Eco friendly carpet materials include wool, jute, sisal, coir and seagrass. All of these are natural fibers and depending on how they have been treated, they can be non-toxic, breathable but still soft and durable.
Recently, manufacturers have been developing carpet tiles and carpets from recycled materials like marine plastic and water bottles too. Reusing plastic in this way makes a synthetic carpet a bit more environmentally friendly. Take care with how they manufacture the carpet, plus check any backing and adhesives they use.
Table of Contents
- VOCs in carpets
- Wool eco friendly carpet
- Jute eco friendly carpet
- Sisal eco friendly carpet
- Eco friendly underlay
- Seagrass eco friendly carpet
- Coir eco friendly carpet
- Eco friendly carpet tiles
- Eco friendly carpet ideas
VOCs in carpets
Carpets made out of nylon and polypropylene are petroleum based products. They emit VOCs into the home. Carpet backing, adhesives and carpet underlay are also sources of VOCs, toxins and carcinogens. Carpet treatments like stain prevention treatments can also be toxic. Carpet padding or underlay is made of recycled polyurethane foam and adhesives which if older can contain PBDEs.
Like most plastics, carpets are also not biodegradable, taking decades or even centuries to degrade in landfill. Despite campaigns like CARE in America 89% of carpet is still discarded rather than recycled. Only 1% of carpet is recycled. Carpet discards make up 3.5% of total landfill in the USA.
Wool eco friendly carpet
Wool is a luxurious and sought after material for carpets. To be an eco friendly carpet, wool will need to be sourced sustainably.
Wool can be sheared annually and sheep can be free range, grazed in open fields and hills and eating grass. If treated carefully, a wool carpet can last up to 20 years. It can then be recycled and as it is organic and biodegradable, be decomposed safely if it is beyond recycling. This longevity can make it more sustainable than a synthetic carpet.
A wool carpet also requires 15-30% less energy to produce than a synthetic fiber carpet. Wool carpet is also non-toxic without the formaldehyde (a VOC), nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxide found in other materials. Wool is a natural fire retardant and stain resistant material so you can use less chemical cleaners, and in fact they are not recommended.
Wool is also a natural insulator, so a home with wool carpet may need less heating and cooling. Wool carpet absorbs humidity and dust from the air. It is resistant to bacteria and non-allergenic because the fibers are not small enough to be breathed in. Wool is voted our best eco friendly carpet material of the lot.
What is the downside? Wool can be eaten by moths. It is also more expensive than synthetic carpet materials. Wool carpet costs between $2,000 and $4,000 for 200 square feet installed with a fiber cushion pad. Compare this to $400-$800 for 200 square feet of polypropylene carpet, or $700-$1,300 for 200 square feet of polyester carpet, installed.
Jute eco friendly carpet
Jute is a natural and luxurious material for carpets. It is soft, like wool, so it is suitable for bedrooms and living rooms. Jute, sometimes known as golden fiber, is an environmentally friendly crop as it consumes CO2 and emits oxygen. It is quick growing, taking only 4-6 months to reach maturity and it fertilizes the soil it is grown in.
To be an eco friendly carpet material, jute needs to be biologically retted (extracted) rather than chemically processed. Jute is often mixed with other fibers, so they need to be eco friendly too. If natural and not mixed with synthetic fibers, jute does not off-gas VOCs. Jute carpets are high tensile, hard wearing and breathable, which is good for those who have allergies. Jute carpets are less expensive than wool or sisal.
Sisal eco friendly carpet
Sisal is an eco friendly carpet material for a number of reasons. Sisal agave is strong and therefore durable and long lasting. This makes it ideal for high traffic areas like hallways and stairs. It is a natural fiber, so it is biodegradable once it reaches its end of life.
Sisal, like jute, is quick to grow, reaching maturity within 9 months. It can be grown in arid conditions and in shallow soils. Sisal does not replenish the soil it is grown in, so soil does need to be fertilized if crops are not rotated.
Sisal is non-toxic and good for people with allergies. Like wool and jute it does not give off gas & VOCs. Sisal carpet is easy to clean and maintain. It is prone to staining and not as soft as wool or jute. To make it an eco friendly carpet, use sisal carpet with an eco friendly underlay.
Eco friendly underlay
Anglo Recycling makes eco friendly underlay for carpets. They use 80% recycled wool fibers mixed with polypropylene. A padding or underlay that has potential to be more eco friendly is cotton. Floorspace in Australia use needle punch recycled pressed cotton underlay. Cotton is not always an eco friendly material and the source of the cotton is important.
Seagrass eco friendly carpet
Seagrass carpets are more resistant to tears and a durable fiber. This makes them perfect for high foot traffic areas like hallways. The hard fibers repel dust, making them a good solution for those with allergies. An eco friendly carpet made of seagrass needs to be undyed (or the dye must be environmentally friendly).
Seagrass carpets are on the cheaper end of the range of natural fiber eco friendly carpets. One of the disadvantages of seagrass carpet is that they are prone to mold and mildew and are cool to touch, so it is more suitable for warm climates.
Although it is natural, seagrass is not very sustainable, as seagrass meadows are being depleted from harvesting. Seagrass meadows are an important marine environment as they store carbon. They need protection if they are not going to be destroyed like rainforests.
Coir eco friendly carpet
Coir is hard wearing and durable, making it ideal for high traffic areas. Coir fibers come from the husk of a coconut which is sustainable and renewable. Coir is 100% organic and 100% biodegradable so it makes an eco friendly carpet material.
The coir fiber is spun off the coconut husk and the longer fibers are used for matting and carpets. Really long fibers are used for rope, shorter fibers are used for other products like mattresses. Coir is the cheapest natural fiber that is on this list of eco friendly carpets.
Coconut is partly sustainable, as it takes a long time to grow and produce and it cannot be rotated with other crops. On the other hand, if the coconuts husks used for carpet manufacture are a by-product of other coconut products, it is a positive use of waste.
Eco friendly carpet tiles
Carpet manufacturers are coming up with all sorts of clever ways to make more sustainable carpets. They often use recycled fibers.
EGE carpets make eco friendly carpet tiles and carpets out of fishing nets and recycled carpets with a backing made of recycled water bottles. They are Cradle to Cradle Bronze Certified®.
Interface flooring is a completely carbon neutral company that is global. They have produced a number of innovations including adhesive free eco friendly carpet tiles, recycled carpet nylon, recycled fishing nets and bio based alternatives.
Eco friendly carpet ideas
This list should give you some eco friendly carpet ideas for your sustainable home. What kind of carpet do you use? Whatever eco friendly carpet material you choose, choose carefully and check the provenance of the materials and the manufacturing processes. As we have shown, adhesives, padding and underlay, backing materials and treatments can all make the carpet toxic.
We have given wool the thumbs up for its many environmentally friendly features but it is more costly. Jute and other natural fibers are alternatives to consider.
Recycled synthetic fibers are at least reusing materials that would otherwise have gone to landfill. Anything that prevents more non-degradable waste going into landfill has to be an improvement.