Rugs can be functional and decorative. Whether you are adding rugs simply as a floor covering or a decorative piece, they add a touch of style and warmth to your home. While rugs may feel smooth and comfortable to touch, most of them are potentially toxic, both for you and the environment. As such, below, we take a look at non-toxic rugs and recommend some of the best options for an environmentally friendly home.
Many rugs, especially the cheaper ones, come from synthetic materials made of plastics like polypropylene, polyester, and nylon. Manufacturers treat polypropylene rugs with various chemicals that are toxic and can reduce air quality when placed indoors.
In this article, we’ll start with some of the best brand choices for organic, sustainable, and non-toxic rugs to buy. Later on, we will explore in detail why traditional rugs may, in fact, be introducing toxins into your home, what materials make for the best sustainable rug choices, and finally wrap up with some rug care tips.
Here are a few brands that offer non-toxic and sustainable rugs. These brands use non-toxic materials in manufacturing and processing their rugs.
Quick links to the best non-toxic rug brands:
Organic Weave is a company founded by Linda Alexanian after a trip to India in 1989. Its founder witnessed the practice of child labor in the rug industry, which spurred a commitment to cause a change in the industry.
Organic Weave makes a wide range of handmade rugs in India by skilled women artisans. They make sustainable, non-toxic rugs like cotton rugs and wool rugs that are GOTS certified. They also use FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified natural latex in making their hand-tufted rugs.
Parachute makes simple yet stunning non-toxic area rugs. They feature undyed wool rugs that come with an OEKO-TEX certification. This means they are free of toxic chemicals and synthetics. They are also Craftmark certified. These natural fiber rugs are sustainably handmade in India by skilled and employed traditional artisans. If you have a minimalist home, Parachute rugs will make a great choice.
Hook & Loom is a US-based company that makes sustainable area rugs in selected workshops in India, free of child labor. They make their rugs from recovered textile cotton, recycled cotton fabric, undyed wool, and other recovered fibers.
Hook & Loom rugs are carefully hand woven into wooden looms and come in a variety of colors, patterns, and sizes. They come free of chemicals, dyes, and fire retardants. They also do not fade when washed. They come in minimal packaging and are eco-friendly.
Coyuchi was founded in a small town in Northern California and has been in the textile industry for years. Their bath rugs use zero-waste recycling methods and consist of 100% certified organic cotton, free of toxic chemicals and VOCs. These non-toxic rugs are also washable. Whereas mostly for the bathroom, you may find other creative uses for smaller spaces.
Coyuchi is committed to sustainability and complies strictly with social and environmental regulations. They are also Fair Trade certified.
Coyuchi is a member of the ‘1% for the Planet’ organization which connects businesses and environmental organizations to help pool funds that go towards projects that protect the planet.
Their products come with a MADE SAFE seal, meaning that their products use natural materials that are not harmful to our health, animals, or the environment.
Earth Weave is one of the first rug manufacturing companies to only use natural materials like hemp and natural latex.
Earth Weave offers a range of Bio-floor rugs that include no synthetic latex, yarn, or backing. These rugs are crafted from undyed wool fibers.
Also, they dye their OrganoSoftColour range offer wool rugs with safe ingredients free of toxic chemicals like moth-proofing chemicals. They make their non-toxic rug pads from naturally pigmented wool carefully needled together to provide a healthy cushion.
Earth Weave rugs are natural and release no off-gas chemicals.
Ruggable is your go-to if you need non-toxic, machine washable rugs. They come in two parts: a rug cover and a rug pad that keeps the rug cover in place. If your rug gets stained, all you need to do is remove the rug cover and throw it into the washing machine.
Ruggable rugs are free of chemicals and safe, even for your pets. They come in various styles, designs, and sizes you can choose from.
Ruggable also gives to causes that support the protection of people, pets, and the planet.
West Elm demonstrates its commitment to eco-friendly products with a wide range of Fair Trade Certified products, including rugs, furniture, and beddings.
So if you are looking for a modern non-toxic area rug for your living room or bedroom, West Elm has got you covered. Their non-toxic natural rugs come in materials like jute, seagrass, and hemp. They also helpfully highlight their rugs as “handmade” or “sustainably sourced” to help you choose the right natural material for the environment.
Citizenry produces a wide range of non-toxic area rugs that come in bold modern patterns. Citizenry selects skilled designers and artists around the world who hand weave their rugs. This company also ensures safe conditions and provides fair wages for its artists and designers.
Lorena Canals make a range of non-toxic area rugs that can add some color and style to your space. Their rugs come handmade using 100% cotton and natural dyes. They are washable and easy to maintain. They also make rugs, especially for children.
For every rug sold, Lorena Canals donates to educational communities that help children in poor areas.
Safavieh offers a line of organic rugs made from 100% natural fibers. These non-toxic area rugs come with an anti-slip bottom for extra safety. They are durable and perfect for the living room, kitchen or bedroom.
Many rugs consist of synthetic fibers like polypropylene, nylon, and polyester. Manufacturers extract synthetic fibers from petroleum-based chemicals. These fibers pass through a process called polymerization. During this process, fibers undergo several treatments using heavy chemicals like mothproofing chemicals, antimicrobials, amongst others.
These synthetic fiber rugs also undergo treatment using perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) to prevent stains and keep them waterproof. Science has linked these chemicals to potential health hazards like cancer development.
According to studies, rugs are a major pathway for PFCs to come in contact with babies and toddlers who spend a lot of their time playing on rugs1. They can also cause health issues like dermatitis and respiratory infections.
Synthetic rugs also release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)2, which can be harmful to our health.
Typically, most rugs contain flame retardant chemicals. Manufacturers apply these flame retardants to materials to prevent or slow down the spread of fire.
Synthetic rugs can prove highly flammable without fire retardant treatment and are therefore specially treated with these fire retardant chemicals. While these chemicals are helpful to reduce fire hazards, they release toxins into the air and water, which can be passed into the body.
Research reveals that children have a high concentration of these flame retardant chemicals compared to adults4.
These chemicals can affect fetal development and lead to other adverse health issues like cancer.
Even rugs using natural fibers like cotton or wool go through manufacturing processes using chemicals and pesticides. Although cotton is natural, its non-eco-friendly harvesting uses pesticides to protect the cotton crop against pests.
Wool also undergoes chemical processing using insecticides and fungicides to protect the sheep from ticks and lice. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals can be dangerous to our health. Pesticides have some health effects, including skin and eye irritation. It also may affect the hormones and nervous system.
These natural rugs containing harmful chemicals are also not environmentally friendly and contribute to air pollution.
Manufacturers use dyes and other chemicals to create various colors in rugs. There are typically two types of dyes: synthetic dyes and natural dyes.
Synthetic dyes come from petrochemicals containing harmful substances like lead, sodium chloride, benzene, copper, amongst others.
On the other hand, natural dyes are biodegradable and safer than synthetic dyes. Also, some natural rugs like cotton rugs and wool rugs are Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified, meaning that chemicals are evaluated and must meet the basic toxicity and biodegradability requirements.
Generally, we have hand-woven rugs, hand-knotted rugs, hand-tufted rugs, and machine-made rugs.
Hand-knotted rugs undergo a longer process than the hand-woven rug. They are more expensive and do not come with a rug backing. Hand-tufted rugs make use of tufting guns and are faster to make. Manufacturers glue these hand-tufted rugs into a backing to keep the tufted fibers together. They do this using a latex coating adhesive.
Machine-made rugs use powered looms, making them faster to manufacture. Similar to hand-tufted rugs, manufacturers use a latex coating adhesive to glue the backing. These latex coating adhesives may come from synthetic rubber, which can be toxic.
Synthetic rubber comes from petroleum-based chemicals. Rugs that come with a synthetic rubber backing can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs)3 into the air.
Handwoven and hand-knotted rugs are your best bet for non-toxic options. Also, instead of a synthetic backing, you can use rug pads made with natural materials.
When we evaluate the toxic manufacturing process of rugs, we see the importance of choosing non-toxic rugs that are equally sustainable.
Non- toxic rugs use natural and sustainable fibers like sisal, jute, seagrass, coir, as well as GOTS certified organic cotton, wool, or hemp. GOTS-certified rugs also use GOTS-approved dyes and so do not contain toxic dyes.
Sisal is a natural fiber from the ‘agave sisalana’ cactus plant. Sisal is absorbent, durable, and stronger than other plant fibers like Jute. It is a non-toxic material free of VOCs, pesticides, and chemical treatments. They are also dye-absorbent and come in various colors.
Sisal rugs don’t trap dust and are easy to maintain, only requiring vacuum cleaning. However, you should clean liquid spilling as quickly as possible, as this can leave stains and marks on the rug.
Sisal rugs have a coarse feel and are best suited for places like hallways, entrances, kitchens, and bathrooms.
Jute is a soft natural fiber that manufacturers derive from plants. Jute fiber is biodegradable, non-toxic, and requires little or no fertilizers or pesticides.
Jute rugs do not absorb dirt and can be stained or damaged by liquid. They are also more affordable than sisal rugs. Jute rugs have a comfortable and soft feel and are perfect for areas like the bedroom or dining room. Avoid using them in areas with high moisture, like kitchens and bathrooms.
Seagrass is a natural fiber from flowering plants growing in the sea. Its texture is soft and smooth and comes in its greenish-brown natural color. Seagrass rugs are biodegradable and release no VOCs.
Seagrass rugs are stain, dust, and dirt resistant compared to sisal or jute rugs. However, you should clean liquids quickly to avoid stain marks. These eco-friendly rugs are affordable and are perfect for high-traffic areas like living rooms, entrance ways, and hallways.
Coir is a durable natural fiber derived from the husk of the coconut shell. They are biodegradable and eco-friendly. Coir rugs require little or no chemicals during their manufacturing process. They are naturally insect repellent but can also stain easily. To prevent the coir rug from shedding, avoid any contact with moisture. You should use powder products for cleaning instead of liquid products.
They have a rough texture and come in their natural color. Because of their strong texture, we often find coir rugs used as doormats.
Bamboo is a sustainable material used to make a variety of products, including rugs, clothing, and furniture. Manufacturers extract bamboo fiber from bamboo plants. They are also 100% biodegradable.
Bamboo rugs are durable and dirt resistant. They are easy to vacuum and clean. They are also good for areas like the living room and bedroom.
Cotton fibers come from the cotton plant. While most cotton is genetically modified, organic cotton does not use genetically modified crops, pesticides, or fertilizers. Organic cotton rugs are machine washable. You can also clean them using a vacuum cleaner. They absorb dye readily and come in a variety of colors. These dyes are also GOTS-approved.
Organic cotton rugs are very absorbent and stain easily. You should clean up liquid spills quickly. These rugs are perfect for the bedroom or children’s room.
Wool is one of the most common natural materials used in making rugs. They are natural wool fibers from sheep, goat, or camel coats. While wool is natural, some processes dip this wool in pesticides and other chemicals to clean the wool and remove lice and ticks.
If you are looking for non-toxic wool rugs, a rug that uses certified organic wool is an eco-friendly option. It is biodegradable and uses no chemicals or flame retardants. They are naturally fire-resistant.
Organic wool rugs are tough and durable. They retain their shape and can last for decades if maintained properly. Organic wool rugs are also water-resistant and don't absorb water easily. However, high humidity and moisture can cause the growth of molds and mildews. They are also more expensive than other natural fiber rugs. They are perfect for living rooms or dining rooms. Avoid areas with high moisture.
Synthetic rugs are typically from plastic and petroleum products. They include polypropylene rugs, polyester rugs, and nylon rugs.
These rugs are durable and affordable. However, as examined above, synthetic rugs give off harmful VOCs that can cause indoor pollution. They also use heavy chemicals, which can be toxic both to our health and to the environment.
On the other hand, natural fiber rugs consist of natural materials like sisal, jute, seagrass, bamboo, cotton, wool, and so on. These materials are 100% biodegradable and renewable.
Most natural rugs are stain-resistant and durable. They are also free of any toxic chemicals. However, they are more expensive than synthetic rugs.
After purchasing a rug that protects you and the environment, you want to make sure these rugs last for a long time. Here are a few care tips that will help you:
A rug pad protects your rug and prevents it from slipping. This is especially handy if you have children or elderly ones who are prone to slipping at home.
Rug pads hold your area rug in place even as you vacuum or move your furniture around. It also increases the lifespan of your rug and prevents your rug fibers from dwindling. You want to make sure you use rug pads made with natural materials like wool or natural latex. Synthetic latex adhesives can be toxic to you and the environment.
Vacuuming your rug is a basic care tip. It also depends on its size and type. Rugs placed at high traffic areas like entrances and hallways tend to hold out more dirt and debris and should be regularly vacuumed.
Ensure you clean out debris from the back of the rug to avoid damaging your floor.
To keep your rug in good condition, avoid using the brush roll in your vacuum cleaner, especially when cleaning delicate rugs.
Shoes can bring germs and toxins into your home. It can also grind your rug fibers and cause them to look dull and older. You want to make sure you and your visitors take off shoes before coming into the house.
You might notice that some parts of your rug might become weary from furniture pressure. Rotating your furniture helps to prevent wear and tear, prevent it from fading and keep it looking new.
Clean any liquid spills as quickly as possible with a clean towel to avoid staining your rug and a build-up of molds and mildews.
We have established that rugs can come with chemicals that are toxic and harmful to health and the environment. Thanks to non-toxic natural alternatives like jute rugs, sisal rugs, seagrass rugs, organic wool and cotton rugs, and so on, we can now avoid the harmful effects of these chemicals.
Choosing non-toxic rugs that are sustainable is one way to protect our health and the planet.
Sunderland, E. M., Hu, X. C., Dassuncao, C., Tokranov, A. K., Wagner, C. C., & Allen, J. G. (2019). A review of the pathways of human exposure to poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) and present understanding of health effects. Journal of exposure science & environmental epidemiology, 29(2), 131–147. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-018-0094-1
United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA (2021) Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality EPA.gov.
United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA (2021) Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality EPA.gov.
National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (2016, July) Flame Retardants