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Your Green Guide to Choosing Carpet

March 31 2010

More and more homeowners are embracing the idea that they can impact the environment in positive ways through the decorating choices they make for the home. For one such opportunity, you need look no further than underfoot. Carpeting made from synthetic fibers can contain dozens of chemicals and contribute significantly to poor indoor air quality. The good news is that many other environmentally friendly carpeting options exist today. As long as you know what to look for, you can select carpet manufactured in ways that support the environment. Even better, doing so can improve the quality of the air you and your family breathe each day.

Select Carpets Made from Recycled Materials or Natural Fibers

Standard carpet is manufactured from a range of synthetic, petroleum-based products – such as nylon, acrylic, and polyester – which deplete fossil fuels and off-gas chemicals. You can make a difference for the environment and improve your home’s indoor air quality by instead selecting carpet made from natural fibers such as wool, corn leaves or husks, jute, sisal, hemp, seagrass, or cotton. In contrast to synthetic fibers, these materials are both renewable and biodegradable. Another green alternative is to purchase carpet made from recycled plastics, such as soda bottles.
In selecting your carpet, you should also opt for products that have not been chemically treated after manufacture. Many chemical treatments are applied to standard carpeting as part of the dying process. Other common chemical additives include fungicide, fire retardant chemicals, antistatic treatments, and stain-proofing additives. Though their properties may seem valuable, the impact these chemicals have on indoor air pollution makes them something you want to avoid.

Think Small Instead of Wall-to-Wall

Select small area rugs or carpet tiles instead of wall-to-wall carpeting. Doing so makes it easy to replace or clean any areas that may become stained or damaged without having to replace the entire carpet.

Use Biodegradable Adhesives

Much residential-grade carpeting is installed using the tackless-strip method, which is an eco-friendly method that doesn’t require adhesives. But if you are using carpet tiles, indoor-outdoor carpet, of cushion-backed commercial-grade carpet, you or your carpet installer will most likely need to apply an adhesive to the wood subfloor or cement pad before laying the carpet. Likewise, if you are installing carpet padding to the sub-floor before laying the carpet, it may require adhesive. In these instances, be sure to opt for an adhesive that is low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute to indoor air pollution.

Look for CRI Green Label Certification

The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), a nonprofit trade organization representing 95 percent of carpet manufacturers in the United States, in 1992 launched Green Label, a voluntary testing and labelling program to identify carpet, carpet backing, adhesives, and cushions that emit low levels of VOCs. In more recent years, CRI has launched a second certification level called Green Label Plus, which sets an even higher standard for indoor air quality and ensures that customers are purchasing the very lowest-emitting products on the market.

By looking for the Green Label and Green Label Plus logos on the carpet products you select for your home, you can know that you are making the best choice for your family and the environment. To learn more about the CRI Green Label and Green Label Plus testing and certification programs, click here.

Dispose of Old Carpet Responsibly

Now that you’ve done all that you can to make green choices in the new carpeting you select for your home, there’s one more step to take. Be sure to disposes of your old carpeting in an environmentally responsible manner. By recycling older carpet made from synthetic materials, you can help ensure that the non-renewable resources it was made from get reused rather than ending up in a landfill.

If the carpet you are getting rid of is still in fairly useable condition, donate it to a charity, such as Habitat for Humanity, or a used carpet outlet so that it can find new use in another home. According to the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), 500,000 pounds of carpet was diverted to wholesale or retail outlets to be sold or distributed as used carpet in 2006.

If your carpet has come to the end of its useful life, look instead for a private carpet recycler. You can consult CARE for a map of 50 carpet reclamation sites through the United States or use the search engine provided by Earth 911 to locate a recycling company for carpet and carpet padding in your local area. 

Visit our Green Living section to get more tips on environmentally sustainable living.