All I want is a rug that doesn't try to kill my in my sleep.
January 11, 2010 5:07 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy area rugs that will have the minimum possible negative impact on my family's health (crawling baby, spouse with allergies). Low to moderate budget. Are Ikea wool rugs the way to go? If not, any other ideas for non-offgassing, somewhat non-allergenic, but still comfy floor coverings?

So yes, the autism epidemic, plus all these recent exposés on phthalates, BPA and other VOCs, have me pretty freaked out about the under-researched health effects of chemical additives in common household materials. But the baby is starting to crawl, and we need something a bit softer to cover our existing laminate flooring.

Ideally, I'd like a carpet that, you know, just covers the floor, and DOESN'T release harmful fumes into the air or get flame-retardant chemicals on our kid or exacerbate my partner's allergies or hatch maggots. But it is fiendishly difficult to find out for certain which carpets qualify, especially since the manufacturers seldom give information on which chemical treatments have been added to any given rug. I'd tentatively decided on this hideous wool rug from Ikea, largely because 1. 100% wool = natural, right?, and 2. Ikea is supposedly somewhat greener and more health-conscious than other big-box stores. So, some questions:

1. Am I right that wool (with no latex underlayer) is the way to go for minimal offgassing and minimal chemical contamination? If there's a healthier option out there (PET?), what might it be and where would I procure it?

2. Assuming I want to go with the wool option, is Ikea a good place to buy such a rug, in terms of quality, durability, and relative avoidance of harmful chemical treatments?

Unfortunately, google searching mostly turns up fearmongering crackpot sites, and I'm finding it hard to weigh risks vs. benefits of each option in anything like a systematic way. Any firsthand accounts, or suggestions of ways to approach this?
posted by Bardolph to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What about hemp?
posted by jquinby at 5:11 PM on January 11, 2010

..and if hemp isn't plush enough, I bet some of these bamboo rugs are fargin' great.
posted by jquinby at 5:13 PM on January 11, 2010

These cotton rugs are organically dyed and washable, which should help remove any lingering chemicals (and keep them dust and baby stuff free).

Of course, you also have to think about what you'll use to keep them from slipping (same with most rugs).
posted by crabintheocean at 5:27 PM on January 11, 2010

I'd go with cotton rugs, organic if possible. Ikea is probably a pretty good bet, though depending on state law you might not be able to get away from brominated flame retardants.

Interface is a carpet manufacturer that has been taking leadership on environmental issues for many years. I believe they only produce for commercial users, though.

While we're on the subject, though, I couldn't help notice that you mentioned that you had laminate floors. Can you say more about that? Is it some kind of vinyl or vinyl composite material? That stuff is made with phthalates and is exactly what you want to keep your child away from. See Scientific American: scientists Find 'Baffling' Link between Autism and Vinyl Flooring.
posted by alms at 5:45 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Cotton rugs will be better than wool because you can wash them. We have a 5 x 7 that goes in the washer frequently due to the massive amounts of cat hair in our household. With a baby and an allergic spouse, being able to wash the rug will be a big bonus. We chose this rug from Pottery Barn. I am not sure if they have been organically dyed. But they are pretty.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 6:02 PM on January 11, 2010

@alms-- the flooring is Pergo, which I understand uses melamine for the topcoat. So, mild formaldehyde concerns, but (to my knowledge, at least) no issues with phthalates. The entire freaking house is Pergo, though (not our choice!), so phthalates or no phthalates, we're pretty much stuck with it.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far! My only concerns with the cotton flatwoven rugs were (a) that they might not be cushy enough under an unsteady, frequently-falling toddler, and (b) that such rugs in the sizes we're looking for (~8'x11') wouldn't be machine-washable anyway-- although I guess we could just use the hose in the backyard. I'll definitely give cotton further thought, though. Keep the ideas coming!
posted by Bardolph at 6:09 PM on January 11, 2010

What about FLOR carpet tiles?

From their FAQs: "FLOR carpet tiles meet or exceed the Carpet & Rug Institute's Green Label Plus standards for VOC emissions (Volatile Organic Compounds)"

Plus if your little one spills juice on it or colors it with markers one day, you can just replace the one damaged tile rather than the whole rug.
posted by cecic at 6:33 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, if you find a regular carpet that you like and meets your safety needs, your local carpet store can bind any wall to wall carpet into an area rug.
posted by cecic at 6:35 PM on January 11, 2010

I went through these same questions. I purchased a wool rug by Earth Weave. As far as I could tell in my exhaustive research, this was the best out there and there was very, very little to choose from that met my paranoid standards. I purchased the rug from Compostable Goods after also doing an equally exhaustive price comparison. I also got a natural rubber non-skid rug gripper there too. (I think you can get samples of both.)

I'm very happy with the rug. HTH. Let me know if you have any other questions.
posted by rabidsegue at 7:54 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Our local enivronmental building store sells these natural carpet brands. One of them might work as an area rug (bound into an area rug as cecic mentions.)
posted by vespabelle at 8:20 PM on January 11, 2010

Sheepskin. 1,2,4,8 pelt. Various colors including honey and black.
posted by Muirwylde at 11:27 PM on January 11, 2010

From their FAQs: "FLOR carpet tiles meet or exceed the Carpet & Rug Institute's Green Label Plus standards for VOC emissions (Volatile Organic Compounds)"

I haven't fully researched the Carpet & Rug Institute's Green Label Plus standards. However, it's notable that the word "phthalate" does not appear on their website. (Google shows one hit, but it's a dead link.)

Armstrong has a similar sustainability program called FloorScore, which says in part, "Products with the FloorScore seal are in compliance with California Section 01350 for low VOC emissions."

Sounds pretty good, right? Probably means the products with this label won't have phthalates, right? Especially since phthalates are the chemical of greatest concern in flooring material.

Um, nope. If you read the fine print on the FloorScore standard, it specifically excludes phthalates because --- get this --- phthalates "are so toxic that they pose health risks even in very low, hard-to-measure concentrations". So they classify phthalates as a "semi-voc" and allow it to be present even in their so-called green products.

Of course, the word "phthalate" doesn't appear on the Armstrong website, either.

As the OP said, it is very hard to get good info from manufacturers about this. It's extremely frustrating partly because it is not necessary. Armstrong actually has a line of phthalate-free products, but the only way to find that out is to read this pdf of a powerpoint presentation by Armstrong employees from an industry conference. One can only guess that they don't want to impugn the safety of their other products.

Nalgene took a similar position wrt BPA until they were ready to switch over 100% to BPA-free products. They still won't tell you that BPA is bad because of liability concerns over past actions. But at least now they're willing to tell you that a product is BPA-free. Hopefully the flooring industry will get to that point soon.
posted by alms at 7:05 AM on January 12, 2010

Oh, I see that the FLOR products that Cecic was referring to are made by Interface. As I said earlier, that's a company I would tend to trust. I may be able to get a definitive answer, though, on whether FLOR products contain phthalates. I'll see what I can find and report back.
posted by alms at 7:07 AM on January 12, 2010

I asked my friend and he didn't know. He suggested calling the company.
posted by alms at 10:02 AM on January 12, 2010

A different friend came through with some good info:
Good question. Not sure -- Interface still uses PVC but I don't know whether or not this specific product contains PVC/phthalates. I forwarded your e-mail to the Healthy Building Network to see if they know.

If you're looking for carpeting - some other carpeting companies have gone PVC (and therefore phthalate) - free. Those include Shaw Carpet and Milliken.
posted by alms at 6:45 AM on January 15, 2010

Alms, thank you SO MUCH for this research! This is why I love Metafilter.
posted by Bardolph at 7:07 AM on January 18, 2010

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