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Written by Maia James
You may already know that rugs can bring a lot of unwanted toxins into your home. These toxins are of special concern if you have babies and young children who spend a lot of time rolling, crawling, and playing on the floor. Even if you don’t have pets or little kids who are face-down in your rugs regularly, the toxins in rugs can migrate into household dust and be inhaled everyone who lives there. Worse, the international rug industry is notorious for its use of child labor.
Don’t despair (and/or hate me for being the messenger of bad news!). There are some safe and beautiful non-toxic rugs out there. We’ve done the research to help you find safe area rugs. (If you’re looking for non-toxic wall-to-wall carpeting, we wrote about that here, and you can shop our top pick here).
1. Lorena Canals / 2. Hook & Loom / 3. Earth Weave / 4. Peace Industry / 5. Rawganique
What’s Toxic About Most Rugs?
The variety of sketchy materials and chemicals that go into most rugs and related products is actually kind of crazy, and includes:
- Synthetic primary materials, including plastics like polypropylene and nylon. And “natural” materials — like cotton and wool — that are not carefully sourced can be laden with pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. What can be confusing is that not all synthetic materials are toxic (even if they tend to be less Earth friendly). For instance, Ruggable rugs are untreated and should not off-gas in your home, despite being synthetic. When you have the option, choose natural fibers (silk, wool, jute, hemp, cotton) as in most cases this is going to be a rug that’s both safer for you and less harmful to the planet.
- In addition to the primary materials, rugs usually also include materials that are hidden from the eye but integral to the product. This can include synthetic latex that contains endocrine-disrupting phthalates. Some rugs from West Elm (like this one) are made of 100% wool, which is great, but then the backing contains synthetic latex.
- Toxic dyes and other chemicals used in the dying process give area rugs their good looks. This is particularly true for conventional wool products; wool naturally resists color and has to be treated to extra-harsh chemicals to achieve different colors. (Note: Companies like Earth Weave have created innovative ways of coloring wool without the worrisome chemicals.)
- Glues and adhesives often can contain formaldehyde and other chemicals that off-gas into the home environment.
- Toxic pesticides and fungicides are commonly used to keep rugs free of bugs and mold.
- Flame-retardant chemicals are also typical in synthetic rugs. For instance, nylon, polypropylene and viscose aren’t toxic in and of themselves, but they are almost always treated with fire retardants that ARE toxic. (You can read lots more about flame retardants in our Mattress Guide.)
- Rugs that boast about being stain-resistant and water-repellent often get those properties from yet another class of worrisome chemical known as PAFS.
In Praise of Wool
As you consider what type of rug to buy, I want to give a special shout-out to wool rugs. Here are a few reasons:
1) Wool holds heat while also being breathable. Wool floor covering can reduce the heat transfer between floor and air space by a factor of 50% compared to other floor coverings. This can result in energy savings.
2) Wool can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in moisture from the air without feeling damp. A wool rugs functions as a natural air conditioner that absorbs moisture in periods of high humidity and releases it when conditions are dry.
3) Wool is the most fire-safe textile material used in interior refinishing. Wool is difficult to ignite and forms an insulating char when it burns. Wool also emits far less smoke and toxic gasses than those formed during the combustion of synthetic fibers.
4) Wool is a great acoustic insulator. Sound waves penetrate deep into the pile, rather than being reflected back in the room multiple times as they would from a smooth hard surface.
Our favorite wool rugs are these.
8 Companies That Make Non-Toxic Rugs
Fortunately, there are a handful of truly non-toxic rug options out there. Rugs and carpets can be made exclusively or primarily from natural and safe materials, while still being gorgeous and durable. Also, thanks to greater awareness about child labor, you can buy from several brands that don’t support bad practices. What follows are the best of the best for ethically made and non-toxic rugs.
Earth Weave makes area rugs out of their ultra-natural wool carpet material, bound in a variety of sizes.
We sell these in our online store, and have them in our own homes, too.
(We also cover shipping for these rugs, making them more affordable than anywhere else online that we’ve found.)
ecoFiber Custom Rugs is based in Colorado and sources its rugs from Nepal. The company emphasizes natural, safe materials, sustainable practices, and no child labor. To purchase from ecoFiber, you must go through a design professional.
Hook & Loom
Hook & Loom rugs are both safe and affordable. Rugs are made from undyed natural wool or from recycled cotton fabric. You can choose from a variety of colors, patterns, sizes, and thicknesses.
Last year, Hook & Loom launched an organic line for an even safer, more eco-friendly option.
None of Hook & Loom’s rugs are made with toxins, dyes, or latex. Rugs ship for free in minimal packaging.
Hook & Loom is based in Massachusetts, and the rugs are made in carefully selected workshops in India that do not employ child labor.
These rugs are made entirely from naturally-dyed cotton or wool. They’re machine washable (score for parents!), and are hand-sewn in India in facilities that do not employ child labor.
The variety of colors, shapes, and designs is really fun. It seems like the company is always debuting new styles, which you can now find in our online store.
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Merida has revived a corner of the American textile industry by producing its made-to- order rugs in a traditional mill town in Massachusetts. They make very high-quality, customizable rugs using a variety of natural materials (like wool, mohair, jute, and sisal). To purchase from Merida, you must go through a design professional.
Organic Weave rugs are the only area rugs on the market to earn GOTs certification. All rugs are handmade in India by skilled women artisans. Organic Weave sells everything from shag rugs to rugs for kids to yoga mats to organic wall-to-wall carpets. Use code GIMMEGOOD at checkout for 5% off your order.
Peace Industry rugs are made of 100% wool with toxin-free dyes and have no backing at all. Instead, they are double-sided, which means they are basically reversible and extend the life of the rug. The bad news is that these shipped from Sweden, and the costs reflect that reality!
Rawganique makes 100% organic wool and hemp mix rugs. These non-toxic rugs contain no rubber and are completely untreated with pesticides. The hemp is not dyed and the wool is dyed with eco-friendly pigments.
Non-Toxic Rug Pads & Grippers
Rug and carpet people recommend that you use rug pads and/or grippers to prevent slipping, increase cushioning, prolong the life of the floor covering, and protect the floor underneath. Most of these products are at least as toxic as conventional rugs and carpets themselves.
Thankfully, Earth Weave sells natural rug grippers made from 100% natural latex. They also offer natural rug pads made from a combination of wool and plant fiber (and no glues, dyes, flame retardant chemicals, or moth-proofing chemicals).
Please comment below with brands you’ve found that make natural, non-toxic rugs!
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