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Traditional carpet can release toxic chemicals into your home. It also has volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be off-gassed as well. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), emissions should be addressed through proper ventilation for the first 72 hours because carpet adhesives can off-gas VOCs. The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) has instituted the CRI Indoor Air Quality Green Label Program to identify the level of emissions from floor adhesives, cushioning, and carpets, allowing people to easily find low-emitting materials to choose if they are looking to go eco-friendly.

There are numerous steps to buying such a carpet. In general, make sure the product has been tested under the CRI program. It is also better if you can clean and maintain the product without much hassle. The quality of the carpet should also be such that it resists the penetration of liquids to the backing layer. Moisture that collects underneath the material can support mold, which leads to unsafe conditions inside a home.

Other safer methods of installation are available. The EPA also suggests:

  • Unrolling and airing out carpets in a warehouse before they are delivered.

  • Using the least toxic carpet adhesive, in the smallest amounts possible, based on the product’s manufacturer specifications.

  • Eliminating gluing by tacking down the carpet, which eliminates adhesive off-gassing altogether.

  • Installing carpet when school and other public/commercial buildings are not in use.

  • Placing carpets away from sinks, water fountains, pools, or showers where it may get wet.

  • Buying carpet that does not require toxic chemicals to be removed.

Selecting the Right Carpet

When you choose to buy an eco-friendly carpet, consider all types available. There are many varieties on the market, such as wall-to-wall, area, and tile carpets. Some are made from natural fibers made of renewable materials such as seagrass, organic wool, cotton, or bamboo. Biodegradable materials make up most of the environmentally friendly products. On the other hand, you can go with recycled carpets made from materials derived from plastic bottles. Such materials can be further recycled into furniture stuffing and insulation, forming a recycling chain that avoids fossil fuel consumption on several fronts.

Find the Right Company

The only way to find out if a company is environmentally responsible is to check for its certification. The major certifications consider criteria such as water usage, waste, energy efficiency, emissions during the manufacturing process, and the quality and safety of the materials used. These include:

  • CRI Green Label Plus: Accredited by the American National Standards Institute, the testing program meets/exceeds all regulatory emissions requirements. Labeled products also meet the LEED version 4 standard for low emissions, contributing to a higher scoring of a building by the U.S. Green Building Council.

  • The Sustainable Carpet Standard (NSF 140): The NSF/ANSI 140 Sustainability Assessment for Carpet provides a means to measure achievements in reducing energy consumption, waste, water usage, carbon dioxide emissions, and more. It applies to manufacturing, the supply chain, and the finished product, plus how it impacts public health/the environment and is discarded.

  • Cradle to Cradle: A certification program that applies several categories, and product certifications at five different levels. It also provides a platform for continuous improvement. Manufacturers can obtain a Material Health Certificate to reveal when they have replaced chemicals, for example, and meet defined standards.

  • BRE Environmental Assessment: A leading sustainability assessment method called BREEAM measures across nine categories and is used in more than 70 countries. High ratings are associated with lower operating costs, sustainability, and a preferable cost versus value.

You can focus on the company’s choice of eco-friendly products. Many have even refined their manufacturing processes. Such organizations consider the environment and the planet when producing their products, whether it is through their energy or material usage. Manufacturers known for eco-friendly policies implemented for creating environmentally friendly carpet include Shaw, Mohawk, Beaulieu, and Interface, Inc., maker of modular FLOR carpet tiles.

Another way to check that manufacturers are serious about recycling is to see if they have carpet take-back programs. Those that do reclaim old carpeting, turn it into new carpets, and even down-cycle it, producing other products that attain high quality using the same materials the original item had. These manufacturers often use biodegradable materials too.

Eco-Friendliness: More than Just the Carpet Itself

Try to air out the product or avoid that new carpet odor altogether. The smell is usually from a latex binder byproduct called 4-phenylcyclohexene, a VOC that sticks the fibers to the backing and can smell up a room for a week. Airing out the carpet is great, but non-environmentally friendly compounds may be found in the carpet pads as well. For example, felt padding is a much better alternative to styrene-butadiene rubber.

Make sure the instructions or installer explain how to clean the carpet. By not using the proper techniques, VOCs can be trapped along with dust mites and a host of allergens. These can get trapped within the fibers and released into the air whenever someone walks over the rug or there is a gust of air in the room.

Just because a carpet is advertised as natural, it does not mean unwanted chemicals and compounds are not present. Some wool materials have pesticide residues from compounds used to repel parasites on sheep. There are also carpets treated with flame repellants, which are not so healthy when human exposure is taken into account.

Untreated wool, camel hair felt, and non-synthetic latex are among the most eco-friendly materials. Look into how the backings are applied. It’s best if they are done so with natural adhesives or even sewn on.

Therefore, you should ask many questions when looking to purchase eco-friendly carpet. The right choice can yield a healthier home and peace of mind knowing the environment was well-served during manufacturing and will be someday when the carpet no longer has any use.

Sources: MNN.com, EPA, HGTV, Carpet-rug.org, C2CCertified.org, Breeam.com