Over the years, a debate has taken place in the flooring
industry over the impact its products have on the
environment. In 2003, a group of industry researches and
technical specialists met at the University of North Carolina
to examine the science with regard to the positive or
negative attributes of materials found in products like
carpeting, area rugs and linoleum.
The panel looked at hundreds of studies in relation to how
carpet and non-carpet materials contribute to environmental
quality and whether there’s a significant concern with toxic
substances and allergens alleged to have commonly been
The intention of the researchers was to try and settle years
of anecdotal evidence and set an industry standard to help
buyers and sellers of flooring products. A good portion of the
information reviewed came from the Environmental
Protection Agency, the National Health Science Libraries,
and other previously published industry experts.
A review of all of the literature led to one major conclusion:
materials found in flooring “play a significant role to the
quality of life indoors.” It contributes to healthy design
factors, safety, aesthetics, climate control, ergonomics and
physical comfort. When maintained properly, carpeting and
area rugs are not at all risks to public health.
While the group’s conclusion was great news for the
industry and the public, it’s still necessary to examine
flooring’s impact on the whole environment, including the
part played by rugs and flooring made from natural
Decorating Like Darwin: By Natural Selection
With so many types of area rugs available today, it’s hard
enough to make a style selection, let alone having to take
health and environmental concerns into account. Keeping
rugs clean and in good condition will go a long way in
alleviating any concerns. Area rugs do have material
differences, though. Here’s a quick look at natural fiber rugs
and other natural flooring:
Water, water everywhere, so keep it away from wool. Water
is one of the biggest enemies of wool rugs. Wool, popular in
Oriental rugs, has a high moisture regain and is
susceptible to microorganism attack. That may sound like
the bad plot to a Hollywood horror film or an episode of Fear
Factor. Nevertheless, keep something that requires water,
like potted plants, off of wool rugs.
Water aside, wool’s long, coarse fibers have the ability to
maintain indoor air quality and, unlike synthetic fibers, can
absorb indoor contaminants. Since discarded carpet
accounts for a tremendous amount of waste – 4.7 billion
pounds in 2002 according to the EPA – any rug that lasts
longer, like a hand-knotted wool rug, is going to get the seal
of approval from the Green Party.
Once used primarily as carpet backing, Jute has made it to
the big time. As a full-fledged member of the area rug and
carpet family, Jute, which ranges from light tans to browns,
is one of the finest and softest of natural floor covering
Composed mainly of plant materials, Jute is a rainy season
crop that grows best in warm, humid climates like parts of
China and India. While it may grow in rainy weather, the Jute
rug won’t stand up to areas with high moisture levels. Unlike
wool, jute is resistant to microorganisms, but the material
will in fact deteriorate rapidly when exposed to moisture.
Gilligan’s Island no longer corners the market on bamboo
flooring. You don’t need to live in a hut to use this material.
Bamboo, which is also a trend in cutting boards and
hardwood floors, has become a popular option for area
rugs. And its environmental friendliness is obvious. No
trees to cut down, no waste. Bamboo is technically a grass,
and moreover a highly renewable resource. Maturing in less
than six years, bamboo is harvested over and over from the
same plants. Its strength combined with a natural beauty
can add a contemporary touch to any living space.
Seagrass is not something you may have thought was
illegal. You can’t grow it in your backyard, but it does look
great in the house. Created from tropical grass mainly
imported from China, Seagrass, which only comes in a
natural organic green color, is smooth to the touch and
extremely durable and stain resistant.
Sisal is another natural fiber that has recently gained
popularity among designers. The material is derived from a
cactus plant, grown in semi-arid regions liked Brazil and
Sisal is stronger and more durable than other natural fibers,
making its staying power ultra-environment friendly. Water is
not Sisal’s friend, either. The rug should never be used in
the bathroom or other moist areas of the house.
Now you may be thinking how a rug is made from cork?
Well, it’s not. Cork has been slipped in to this discussion
simply because it can be considered a cousin in the natural
fiber family. Used as durable hardwood-type flooring, the
cork tree is the only one whose bark can regenerate itself
after harvest without damaging the tree or the environment.
The tree is never killed or cut down and can produce bark for
centuries. Furthermore, almost all of its harvested materials
are put to use.
Cork is known for its sound environmental policy, and when
feet hit the floor, it’s known for its durability. Cork may seem
elastic when compared to wood, but its “natural memory
ability” and resistance to liquid penetration can make it an
This is no joke. Linoleum is back. So break out the disco
ball and platform shoes. Vinyl nearly sent linoleum to the
flooring scrap yard, but just like bell-bottoms, linoleum is
making a comeback. It’s contemporary and gets the green
seal. While vinyl is synthetic and petroleum-based, linoleum
is made entirely of natural materials, linseed oil being the
The resurgence of natural and retro products is behind
linoleum’s rebirth. As a natural product, linoleum can be
recycled and is hypoallergenic, which benefits those who
suffer from allergies or asthma. Linoleum also contains
antibacterial properties that help stop the growth of
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