Area Rugs and Flooring — Two Newly Green Giants

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

attractive alternative.


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

main ingredient.

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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