There are many industrial materials involved in production of carpets, which suggest variety of decisions for picking the right carpet or rug for your living spaces.
But… What is the most important one?
It is the one that impacts your health and indoor air quality.
So, the decision to buy a carpet or rug that has zero or low VOC emission must come first.
Join us and find what are the right materials, backings, and pads for your next floor covering.
VOCs are gases which may cause symptoms like nausea, fatigue and allergies. Tracking these compounds in your home, and excluding them from your buying decision, is the first step toward better living environment.
There are several brands on the market that do provide low VOC rugs and carpets. Past this threshold, there are also options of fiber, thickness, design, and ecological sustainability. To guide you through the technicalities and styles of carpet choices, we decided to look into some of the best low VOC area rugs and carpets on the market today.
Low VOC Area Rugs
By installing low-VOC or eco-friendly area rugs, and other flooring materials, a customer chooses to create a living environment that is safe and sustainable. The biggest names on the low-VOC area rug market are brands like Safavieh, Earth Weave, nuLOOM, Bloomsbury Carpet, Helios and Woolshire. These brands offer green-labeled carpets with low VOC toxicity levels,
Here are some of the best low-VOC rugs by material.
A natural carpet fiber extracted from the leaves of the Agave plant, sisal makes for highly durable area rugs. The rugs are usually bound with canvas board for a sophisticated looking structure. It is naturally eco-friendly, stain resistant, heavy duty, does not built static, and does not trap any dust or allergens.
Because of its neutral color, it pretty much goes together with any decor of choice. On top of all this, sisal has a dense molecular structure that absorbs sound better than any other carpet fiber.
Natural Fiber Sisal Area Rug
Safavieh are renowned crafters of high quality rugs, so 9’x12’ basket weave from their natural fiber collection is a good sisal choice.
The neutral marble color paired with a fringeless border makes the style casual and contemporary. Weighing about 64 pounds, the rug has matching body and border tones giving it the organic appeal with a modern look. Owing to the fiber, the rug is stain- and wear-resistant. The rubber backing is sewn onto the back, making it also slip-resistant and eco-friendly. While it is more on the expensive side, the sisal fiber and lack of adhesive backing makes it arguably worth the money.
With most traditional rug-fiber, wool area rugs are stylish, colorful and affordable. They are naturally fire, stain and soil resistant. They also absorb sound and offer a warm cozy accent to any decor. Not only are they easy to maintain but also come in a variety of styles. Wool also contains lanolin, a natural protectant against allergens and moisture.
Hand Tufted Wool Moroccan Rug
While this area rug is only 90% wool and 10% viscose, it’s an ode to traditional Moroccan navy wool rugs. It is relatively cheaper and will brighten up any hallway or floor. It does not come with any adhesive pads to prevent sliding, which means you will have to buy your own low-VOC rug pads. It weighs 15 lbs with about 0.45 inches of thickness. Because wool is less durable, it requires some vacuum to shed out excess fiber. Overall, it is non-toxic and stylish.
Cotton is the most common global natural fiber. It is mostly cellulose and has been used as textile for centuries. Cotton area rugs add a lighter lustrous effect than the regular thick rug. It has a soft and breathable texture, so it is more sensitive than durable. Cotton area rugs are easier to machine wash, making them extremely manageable.
Hand Woven Multi Cotton Area Rug
Handmade and hand-woven, these rugs are stylish and durable with a range of size options (from 2’x3’ to 9’x12’). All rugs within this collection are made with premium cotton giving it a historic, timeless look. It is also easy to maintain, a simple cold hand or machine was will go a long way. A warmer wash will likely wash away the color, however. Yet, it is non-toxic and safe children. In fact, it generally is created with bright colors and is good for accentuating a children’s room. It is also highly eco-friendly with low pile height.
These area rugs are made from the jute threads derived from the Jute plant common in India and China. The fiber is renewable, biodegradable, malleable and long-lasting. It is not as durable as sisal but the its consistency allows for small or chunky carpet braids. While there isn’t much design variability, it is highly eco-friendly.
Natural Fiber Jute Area rug
Following the classic power-loomed basketweave look, this rug is an affordable version of the sisal area rug. It has a cotton border, neutral colors and a felt dotted backing. It will fit into any decor style. A tight weave allows for heavy duty use and durability. It also has a low pile height and can be used under furniture. The polypropylene backing keeps the rug from sliding and reduces VOC emissions due to standards followed by Safavieh on its use of polymers. Overall, the finish is smooth to touch, stylish, dust-resistant and rigid.
Low VOC Carpets
While rugs are partial floor coverings, carpets are usually tacked down to the floor and cover it wall to wall. This means that a lot of adhesive and padding is needed to install the carpet. Unfortunately, this also means that the carpets become reservoirs of VOCs as well as allergens, bacteria, dust and mites.
Having eco-friendly carpets with low VOC mitigates health risk as well as enables better comfort. Choosing or installing eco-friendly carpets begins with checking for a low-emissions label indicated by a small greenhouse icon. This icon means the carpet has been tested by the Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI) Indoor Air Quality testing program.
Most low-VOC carpets come as wall to wall carpets or carpet tiles. Brands producing these carpets include Mohawk, Earth Weave, ShawFloors and Flor.com. Here are some of the best eco-friendly low VOC carpets:
Earthweave’s BioFloor Wool Carpets
One of the first carpet companies to incorporate only 100% natural materials, Earthweave fulfills its claims of eco-friendly, natural, and low-emission carpets made from organically dyed yarn that is moth-proof, stain-proof, durable and mold-resistant.
The BioFloor natural carpet is unique in its focus on health above all else, but it does not compromise in its ample selection. The bio-floor collection includes:
- Dolomite, 300 oz/sq yard. Textured loop and Undyed yarn.
- Pyreness 380 oz/sq yard. Textured loop and Undyed yarn.
- McKinley 440 oz/sq yard. Textured loop and Undyed yarn.
- Rainier 440 oz/sq yard. Tip Shear. Undyed yarn.
- Catskill 650 oz/sq yard. Variable cut-pile. Organically dyed yarn.
Giving nylon a run for its money, Mohawk’s SmartStrand scientifically enhances the core component of a carpet – the fiber.
It is essentially an eco-friendly version of nylon. The worry-free low VOC carpet from Mohawk allows permanent stain resistance and long-lasting durability.
There are mainly two types: SmartSrand Silk Forever Clean and SmartStrand Silk Reserve.
“Silk Forever Clean” is packed with 700 silk-like fibers while “Silk Reserve” is made for maximum durability. The fibers are OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified free of harmful substances and has a pet protection warranty. With no dye sites, the carpet will never lose stain protection. It is also engineered with a deep foam cushion. Scientifically, these carpets are the future of all easy-to-clean, eco-friendly and low-VOC flooring.
Shawfloor’s nylon carpets are some of the best in the market. Made with BCF or “bulk continuous filament,” the carpet is constituted by sections of one long continuous strand of fiber. While it is a higher cost fiber, BCF is easier to clean since it does not fuzz or shed. Say goodbye to constant vacuuming. Child and pet friendly, the carpet has natural insulation and a soft carpet padding to minimize noise and give excellent comfort. With the best stain-fighting technology in the industry, the Shawfloors carpets’ LifeGuard benefit also makes them 100% waterproof, perfect for wine, paint or any liquid spillage.
Carpets are a crucial to the air quality in your home, potentially acting like a storage for dust, bacteria, allergens, mites and other chemical toxins.
Sometimes, there is VOC content in the adhesive backing of most carpets. While dusting or vacuuming can keep a place clean, they can’t remove the emissions that are bound to the carpet. As a result new construction and renovation projects have now incorporated carpets with the lowest volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Low VOC carpets also tend to have short lived emissions, within 24-48 hours after installation.
When choosing carpets it is important to check the label making sure it’s been tested by the Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI) Indoor Air Quality testing program. An icon with CRI within a greenhouse verifies this standard for low emission. If not CRI, then SCS Global Services certification also qualifies.
Generally, one should look for natural or low-VOC emitting synthetic options
Natural choices are:
In the synthetic department leading brands are Mohawk, ShawFloors and Earthweave.
Apart from material, look for low-toxic adhesive binding to the secondary backing. An example of secondary backing can be a primary backing of hemp & cotton, followed by a natural rubber adhesive backed by a secondary jute backing. This maintains a low VOC carpeting process without the need for spending too much on expensive synthetic fiber carpets.
It is also important to air the carpet before installation; this can be as easy as a pre-delivery request to the carpet distributor.
It also pays off to look for non-toxic carpet and rug padding like felt, cord or wool. Styrene-butadiene rubber is what one must surely avoid as some even have the same toxicity as formaldehyde.
Alternatively, there are various chemical-free, low-emitting and non-solvent adhesives in the market.
It is crucial to provide a healthy indoor environment for all residential spaces. The long term health effects of a living space can affect a person for a very long time. Therefore, in terms of carpet installation, your choices should also be influenced by installation and ventilation. Here are some important things to remember:
- Adhesives are the main reason for VOC emissions. For low ventilation areas like basements and attics, it is crucial to select really low VOC non-solvent adhesives.
- If installing a carpet in the basement, check if installers can air-out the carpet in the warehouse for 48-72 hours. You can do this yourself, but the installers usually do not mind doing this for you.
- It is important to run a test for moisture and alkalinity on the concrete substrate before installation. A good carpet installer will do this, but do not forget to ask anyway.
- By standard, the Carpet and Rug Institute requires all carpet supplies to unroll and air-out carpets in the warehouse. This diminishes emissions that would occur in your house and it minimizes off-gassing.
- Lastly, regardless of all installation measures, you will want a carpet that is easy to manage. Example, a wool carpet can be stain resistant but it is not a good idea in the damp basement.
- Always choose a non-VOC carpet cleaner.
How to make environmentally responsible choices when buying a synthetic carpet
Choosing a resource efficient carpet is especially important given the huge amount of carpeting used in the world, and its relatively short expected useful lifetime. The Carpet Recycling Committee says that 1.8 million tons of rugs and carpets are sent to landfills each year.
Major carpet manufacturers are reacting to increasing landfill costs and regulations and are now seeing a market advantage to improving the environmental impacts of their operations. These improvements have ranged from refurbishing used carpet to making new products from old carpet and carpet scraps, such as carpet fiber, carpet backing, soil amendments, auto parts and flooring materials.
Companies that traditionally use nylon face fiber are now offering carpet with either post-industrial or a combination of post-industrial and post-consumer content. Some of these companies are also offering backing made from 100% reclaimed carpet. Almost all used carpet can be recycled into new products, although recycling PET carpet is not common yet.
Reclaiming face fibers is difficult; most lines of carpet have one-of-a-kind formulations and identifying the components of used carpet is not easy. In addition, carpet is often contaminated and hard to collect and process. Even with these barriers, carpet is being reclaimed through carpet reuse, chemical recycling and mechanical recycling.
The vast amount of carpet manufactured and installed in the US is made of synthetic materials – nylon 6, nylon 6.6, polyester, and polypropylene (PP) face fibers with most backings being a sandwich of polypropylene fabric and latex, or poly-vinyl. Most of the commercial carpets are made by bonding a face fiber to a backing fiber, using one of a variety of strong bonding agents. Nylon 6 and nylon 6.6 account for nearly two-thirds of the face fiber market, with PP being the next most commonly used fiber. Nylon 6.6 has a higher performance rating than nylon 6 but it may not be enough to make a difference in selection.
Recycled content and recyclable carpet options each has its own merits and considerations, depending on your specific need, location, and use. Nylon, polyester, and plastics are made from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource. Since the face fiber backing can contribute up to 60% of the carpet material, purchasing a nylon face fiber with 100% recycled content backing is worth consideration.
Purchasing environmentally responsible carpet will include:
- Face fiber of some recycled post-industrial or post-consumer content
- 100% recycled content backing
- Or 100% recycled PET polyester.
Most of the recycled nylon comes from post-industrial fiber (waste from extrusion and yarn mills, clean lint and edge trim from finishing lines) as opposed to post-consumer (carpet that has served its useful life).
The technology is rapidly advancing (ie., DuPont and Shaw) to separate and convert used nylon fiber into new carpet fiber and backing, making a closed-loop system.
Several companies make carpet cushion materials that utilize recycled and natural materials such as recycled post-industrial fibers, recycled polyurethane, and jute and hair. Recycled tire rubber and recycled textiles and foam are made into carpet pads.
Keep in mind the following when deciding on a new carpet:
- Recycling your old carpet so that it does not end up in the landfill
- Using carpet tiles rather than rolls to aid in spot replacement and longer life,
- Deciding on the type of fiber (nylon, polyester PET, wool) and the recycled content and recyclability of the face fiber backing, and cushion,
- The density and durability of the fiber for heavy traffic use, and how color and pattern contributes to wear.
Some people prefer the appearance and durability of nylon over polyester, others will state that recycled polyester (PET plastic) is more durable and naturally stain resistant.
Wool carpet is naturally flame resistant, durable, and provides excellent indoor environmental quality.
Floor coverings other than carpet make good environmental choices.
Recycling Old Carpet
Purchasing new carpet means you have to get rid of the old and keep it out of the landfill.
Ensuring that your old carpet is recycled and made into new products is very important. Although recycled PET carpet uses plastic that otherwise might be destined for the landfill, once the carpet serves its useful life, it is presently very difficult to recycle the carpet. Find a company that will keep your old carpet out of the landfill.
There are several major methods of recycling:
- Chemical recycling involves breaking down the nylon itself to be reprocessed into new carpet fiber. Only certain kinds of virgin nylon compounds can be converted into new fibers. Check with manufacturers to see if your particular existing carpet brand and style is eligible.
- Waste to Energy. Products that cannot be converted into new carpet can be converted into fuel pellets for some applications.
- Fiberizing. Carpet fibers can be harvested and converted into padding and matting for use in laying new carpet.
- Mechanical. Carpet fibers can be separated from their backing material. If possible, the fibers are recycled into new carpet or backing. The leftover materials can be processed into products such as parking barriers, geotextiles, lumber alternatives, fiberboard, sod reinforcement, carpet tack strip or automobile parts, among other products.
Natural Floor Coverings (Other than Wood)
Natural linoleum is a natural building material, made from softwood powder, linseed oil, pine tree resins, cork, chalk, and jute backing. Recycled-content tile is available made from waste glass such as light bulbs and auto windshields.
Recycled-content tile is also made from a byproduct of feldspar mining. Linoleum and natural carpets use renewable resources and offer durability without compromising aesthetics. The cork used in linoleum is harvested from the cork tree on an ongoing basis without harming the tree.
Natural carpets are made from grasses, cotton, and wool, with minimal treatment. Ceramic tile offers outstanding durability and maintainability, with a high aesthetic value.
Recycled-content padding and carpeting are priced competitively. Recycled-content tile is higher priced than average tile products. The least toxic adhesives used with ceramic and recycled tile are locally available at competitive costs. Linoleum will cost more than low cost vinyl flooring. Natural carpet materials are more costly than common carpet materials, but competitively priced with standard high quality carpeting.
Purchasing Recycled-Content PET Carpet:
Polyester carpet fiber is produced from recycled PET (i.e., soda and ketchup bottles). Some of the names which recycled fibers are marketed under include Resistron ISF, Resistron and Permalon.
The carpet resists stains, fading and abrasion. PET fibers are naturally stain resistant and do not require the chemical treatments commonly used on nylon carpet. Scotchguard coating increases the stain resistance properties. Fibers retain their color and resist fading due to sun or harsh cleaning. Shades can be richer and brighter than those found in nylon yarns.
Because plastic beverage containers are made with top quality PET resins as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, recycled PET is superior to lower grades of virgin synthetic fibers used in making other brands of polyester carpet yarns. PET has exceptional strength and durability and the value of these properties is not lost in their recycling process.
Polyester has fewer emissions than nylon because it is made with fewer additives, and because it is inherently stain resistant. Easier maintenance reduces the use of cleaners which also emit VOCs.
At this time, there are no programs to recycle used PET carpet back into new carpet, but fibers can be recycled for other applications (car parts, insulation, transportation devices, stuffing for furniture).
Low VOC carpet and rug FAQ
What does low VOC stand for?
Low VOC means a low concentration of volatile organic compounds. VOCs are a group of chemical based on carbon. They evaporate easily at room temperature and disperse into the surrounding air.
Most people are able to smell a high level of some VOCs, but for the most part VOCs do not smell at all.
Various materials and products can off gas VOCs – glues, paints, varnishes, solvents, wood products, plywood, chipboard, furniture fabrics, carpets, etc. Also volatile organic compounds can evaporate during cooking, dry cleaning, smoking, in the process of using non-electric air heaters, copiers, etc.
What is considered low VOC content?
The health risk from breathing VOCs depends on how much they are presented in the air, and how long, and how often you breathe them. Scientists distinguish two types of duration of exposure to VOCs: short-term – several hours or days – and long-term (chronic) – years or even a lifetime.
Inhaling of a small amount of VOCs for a long time may increase the risk of health problems. Some studies argue that VOCs have a negative impact on people with asthma, or people particularly sensitive to chemical compounds.
For low VOC carpet the CRI standard defines 0.5 milligrams per meter square over 24 hours and 14 days period.
Which carpet is best for allergies?
Research by the German Allergy and Asthma Association DAAB eV show that the use of a carpet can significantly reduce the risk of increased particulate matter in indoor areas, in contrast to a smooth floor covering.
The high dust-binding capabilities of carpet ensures that dust doesn’t swirl as easily through the air as it does on smooth surfaces. Carpets binds the fine dust that contains the allergenic mite feces, until the next time you vacuum. Thus they cannot be inhaled, which is why textile floor coverings are particularly suitable for allergy sufferers.
Let us see some numbers.
While the particulate matter content in rooms with hard floors is more than 40 micrograms per square meter, in rooms with carpet it is only 10 or less micrograms per square meter.
But what is a good brand/type/fiber?
Generally, look for medium pile, possibly tightly woven, low VOC carpet. It is easier to maintain than carpets with long strands .
Just remember to vacuum regularly and use a HEPA filter when doing so.
Which carpet has the lowest VOC?
Natural fiber carpet with natural pads and backings, with no synthetic dye used. Also, a no VOC adhesive must be used when installing.
Is nylon carpet better for allergies?
There is no evidence that synthetic materials, like Nylon, are better for allergies then the natural ones, like wool or jute.
There is actually a counter argument, that wool has more hypoallergenic properties that other fibers.
Is there formaldehyde in carpets?
Formaldehyde is not used in carpet manufacturing for a long time. But if there some, the amounts are so tiny that it has no effect on your health