampens sound, inhibits mold and provides insulation.
Other choices in all-natural carpet include sisal, coir and seagrass, but these materials aren’t as soft as traditional carpeting and might take some getting used to. Contempo Floor Coverings is one of the leaders in this segment of the flooring industry.
Carpet tile can also be a green option, because small sections rather than entire carpets can be replaced when stains or other problems occur. FLOR makes carpet tiles from synthetic materials along with renewable, recycled and recyclable content.
FLOR’s products meet or exceed the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label Plus standards for low VOCs. The company also takes back its old carpet tiles for recycling and reuse in new recycled fibers and backing materials.
Greenfloors.com also offers options for synthetic carpeting made from recycled and recyclable materials.
Mohawk is one more company working hard to score points with ecology-minded consumers by using recycled materials to make carpets. The company recycles more than 3 billion discarded plastic beverage bottles a year and uses them to make its EverStrand carpet. Its Aladdin carpet is made from recycled PET soda bottles.
Mohawk’s stain-resistant SmartStrand synthetic carpet, available at Lowe’s, is made in part using corn. The production process releases 63 percent less greenhouse gas, according to Mohawk Industries.
While carpeting in one form or another is perhaps the softest natural option, cork flooring is also warm and somewhat cushy.
Cork is inherently green because it’s made from the bark of the cork oak tree, which grows back every three years with little to no use of fertilizer or pesticide.
Cork is also resistant to mildews, molds and other unwelcome microbes, making it a good choice for “warming up,” kitchen and bathroom floors. U.S. Floors offers a wide variety of cork and other sustainable flooring options.
Of course, keeping tidy is also essential for a healthy indoor environment. Frequent vacuuming of rugs and cleaning of flooring can help reduce exposure to toxins such as lead and pesticides that can be tracked in from outside. Using doormats and removing shoes when coming inside can also help mitigate such risks.
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