Home > Carpets > Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Carpets

Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Carpets

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 23 Oct 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Eco-friendly Carpets Carpet Alternatives

While synthetic carpet is one of the most popular choices for floor coverings, it is also one of the unhealthiest types of flooring, both for you and for the environment.

What’s Wrong with Synthetic Carpet?

The first thing is its composition, which is primarily made up of petroleum products, such as nylon, vinyl and PVC. Most carpet consists of 3 layers: the base, the backing and the surface fibres – and all of these contain toxic agents embedded in the adhesives, binders, any anti-microbial treatments, colourings and stainings – and even in the materials of the backing and fibres themselves. The toxic agents release fumes which may be undetectable by the human nose but which may be slowly and surely harming your health, as well as contributing to general air pollution.

Futhermore, the manufacture and processing of carpets, as well as the distribution – and finally the disposal, all require huge amounts of energy consumption and associated pollution to the environment. Disposal creates the biggest problem in pollution, with synthetic carpets clogging up landfills for decades with toxic, non-biodegradable materials. As most synthetic carpets cannot be recycled, this means the carpet industry is pouring millions of tonnes of waste onto the Earth.

And finally, synthetic carpets can add to our increasing problems with respiratory conditions and immune-mediated reactions, such as allergies. Carpet is difficult to clean thoroughly – even regular vacuuming will only remove the top layer of dirt, with much more dirt, dust, pollen and other allergens being trapped deeper within the fibres. In fact, synthetic carpet makes things worse by developing static charges which actually attract the build-up of allergenic particles. All this contributes to the development of asthma and allergies, as well as medical conditions related to sensitivities to the chemicals in the carpet and any other pollutants released into the air – and possibly even cancer.

To add insult to injury, properly cleaning your carpet often then requires a professional process which uses very harsh and toxic chemicals, creating even more pollutants to your health and to the environment.

All of these reasons show that synthetic carpet is actually a very bad choice of flooring, with some going to far as to call it a “toxic sponge”, and the recommendation to avoid choosing synthetic carpet it if at all possible.

What are the Alternatives?

There are many who believe that hard flooring is a much healthier alternative to carpets altogether. While there is no conclusive scientific evidence to support the thought that hard flooring reduces the incidences of asthma and allergies, it is generally believed that hard surfaces are less likely to harbour allergens and much easier to clean properly. However, be careful of the type of hard flooring you choose because it can be just as un-environmentally-friendly as carpet if it comes from unsustainable sources and made from non-biodegradable materials.

Timber flooring is a good example of this and should only be chosen if the wood comes from sustainably managed forest plantations that carry the correct certification, or is wood that is being re-used (ie. reclaimed wood). Similarly, stone flooring can be controversial if the quarry it is extracted from has been badly managed and designed, so that it is causing even more damage to the environment.

Bamboo and cork are two good choices for “hard” eco-friendly flooring. Both of these come from renewable resources, which if harvested sustainably, cause no damage to the environment. Linoleum is a another good choice if it is completely “natural” linoleum, which uses natural plant-fibre backings and non-toxic adhesives.

If you must have soft flooring, then consider some of the natural plant fibre coverings which make very good alternatives to traditional carpet. These include sisal, coir, seagrass and jute. They all have a unique natural beauty, are durable and easy to maintain and provide natural sound insulation as well as, in many cases, natural anti-bacterial properties.

For those who insist on carpet, then consider 100% wool carpets. Again, it comes from a sustainable source, is 100% natural and biodegradable. It is also one of the most luxurious forms of floor coverings, far superior to synthetic carpet in texture, durability and plushness. It is resistant to soiling and moisture, is naturally anti-static and fire-resistant, and is also less hospitable to dust mites.

However, be aware that the transport of wool involves long distances (since it is usually produced in remote countries like New Zealand) and therefore does also require a considerable carbon and energy cost. Also, the animal agriculture required is a fairly resource-hungry activity, particularly if not practised in a sustainable manner. In addition, one criticism of wool carpets is that it is often treated with moth-proofing chemicals which may emit volatile organic compounds – however, it is possible to obtain “environmentally-friendly” wool carpets which are untreated, use jute backing and only natural dyes for colouring.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Hi. We are buying a boat and wish to have non toxic carpets. Any ideas would be much appreciated. Many thanks Rose
Confused - 23-Oct-17 @ 9:51 PM
Hi, I am buying a pure wool, totally untreated carpet. I'm concerned about moth attack but want to avoid nasty chemicals. Is there a safe (to humans and pets) and eco friendly way to deter or kill them? Thanks
Cello - 23-Mar-16 @ 8:44 PM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Confused
    Re: Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Carpets
    Hi. We are buying a boat and wish to have non toxic carpets. Any ideas would be much appreciated. Many thanks Rose
    23 October 2017
  • Rob
    Re: Eco Friendly Underlay Options
    @steven - Have you got any damp? I think I'd be inclined to take it up and have a look first to see what the issue is. What is…
    5 October 2017
  • steven
    Re: Eco Friendly Underlay Options
    hi. wondering if you can give advice of what to do with a carpet that still smells 'yeasty' more than a year after it was put…
    4 October 2017
  • rosie
    Re: Eco-Friendly Rubber Floor Tiles
    Hi I am looking for a non slip flooring for a disabled bathroom approx 3mx4m and ensuite 2m x 1.5m, can you please advise a…
    17 July 2017
  • fuge
    Re: The Impact of Quarrying
    how can this be controlled effectively?
    11 May 2017
  • Pet Owner
    Re: Non Toxic and Sustainable Flooring Suitable for Children
    My husband insisted on having carpets upstairs for 'luxury'. Hardly necessary for what little…
    14 April 2017
  • SustainableFloors
    Re: Cork Flooring
    Pia - Your Question:Cork flooring is not as natural as is made out. A binder is used - as far as I could find out (hard to get this info from manufactu
    10 August 2016
  • Pia
    Re: Cork Flooring
    Cork flooring is not as natural as is made out. A binder is used - as far as I could find out (hard to get this info from manufacturers) usually it…
    9 August 2016
  • Omonu
    Re: The Impact of Quarrying
    Assessment of dust and noise emission and impact on neighbouring communities
    24 July 2016
  • SustainableFloors
    Re: Seagrass Flooring
    Mona - Your Question:Hi, I am an interior designer looking for Eco friendly flooring for my client. I was wondering if it possible to order…
    13 May 2016
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the SustainableFloors website. Please read our Disclaimer.