Published on August 28th, 2013 | by Andrea Bertoli
From the Archives: Natural Flooring Alternatives
As the new editor for Green Living Ideas, it’s always fun to see which of our posts are super popular and have long-term value for our site. In case you are wondering, our most popular post everyday is the homemade drain cleaner post. But another popular and wildly informative article is our post about natural flooring alternatives to conventional carpet.
In case you have not heard, regular carpet is made from unsustainable petrochemicals, which then off-gasses VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air, creating indoor air pollution. There are many things that natural flooring can be made from, including jute, seagrass (I have a seagrass rug and LOVE it), cork, bamboo and more!
Why avoid Conventional Carpeting Material?
- Standard carpet is made of nylon, acrylic, polypropylene, or polyester, and is frequently backed with synthetic SB latex, polyurethane, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC)—all of which are petroleum products. SB latex, which is used on at least 90% of carpet, contains the toxin styrene and is a suspected carcinogen. PVC is the subject of a health controversy that resulted in several of its components being banned from children’s toys in Europe.
- Synthetic carpets of all kinds are known to off-gas dozens of chemicals, not only from the materials themselves but also from the heavy chemical treatments that they receive, including dye, stain-proofing, fungicide, antistatic, and fire retardant.
- Installation of conventional carpets are another area of concern because often VOC-containing adhesives are used.
- Synthetic carpets, which tend to age badly and do not decompose, are generally disposed of in landfills, where they occupy a large amount of space.
Eco-Friendly Carpeting Material Alternatives
- Eco-friendly alternatives to standard carpeting include recycled-content carpet, made from a variety of materials, including plastic soda bottles, nylon, cotton, wool, or even used carpet. Some recycled-content carpet can even be reclaimed at the end of its lifecycle by the manufacturer, who will recycle it again, transforming a non-renewable substance into a renewed material.
- Another sustainable carpeting is wool. Not only is it made from a renewable and biodegradable resource: the cut hair of sheep or llamas that depend on the grass of New Zealand hills instead of the oils of the Middle East. On a purely tactile level, wool is often thought of as superior to synthetics for its richness of texture, durability, and natural crimp, which preserves the springy quality of plush carpet. Wool is also resistant to soiling, moisture, static, and fire, and has been shown to be less hospitable to dust mites than synthetic fibers, while trapping pollutants and keeping them out of the air for decades.
- Plant fibers are another sustainable flooring component that have the advantage of being VOC-free, biodegradable, and chemically untreated. The best-known is sisal, made from leaves of an agave plant, grown without pesticides and harvested by hand in the deserts of Latin America and Africa.
- Seagrass is another sustainable option, being a thicker fiber grown underwater in Asia and woven into tough carpets backed with latex or urethane. Because it doesn’t hold dye, the green-brown color of seagrass ties it to its natural source, and it’s also very easy to care for.
As a whole, the materials mentioned above are made from renewable resources, are healthy for indoor air quality, and have stimulating textures that provide a far different feel than that offered by traditional flooring. When purchasing of any of these products, it is still important to consider:
- The eco-friendliness of backing material
- The sustainability of the constituent material—how it’s harvested
- The energy involved in farming production and shipping distance