Are Carpets Unhealthy? Many Harm Indoor Air Quality: There Are Nontoxic Options


Dear EarthTalk: I like the feel of carpeting, but I’m concerned about all the chemicals. What are some good non-chemical (but still soft!) options? — Jennifer Jones, Madison, WI

Modern day carpets, in all their plush and stain-resistant glory, are wonders of technology and help make our homes and workplaces more comfortable. But the typical carpet, made from petroleum-based synthetic fibers, contains dozens of chemicals and gases, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other potential toxins—and they can compromise indoor air quality for years on end and cause dangerous reactions in the sensitive among us, including little ones and the elderly. If your carpet is extremely dirty, should you clean it or just replace it?

Fortunately today there are many green options when it comes to carpeting and alternative floor coverings. Green Depot—the nation’s leading supplier of environmentally friendly building products, services and home solutions with 13 retail stores nationwide—sells a lot of wool carpeting, which is typically all-natural, renewable and is the most logical option for those who want the look and feel of real carpet without the chemical impact. Wool carpeting is pricier than synthetic, but those seeking peace-of-mind might not mind paying a premium. Some leading makers of all-natural wool carpeting include Bloomsburg, Earth Weave, Helios, Natural Home and Woolshire. Wool is also a great material for rug pads, as it dampens sound, inhibits mold and provides insulation. Green Depot’s favorite is Whisper Wool Underlayment.

Some other choices in all-natural carpet include sisal, coir and seagrass—though these all-natural materials tend to be harder than traditional carpeting and as such might take some getting used to underfoot. Contempo Floor Coverings is one of the leaders in this up-and-coming segment of the flooring industry.

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FLOR carpet tiles also allow you to create your own designer patterns like those above.

Another green option is carpet tiles, because small sections rather than entire carpets can be replaced when stains or other problems occur. One particularly green carpet tile manufacturer is FLOR, whose products are made with renewable, recycled and recyclable content. The company also takes back its old carpet tiles for recycling and reconstitution into new recycled fibers and backing materials. FLOR’s products use some synthetic materials, but most styles meet or exceed the Carpet and Rug Institute’s “Green Label Plus” standards for low VOCs. offers yet another option for synthetic carpeting made from recycled and recyclable materials, while Mohawk’s Aladdin carpet is made from recycled PET soda bottles.

While carpeting in one form or another is no doubt the softest option, cork flooring is also warm and somewhat cushy. Cork is inherently green because it’s made from the bark of the cork oak tree which grows back every three years with little to no fertilizer or pesticides needed. It’s also resistant to mildews, molds and other unwelcome microbes. Cork flooring is also a nice choice to “warm up” kitchen and bathroom floors, cork floors showroom Australia offers a wide variety of cork and other sustainable flooring options.

Of course, keeping tidy is also key to a healthy indoor environment: Frequent vacuuming of rugs and cleaning of flooring can help reduce exposure to toxins like lead and pesticides that can be tracked in from outside. Carpet cleaning in irvine will make sure your carpets are deeply cleaned. Using doormats and removing shoes when coming inside can also help mitigate such risks.

CONTACTS: Green Depot,; FLOR,; The Carpet and Rug Institute,;,; U.S. Floors,

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Main image at top by Flickr User: origami_potato

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.