When it's time to install new carpet in your home, what's your biggest concern: durability, cost, color, material, or maybe just how it feels underfoot? It might surprise you to know that compared with other design decisions, your final choice of carpeting can actually make a big impact on the health of your household, as well as the health of the environment.
This is because most carpets are constructed from several components: nylon, polyester, or wool fibers; a backing; and a layer of mixed-foam padding. The components are then glued together with adhesives that can release harmful chemical fumes into indoor air for weeks or even years after the carpet has been installed. These off-gassed chemicals often include substances like formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene. Though it's true that not all carpets are toxic, it can be difficult to tell which ones will be before you install them in your home.
GREEN TIPS FOR FRESHER CARPET FLOORING
- Look for rugs and padding that have the Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label Plus, which identifies products with low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
- Opt for natural fibers such as cotton, wool, or even hemp.
- Try to avoid synthetic backings – a standard product is a matrix of styrene-butadiene rubber – especially those that are glued on rather than sewn or tacked.
- Greenpeace also recommends limiting the use of polyurethane, another standard backing, because it introduces many hazardous substances into the environment.
- Shaw makes 100 percent recycled Endurance II carpet cushioning using about 25 million pounds of waste from its production each year.
- Backings made of jute or other natural plant fibers are less likely to off-gas and they're biodegradable.
- Nylon carpeting manufacturers like Mohawk (MohawkFlooring.com) and Shaw (ShawFloors.com) include up to 50 percent recycled content in some products and work to keep carpet waste out of landfills.
- Manufacturers like Forbo and InterfaceFLOR are aggressively recapturing used carpet, grinding it up, and recycling it into new products.
- Instead of foam padding, you can also look for felt or recycled-rag pads.
- To reduce tracked-in pesticides and other pollutants, remove your shoes when entering the house.
- If your carpets contain synthetic components or finishes, avoid exposing them to direct sunlight or high temperatures, which makes them emit more fumes.
- Select natural carpet shampoos, as many standard options contain toxic, irritating solutions. And be sure to keep children away from newly cleaned carpet for several hours.
- Explore the trend of modular carpet tiles. Many of these are made with recycled materials and can be sent back to the manufacturer, which will reuse the tiles instead of throwing them away. Installing carpet squares instead of wall-to-wall broadloom means you can just pull out a stained square and install a new one.
- InterfaceFLOR's Fedora carpet tiles are 80 percent postconsumer recycled polyester.
- When you buy InterfaceFLOR or Bentley Prince Street carpeting, tell your sales representative that you want the Cool Carpet Option on your order so that any climate-changing emissions will be offset.
- Mohawk reclaims more than 3 billion plastic bottles each year and turns them into EverStrand carpets.