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- 1. What is this rug made of?
- 2. What is the backing of this rug made of? What type of glues are used to attach the backing? (E.g. Are the glues low-VOC?)
- 3. Is this rug treated with any moth repellants or insecticides?
- 4. Has this rug been treated with any waterproofing or stain-proofing materials?
- 5. Has this rug been treated with any anti-microbial chemicals?
- 6. Has this rug had any flame-retardant chemicals applied to it?
- Other Eco-Friendly Rug Options
When I moved to a new apartment in Victoria, B.C., Canada and was on the hunt for an eco-friendly rug I had no idea what I was getting into in terms of encountering potential environmental toxins. I quickly realized that buying an eco-friendly rug was not simple (even if you have thousands of dollars to spend on a hand-loomed wool rug!).
The reason for this is that there are a number of chemical treatments, including government-mandated treatments (such as flame-retardants), that rugs are often given prior to sale. Even natural fibre rugs such as wool rugs that might seem eco-friendly can be treated with chemicals like moth-repellant and insecticides to protect them from natural-fibre eating pests.
During my hunt for an eco-friendly and toxin-free rug, I actually ended up purchasing and then quickly returning a lambskin rug advertised as “eco-friendly” after seeing a confusing product tag and then realizing the supplier could not guarantee the rug had not been treated with flame-retardants (so much for it being eco-friendly!). I also had to return a rug from a popular North American fair trade and eco-friendly retailer that was described as 20% wool and 80% cotton and arrived with a tag stating it was 80% cotton, 15% wool, and 5% “other fibres.”
Because I found this area to be so overwhelming, I have compiled this list of the seven most important questions to ask when you are on the hunt for a new eco-friendly rug that will not bring unnecessary chemicals into your home. I hope these questions will help you to navigate this complex world and to avoid some of the mistakes I made early on!
At the end of this list, I provide links to what in my opinion are the the two best eco-friendly rug companies that ship to Canada. I also include specific information about the rug I did end up purchasing which I have had in my home for a few years now and absolutely adore!
6 Questions to Ask Before Buying an Eco-Friendly Rug
1. What is this rug made of?
Typically you would want to look for natural fibres such as wool, cotton, linen, silk, jute, or sisal. Recycled polyester or nylon are other options that are more affordable while still being relatively sustainable and toxin-free. They are also less likely to be treated with moth repellants, insecticides, or anti-bacterials because of their natural pest and mildew resistance. Provided the rug you are considering passes the other questions on this list, any of the fibres mentioned above would be a great option!
2. What is the backing of this rug made of? What type of glues are used to attach the backing? (E.g. Are the glues low-VOC?)
Most machine-made or hand-tufted rugs have backings that off-gas chemicals. Rugs with backings also typically use glues (to attach the backing) which can off-gas chemicals. You will want to avoid synthetic latex, PVC, or other plastic rug backings. One eco-friendly rug backing option is latex. However, if your rug has a latex backing, verify that it is made of natural latex and not synthetic latex. You also might want to inquire about what type of glues have been used to attach this latex backing to the rug, as certain glues can off-gas formaldehyde and other chemicals.
Hand-knotted and hand-woven flatweave rugs avoid the problem of glues and rug backing materials altogether because they do not have backings. These are good options if you can afford them. Of the two, hand-woven flatweave rugs are more affordable.
3. Is this rug treated with any moth repellants or insecticides?
Even ‘eco-friendly’ carpets made entirely of wool are frequently treated with moth protectors and other insecticides (such as permethrin) in order to prevent bugs from destroying them in transit and when they get to your home. Moths and other bugs such as the ‘carpet beetle’ are attracted to the natural fibres in rugs such as wool, cotton, and silk as a source of food and they can do serious damage to these items. I once had a cashmere sweater eaten by a carpet beetle so I have first-hand experience with the damage these pests can do! It therefore makes sense that carpet manufacturers would treat their rugs with these substances.
However, there are other ways than spraying a rug with toxic chemicals to protect your items from pests. If you want a rug that is toxin-free, it’s a good idea to try and find one that isn’t treated with these chemicals. If you are worried about bugs, you can steam clean your rug and/or vacuum frequently to ensure any potential larvae are removed. And you are seriously worried about damage from pests (e.g. if you know you have a moth or carpet beetle problem in your home), you could consider looking for a rug made with recycled nylon or polyester instead of natural fibres like wool or silk.
4. Has this rug been treated with any waterproofing or stain-proofing materials?
Waterproofing and stain-proofing materials most often contain PFAS or phthalates. Stain-proofing and waterproofing coatings make rugs more plastic-like so that moisture and stains can’t sink into the rug’s fibres (which can lead to permanent stains or mildew). This makes sense because rugs frequently get drinks and other substances spilled on them which can lead to permanent stains and potential mildew down the road.
While these chemicals are useful for stains, PFAS and phthalates are labelled “forever chemicals” because they do not easily leave our environment or our bodies once exposed. They can disrupt your hormones and can lead to a whole host of negative health effects.
If you are worried about getting stains on your rug, you can look for a rug that is primarily composed of wool which is naturally anti-microbial, stain-resistant, and water-resistant. (*Although, you might still want to ask and confirm that a wool rug you are buying has not been treated with these chemicals.)
Alternatively, you can find plenty of useful eco-friendly stain removers and cleaning products to keep your rug in good shape when it does not have these chemical treatments applied. For removing stains, I recommend picking up a bottle of Folex Instant Carpet Spot Remover. I have used this product to remove stains on my sofa and it works great! While the actual ingredients in this product are protected by a trade secret (and so I wouldn’t use it gratuitously), it is a water-based non-ionic surfactant that is non-toxic, odor-free, and CFC-, VOC-, and petroleum-free. I can personally vouch for it having no smell.
5. Has this rug been treated with any anti-microbial chemicals?
While wool is naturally anti-microbial, chemical anti-microbial treatments are sometimes applied to rugs of other materials in order to reduce the chances of them developing bad odours over time. Silver nano-particles are a popular ‘novel’ anti-microbial treatment that stems from the natural anti-bacterial properties of silver. I have encountered silver nano-particles on the surface of a simple human garbage I have, an air filter I purchased which I late found out has a layer of silver sprayed onto it on one side of the HEPA filter, as well in some performance bras I purchased a while back. I am very wary of these products, especially the bras which I have since donated. Clothing treated with silver nano-particles could in theory lead to silver nano-particles entering our waterways through the laundering process. The research is sparse on this substance as it is so new, and so I think it would be wise to avoid this and other anti-microbial treatments applied to a rug you are purchasing when possible.
6. Has this rug had any flame-retardant chemicals applied to it?
Carpeting that covers an entire floor of a home is required to be flame retardant by the the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, and this means it is often treated with flame retardant chemicals. Similarly, rugs which are over six feet on any length (with the exception of certain one-of-a-kind and oriental rugs) are also required by Canadian regulations to pass a flame retardant test and this means they are often treated with flame retardant as well. Rugs smaller than 6 feet that do not have a tag on them that says “warning flammable,” might have also been treated with flame retardant chemicals.
Since these regulations are confusing, the best way to know is to ask! Alternatively, you can look for a tag that states that the rug is flammable if it is under 6 feet on all sides to be sure that it has not been treated with flame retardants.
Once again, wool is naturally flame-retardant, and so you might have better luck finding a mostly wool rug that has not been treated with flame retardant (because it will be able to pass the Canadian flammability test without the use of these chemicals).
The Two Best Eco-Friendly Rug Companies That Ship to Canada
For the living room of my home, I chose the Aicha rug from a company called Sukhi Rugs. Sukhi Rugs also has a number of different rug options ranging from affordable to high-end in all shapes, sizes, and styles! Sukhi Rugs is a women-owned business that follows fair-trade practices.
The rug I chose is a Beni Ourain rug that is hand-made in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco from the wool from local sheep. If affordability is a concern, they also sell the same style of rug for a fraction of the price that is made in India (and is still 100% wool, non-toxic, and eco-friendly).
I emailed the company before purchasing and confirmed that the rug I was buying was not treated with any chemicals including moth repellants or insecticides prior to sale. A different company that advertised eco-friendly 100% wool rugs told me they did treat their rugs with moth repellant prior to sale, so it is always a good idea to ask if it is not listed on the product description.
I absolutely love this rug and it has been in my home for several years now! It is very thick and comfy to walk on. I clean it with my Miele HEPA vacuum on the lower rug setting and it has remained in good shape (and pest-free) for a few years now.
It is a high-pile, thick rug and for this reason you may want to consider if this is a functional option for your home. It may not be a good option for a frequently trafficked area, especially one where kids play and eat. Stains can be removed relatively easily because it is wool, but heavy spills need to be quickly cleaned up because the rug cannot remain wet for too long because it is so thick it can retain moisture for a long time and this could lead to mildew. Sukhi Rugs has a number of thinner flatweave wool and cotton rugs that might be better options for you if this could be an issue.
Any rug you buy from this company will ship directly from the region of the world it is made. This means it can take a bit longer to receive your rug than normal. If this is an issue, I recommend emailing the company to inquire about shipping times. The good news is the company covers the costs of any import duties you incur, and if you get charged duties you simply need to show them your receipt to get a reimbursement!
Here is a photo of the rug in my old apartment:
Here is a video of the rug being made:
The other eco-friendly and non-toxic rug company that I found (which I did not see available at the time I was purchasing the my Sukhi Rug) is Organic Weave. This is a Canadian-based company that sources its rugs from India. Their rugs are made with fair-trade practices certified by Good Weave.
I emailed the company to confirm that none of their rugs are treated with any moth repellant or any stain-proofing chemicals. They sell rugs made of wool and cotton that use natural dyes; and are free from pesticides, flame retardants, and harmful chemicals. All of their rugs are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) which is the most robust and trustworthy certification you can get for textile products when it comes to them being eco-friendly and toxin-free.
I think their rugs are very beautiful and I would not hesitate to bring one of these rugs into my home! They also sell organic wool wall-to-wall carpet if you are in the process of renovating a home and wish to avoid the toxins that come along with most carpets and carpet backings.
Other Eco-Friendly Rug Options
When I was looking into options I also fell in love with the company Hook and Loom. They have gorgeous ecologically friendly flatweaved 100% wool rugs in all shapes and sizes which are free from dyes, chemicals, and latex. Unfortunately, they do not ship to Canada except with very high shipping costs. While the shipping cost was enough to deter me, if you are in your forever home and have the money or have an American shipping address you may want to consider this option as well!