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Using Wool in Flooring

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 3 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Wool Carpet Sustainable Blend Berber

We touched on wool in our 'Green Carpets' article as it is considered a great sustainable choice for carpets, completely natural and completely biodegradable. We also pointed out that to be truly eco-friendly you need to watch out for some of the treatments applied to wool to counter attacks from moths and mildew.

In this article we look at wool in more detail for the options that can sometimes spoil wool's otherwise good standing as a sustainable and eco-friendly flooring alternative. But wool is still recognised as one of the best materials for carpet regardless of its ecological credentials simply because it's soft, luxurious and easy to look after, although expensive compared to man-made carpets.

Wool Blends

The first thing to check out on a wool carpet is the percentage of wool in the blend. Ideally you'll want 100% wool but if it's only 80% that may be fine as long as you know what the remainder is made from. If it doesn't specify, then it's probably some plastic or other and should not be considered sustainable.

For example one company offers an 80% wool carpet with the 20% in 'berber'. The trouble is that berber describes a style, not a material, so that's probably nylon or polyester. Berber carpets can be made from wool but if the berber proportion was in wool then they'd probably say so. On the other hand, carpet made from a wool and paper yarn blend is available so the natural choices seem to be increasing.

Backing And Glue

For a fully sustainable carpet the backing should be of a natural substance too. Jute is a popular natural material and cotton canvas and latex are suitable alternatives. However it can be difficult to tell natural latex from synthetic so if the retailer can’t tell you which one it is, then walk away.

There are concerns about some of the glues used to fix carpet to its backing but its not usual for the glue type to be declared on product information. A better choice might be to get a carpet that has the backing stapled to the carpet rather than being glued, but these are rare in the UK, they are more easily available in the USA.

Wool Origin

The provenance of the wool used in the carpet should be of concern as well. Although there's nothing wrong with imported wool compared to British wool in it's own right, people looking at sustainable alternatives are probably going to be looking at the whole ecological picture. They would probably consider carpet made from UK wool more sustainable than material that has been transported half-way across the world.

The Price Tells A Story

Finally, look at the price. The sad fact is that the lower the price of a wool carpet or rug then the more likely it is that it has been subjected to some nasty treatments along the way. It's still true today, rightly or wrongly, that making the right choice for the environment is often the more expensive choice, not just in carpets.

Where manufacturers can save pennies on the processing they will, so if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

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