Date: 24 Mar 2021 4474 Views

As with many industries, carpet weaving and manufacture is seeing a shift to sustainable production and design as consumers look to source eco-friendly products for their homes. Timber floorboards and polished concrete have both established reputations as sustainable flooring options, with recycled and/or renewable materials used in their production.

But if you’re looking for a breathable option that’s soft to the touch, then carpets or rugs are your best choice. Besides the obvious argument of their beauty, they offer warmth underfoot in the cooler months and can help to reduce noise when compared to hard flooring materials.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through some of the things you should consider when purchasing a sustainable carpet or eco-friendly rug, ranging from the type of material used in its manufacture to the chemical additives it may contain.

Woollen rugs made using natural dyes are a sustainable flooring option

Synthetic vs natural carpet and rug materials

Generally speaking, there are two different categories of materials that are used to create carpets and rugs - natural and synthetic. Synthetic carpets and rugs are made using nylon, polyester, and/or polypropylene. These can use significantly more energy in their manufacture when compared to natural materials (some research shows between three and six times as much), meaning they aren’t as environmentally friendly. Synthetic carpets and rugs also aren’t as breathable as their natural counterparts, which is a drawback for those living in warm or hot environs.

On the other hand, natural fibers such as sisal, jute, and wool are not only renewable but are much more breathable in the heat and can be grown without any chemical inputs. Wool has strong insulating properties and is naturally antibacterial, making it a sound choice if you’re looking to buy a sustainable carpet or eco-friendly rug.

That being said, the environmental impacts and practices of sheep farming vary between countries, so one wool rug may not be as sustainable as another. The management of land and water resources, soil degradation, and methane pollution are all issues to consider. If buying an eco-friendly carpet or sustainable rug is important to you, then look for wool that has been sourced from a country with high environmental regulatory standards. Australia is one such destination and where we source all of our wool to ensure the highest quality and most sustainable product.

Wool is one of the most sustainable materials used in the manufacture of carpets and rugs [Vince Veras via Unsplash]

Chemical additives

While some fibres, such as wool, have high UV protection and ignition thresholds (meaning they are fire-resistant), others require the addition of chemicals during the manufacturing process. Chemicals may be added to carpets and rugs to help eliminate dust, mold, and stains, as well as make them resistant to flames and insects. If you’ve ever walked into a carpet or rug store and inhaled that “chemical” smell instead of the usual wool dust, it may actually be the emission of volatile organic compounds from chemical additives.

Synthetic vs natural dyes

Another thing to consider when buying a sustainable carpet or rug is the type of dyes that have been used to colour it. Chemical dyes contain nasty additives that can have a detrimental impact on water resources when compared to natural vegetable dyes. You might think that antique rugs are all dyed naturally and modern rugs using synthetic dyes, but this is not always the case.

The first synthetic dyes were invented as early as the mid-19th century and were widely used by carpet and rug manufacturers from the early 20th century. If you’re considering an antique rug manufactured before the 1890s, then it was most likely produced using natural dyes. In recent years, there has been a renaissance in the use of natural dyes by modern carpet and rug manufacturers because of the unique characteristics they offer.

Antique rugs manufactured before the mid-19th century were produced using natural dyes [Kadir Celep via Unsplash]

Compared to natural dyes, chemical dyes have a reputation for fading faster when exposed to light.

Not only do we use natural vegetable dyeing techniques but we wash our wool with natural herbs such as reetha and shikakai, rather than products containing toxic chemicals. All of our yarn is spun by hand, a process that is less abrasive to the wool, retains more of its natural oils and results in less broken fibres than if spun by a machine.

Lifespan and biodegradability

One of the environmental drawbacks of some carpets and rugs is that they have relatively short lifespans when compared to wooden floorboards or polished concrete. However, the lifespan of your rug or carpet will be increased if it is made from hand-knotted wool (rather than machine made or tufted) and will last anywhere from 40 to 60 years.

Old carpets and rugs can be reused in a variety of ways - as floor mats for cars, as sound absorbers in studios, and as bedding for pets, as well as buried beneath the topsoil to act as a barrier against weeds. If carpets and rugs do end up in landfills, those manufactured using natural materials, such as wool, will break down at a faster rate than those composed primarily of nylon or synthetic materials. If sourced from petrochemicals, some components of synthetic carpets and rugs may never completely break down.

An eco-friendly rug can be laid above polished concrete or timber for a sustainable flooring option

Rugs vs carpets

A further consideration when selecting sustainable flooring for your home is the use of underlays in carpet installation. Carpet backings are usually placed underneath to improve the lifespan of the carpet, as well as providing additional insulation and noise reduction.

Rubber carpet backing tends to have higher VOC emissions when compared to a jute fiber but you can find PVC backing that’s manufactured using 100% recycled materials. You should also take into account the chemical adhesives that are used during the carpet installation process, some of which are toxic. Look for installers who are willing to use non-toxic adhesives for the most eco-friendly carpet possible. Alternatively, opt for a sustainable rug that doesn’t require any underlay or adhesives and can easily be moved to a different room when redesigning your space.