Carpet

April 3, 2008

Green & Natural Carpeting & Rugs

by Kathy Hees

Back in 1992 it was reported to congress that a typical carpet sample may contain as many as 120 chemicals, many of which are known to be neurotoxic and that the offgassing from these carpets can persist at high levels for up to three years. It was also reported that the most common carpet backing, synthetic latex, contains approximately 200 different chemicals that contribute to harmful outgassing and smell as well. The other component to carpeting, the padding, is usually made from foamed plastic or synthetic rubber and contain petroleum products contributing to our dependence on oil. The most common carpeting and backings are not renewable or biodegradable and according to the EPA, over 2.5 millions tons of carpeting and rugs were discarded in landfill in 2000.

According to Green Building Supply’s web site, since 1993 there has been some progress to reduce the toxicity of carpets and carpet padding. The reduction in 4-PC, one of the most odorous of the VOC’s, has been made by the The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI). However; the majority of carpets still off-gas. And although some researchers say emission levels are now low, it has not been agreed to as to what levels are actually “safe”.

Also according to Green Building Supply CRI has a testing program that uses independent lab test four times a year to verify VOC levels and carpets that pass the tests may carry a “green label” . All manufactured carpets are required since 1993 to carry a health advisory warning label such as “some people experience allergic or flu like symptoms, headaches, or respiratory problems, which are associated with the installation, cleaning or removal of carpet”

The following recommendations have been made to minimize carpet-related health problems:

– Look for the green label to show that the carpet meets industry standards

– Ask the installer to air out the new carpet for a day or two before installation

– Avoid carpeting containing permanent stain resistance treatment

– Leave the windows open and a fan going for a few days during the process

– Make sure the installer seals the seams with nontoxic adhesive.

– Choose stretching and tacking over adhesives for securing of carpet

– Use nontoxic and odor free shampoos to regularly maintain carpets to prevent mold, bacteria, dust and pesticide buildup (Green Building Supply recommends AFM’s Safecoat three part carpet cleaning system)

– If carpet gets wet, dry as quickly as possible to prevent microbial growth

– Never use wall to wall carpeting in a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room or mechanical rooms due to the inevitability of it becoming damp and encouraging mold and bacterial infestation.

“Green”

To clarify, per my research, it is my understanding that in the carpeting world “green” can mean the meeting of lower VOC levels, but it can also mean that the carpet has been made using a percentage of recycled materials, such as PET plastic bottles, recycled, wool, nylon or cotton. Recycled carpets are said to not appear or perform any different from carpets made from virgin fibers and can be more resilient and colorfast. Recycled-content underlayment and padding are also available on the market.

Listed below are few companies that use a mixture of natural and/or recycled materials in their products.

FLOR

This company makes carpet tiles. They have a variety of products ranging from 100% nylon or polypropylene to mixtures of nylon and corn and natural fibers such as wool and sisal. They also have a program called R&R which stands for return and recycle, which means they will take your old carpet tiles and recycle them. Their literature says that Flor is made by Interface one of the greenest companies in America and that their goal is to leave a “zero” footprint.

Metafloor

Metafloor is a line of carpeting made by Lees Carpet a division of Burlington Industries. It is made with at least 50% less nylon than typical carpet and is less likely to trap dirt. The company claims that this carpet is highly durable and easy to maintain. The secondary backing has 50% recycled content in the form of nylon scraps from other processed in the facility.

Visio

Visio is also made by Lees Carpet and uses a high recycle content which results in a 20% post-consumer and 19% postindustrial recycled content ( the recycled content of

both constituents are certified)

“Natural”

My research tells me that natural means just that natural. These carpet and rug products are usually made from all natural materials ranging from wool to bamboo. However some of these products are made with glue, so the trick is to find products that are made with nontoxic glues.

The best carpet and rugs are made from wool. Wool is usually the most expensive kind of carpeting or rug but it is a very good investment if you can afford it. Wool’s natural oils within it’s fiber makes it naturally water and stain resistant. It is more resilient than nylon which means it stands up longer to use. A really good wool carpet can last as long as 20 years under constant traffic and longer to much longer under lesser conditions. The protein in the wool’s constituents gives it natural flame resistance making it difficult to ignite and is self-extingquishable. The wool fiber is also made up of overlapping scales, which help to keep small particles of dirt , mold and other contaminants near the surface where it can be easily vacuumed up. These overlapping scales also aid in the wool’s ability to resist wear and tear. It’s environmental benefits are that it is a completely natural, renewable and biodegradable product and buying wool carpet and rugs advances wool production which benefits farmers. The two down sides to wool is it’s cost and it is not as stain resistant as the majority of synthetic carpets.

A note about wool area rugs (other than wool woven rugs). The two main types of wool rugs are hand tufted rugs and hand knotted. Hand tufted rugs are put together by taking a short length of wool bending it in half and then attaching it to a natural fiber backing such as wool or cotton with glue. These rugs are not as durable and have about half the floor life as a hand knotted rug, but they cost about half the price and can look almost as nice to the untrained eye. What to look for in hand knotted rugs is the amount of fibers per square inch the more fibers the more expensive, but also the more durable, long lasting and beautiful.

Besides wool there are many other types of natural and environmentally sustainable fibers such as seagrass, sisal, cotton, jute and bamboo. All of them have beneficial qualities to them and are relatively durable. These types of fibers are not found often in carpet, but they can be found abundantly in rugs.

Listed below is a few companies the sell and produce natural carpets and rugs:

Green Building Supply

www.greenbuildingsupply.com

This company carries wool carpeting made from new zealand wool. New Zealand wool is suppose to be some of the finest in the world. They also carry other natural products and have a informative web site on their products.

Natural Area Rugs

www.naturalarearugs.com

This company carries a variety of rugs made from various different kinds of natural fibers. With an informative web site explaining the benefits to each type of fiber.

Natural Design Collection and Natural Textures Collection

www.dmikc.com

This carpet collection is from Design Materials, Inc. The Natural Design Collection are made from sisal, coir, and reed. The Natural Textures Collection is made from sisal, wool, and jute.

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