Floor coverings like rugs and carpets can totally make a space. They add softness and warmth to a room, and offer a lot of fun options for adding color and pattern to your décor.
But, surprise!—they can also bring a lot of unwanted toxins into your home. (The international rug industry is also famous for using child labor.) This is a bummer, especially if you have babies and young kids who spend a lot of time rolling, crawling and playing on the floor.
Don’t despair (and/or hate me for being the messenger of bad news, are usual!). There are some safe and beautiful rugs out there. We’ve done the research to help you find a safe area rugs (and if you’re looking for non-toxic wall-to- wall carpeting, we wrote about that here.)
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 include:
- 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, as well as chemicals used to process the fibers.
- In addition to the primary materials, rugs usually also include materials that are hidden from the eye but integral to the product, such as synthetic rubber that may contain endocrine-disrupting phthalates.
- 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 other adhesives often can contain formaldehyde and other chemicals that off-gas into the home environment.
- Toxic pesticides and fungicides are common.
- Flame retardant chemicals are also common (and toxic, and not particularly effective!). 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.
- Rugs that boast about being stain-resistant and water-repellent often get those properties from yet another class of worrisome chemical (PFCs).
Safe, Non-toxic Rug Brands
Like I said, there are a lot of good 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.
Here are my favorite brands for non-toxic area rugs:
- Earth Weave makes area rugs out of their ultra-natural wool carpet material, bound in a variety of sizes.
- 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 rugs are both safe and affordable. They have rugs made from un-dyed natural wool as well as rugs made from recycled cotton fabric, in a variety of colors, patterns, sizes and thicknesses, and they ship for free in minimal packaging, reducing waste. Hook & Loom does not use any chemicals, dyes or latex in the production of their rugs. The company is based in Massachusetts and the rugs are made in carefully selected workshops in India that do not employ child labor.
- Lorena Canals offers my favorite rugs for kids, though many of their designs are sophisticated enough to use elsewhere in your home. These rugs are made entirely from naturally dyed cotton. 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.
- 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.
- Under the Nile rugs are hand-loomed with leftover scraps from their clothing production. The durability and softness of these rugs is great for play or for decoration in baby’s room, bathrooms or any room in the house. Each rug is handmade and finished with decorative tassels on two ends.
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, but here are some great, safe alternatives:
- Earth Weave sells natural rug pads made from a combination of wool and plant fiber (and no glues, dyes, flame retardant chemicals, or mothproofing chemicals). They also sell natural rug grippers made from 100% natural latex.
- Hook & Loom offers an affordable rug gripper made from natural latex encasing a small amount of polyester mesh fabric. These grippers are available for purchase with Hook & Loom rugs.
Please comment below with brands you’ve found that make natural, non-toxic rugs!