Is Carpet A Four Letter Word?

If you are considering wall-to-wall carpet for your home or project – stop, look & listen – take a minute to think about the pros and cons of your carpet choices before your buy that next room full.  

Carpet is synonyms with comfort – it is soft, absorbs sound and makes our homes warmer – literally and figuratively.  Unfortunately it can also contribute to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) – off-gassing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), absorbing and holding onto moisture which can lead to mold, and is a huge sinkhole for dirt and dust mites.

Our first home had a lovely salt-n-pepper shag carpet (came with the old farm house!) that I decided to rip out early one Saturday morning.  I was stunned by the amount of debris that 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 – I digress but couldn’t resist. 

If your heart and feet are set on carpet, go with natural fibers – wool, hemp, silk, linen, sisal.  My favorite is wool, the innate beauty and durability found in pure wool provides a natural soil barrier, adds warmth and comfort, is inherently flame resistant plus 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 compliment 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 which can all come from non-toxic, renewable sources.

If the products are made from natural, raw materials and contain no added toxins than they can biodegrade responsibly at the end of their life. 

Ensure a healthy carpet installation by utilizing tack strips instead of adhesives.  This offers flexibility in the future should you decide to move the carpet to another area in the home for reuse. Padding increases softness and the life of the carpet, again look for natural wool and rubber many of them are made from recycled products. 

Clean your carpet floors using a HEPA vacuum and vacuum often.  Within the first few months of a natural fiber carpet, they will release a healthy amount of fiber filaments – this is normal and subsides after 3-6 months depending on daily traffic and wear patterns.  Natural wool carpet rarely needs shampooing – spot ‘dry’ cleaning with a non-toxic 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 non-toxic, natural cleaners from well known resources like AFM 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 on Favorite Things: The Shoe Bench perfectly addressed how shoes track in pesticides and other noxious and toxic chemicals, which stick to and build up on our floors, especially 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) addressing indoor air quality.  With these labels carpet, carpet pad, and adhesives emit minimal VOCs and formaldehyde and are typically free of flame retardants (PBDE – polybrominated diphenyl ether). 
  • NSF/ANSI 140-2007 Sustainable Carpet Assessment Standard. Products that meet this standard evaluate the full life cycle of carpet – content, 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, multi-attribute certification for environmentally preferable products. 

Since I’m being frank today I have to admit that I prefer the flexibility, cleanability, durability and long life of my Saltillo tile floor accented with area rugs for my main living areas but have to admit to you that the 100% natural wool carpet in the bedrooms is an ideal blend of both worlds.