If you are considering wall-to-wall carpet for your home or project—stop, look, and read on. Take a minute to think about the pros and cons of your carpet choices before you buy that next roomful.
Carpet is synonymous with comfort—it’s soft, absorbs sound, and makes a house warmer, literally and figuratively. Unfortunately, it also contributes to poor indoor air quality (IAQ)—off-gassing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), absorbing and retaining moisture that can lead to mold, and is a huge sinkhole for dirt and dust mites.
Our first home had a lovely salt-and-pepper shag carpet (came with the old farmhouse!) that I decided to rip out early one Saturday morning. I was stunned by the amount of detritus that had worked its way down through the carpet and pad to the old wood floor. We removed buckets of debris from that house and eventually refinished the beautiful old wood floors. That experience and visual is still with me 25 years later (thank you for indulging my digression!).
If your heart and feet are set on carpet, go with natural fibers, like wool, hemp, silk, linen, and sisal. My favorite is wool: The innate beauty and durability of pure wool provides a natural soil barrier, adds warmth and comfort, is inherently flame resistant—plus, it comes from a renewable resource. Look for natural fiber carpets free of toxic dyes, pesticides, herbicides, and flame retardants. Two of my favorites are Earth Weave and Nature’s Carpet, both 100% wool complemented by solid environmental practices.
Carpet is two-faced. Check the content literally from front to back, as the carpet backing is equally important as its face. Look for backing made from natural latex, rubber, hemp, cotton, and jute, all of which can come from nontoxic, renewable sources.
If the products are made from natural raw materials and contain no added toxins, they can biodegrade responsibly at the end of their life.
Ensure healthful carpet installation by using tack strips instead of adhesives, which can be loaded with VOCs and make the carpeting harder to remove/replace/reuse/recycle later on. Padding increases softness and the carpet’s life, so, again, look for natural wool and rubber; there are many made from recycled products.
Clean your carpeting using a HEPA vacuum, and vacuum often. Within the first few months of installing natural-fiber carpet, it will release a healthy amount of fiber filaments–this is normal and will subside after three to six months, depending on daily traffic and wear patterns. Natural wool carpet rarely needs shampooing; spot “dry” cleaning with a nontoxic product protects the life of the lanolin inherent in the fiber, which is the natural stain barrier. If you choose to shampoo your carpet, use nontoxic, natural cleaners from well-known resources like AFM Safecoat and Earth Friendly Products.
Insist that family and guests remove their shoes the moment they walk in the door—I’m still working with my husband on that house rule! Ann’s article, “Favorite Things: The Shoe Bench,” also mentions how shoes track in pesticides and other noxious and toxic chemicals, which stick to and build up on our floors, especially on carpet.
Last but not least, ask for sustainable carpet certifications and standards:
- Green Label and Green Label Plus are second-party certifications from the Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI) for addressing indoor air quality. Carpet, padding, and adhesives that carry these labels emit minimal VOCs and formaldehyde and are typically free of flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl, ether).
- Products that have undergone the NSF/ANSI 140-2007 Sustainable Carpet Assessment Standard were evaluated for their full life cycle—public health, energy efficiency, content, and manufacturing process— and meet recycling goals set forth by Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE).
The carpet industry is the first to produce an ANSI-approved, multiattribute certification for environmentally preferable products.
I prefer the flexibility, cleanability, durability, and long life of my Saltillo tile floor, which is accented with beautiful area rugs in my main living and working areas. But I have to admit that the 100%-natural wool carpet in the bedrooms is an ideal blend of both worlds.