Here's an easy breakdown to pick the least-toxic rugs
Why a non-toxic rug is best
Little feet wobbling on the rug, happy dogs snoozing on the rug, and a tired human laying on the rug. You and your family spend A LOT of time at home, and most likely, without you knowing it, a lot of time with any rugs in your home. Rugs are one of those things in your home that surprisingly can contain a multitude of different harmful chemicals to given them desirable qualities like resisting every stain in the entire world. While these qualities are great, the chemicals used are not. Chemicals can include phthalates which are known endocrine disruptors and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS which can cause negative cardiovascular, endocrine, immunologic, reproductive and developmental effects (1).
What we want to avoid
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): VOCs are released as gases from chemicals used to produce rugs and can cause eye, nose and throat irritation (4). The primary source of VOCs when it comes to rugs is the glue used to hold rug components together (4).
- Synthetic primary materials: These materials include plastics like polypropylene, nylon and synthetic rubber which can contain endocrine-disrupting phthalates (3).
- Dyes: Many toxic chemicals are used in order to get the beautiful, bright colors we love in rugs (4). This is especially the case for wool rugs, as wool naturally resists color and is normally treated with harsh chemicals to make it hold the dye (3). We should note that this is just the case for conventionally dyed wool rugs. Many companies focused on health are now using safer chemicals and methods to dye rugs (3).
- Glues and other adhesives: These are the main source of formaldehyde, a chemical that can cause ear, nose and throat irritation from short-term exposure and can potentially lead to cancer after long-term exposure (5).
- Perfluorinated Chemicals: While stain-resistance might be all the rage, rugs that are stain-resistant or water-resistant are actually extremely bad for your health. Perfluorinated chemicals are used to give rugs these seemingly amazing properties, but can cause changes to fertility and negative neurological development in children (3,6). If you see the words 'waterproof' and 'stain-resistant' on a rug label, it's basically code word for "stay away! I've been treated with PFAS!"
Where these chemicals might be hiding
There are three (yes, three!) main areas that you should be concerned about when purchasing a rug. We've listed the best materials to look for when purchasing a rug to avoid the most toxic chemicals.
- Tops of rugs. When looking for rugs, choose rugs that are primarily made of these materials (2).
- Organic cotton
- Backing: If you've ever flipped over a rug wondering if it was reversible and saw a lattice-like, rubbery-looking, non-slip surface, that's the backing. Not all rugs have backings (for example flatweave and hand knotted rugs don't), but for rugs that do, look for backings that are made from hemp, cotton, or natural latex, instead of PVC or petroleum-based latex (3).
- Rug pads: Rug underlay pads are usually put under rugs without backings to keep them from slipping or moving around. Rugs that have a backing usually do not need an underlay pad. Again, look for underlay pads made from hemp, cotton or natural latex and stay away from PVC or petroleum-based latex (3). Usually unless the label specifically says what the backing is made from, you can assume that it's a synthetic latex, which might likely contains phthalates (3).
Keep your eye out for these certifications for safer rugs
- OEKO-TEX: This is an independent textile testing institute. Their products are certified-free from formaldehyde, heavy metals, pesticides, phthalates and other chemicals that cause harm to the body (7). You can search up their certified products here.
- GREENGUARD: All certified GREENGUARD products meet stringent emissions standards based on established chemical exposure criteria (8). Their products also take into consideration the sustainability of a product (8).
- Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS): This certification covers the entire supply chain, from the production of cotton all the way until the product reaches you in the store (8). Again, harmful chemicals are not allowed and a strong emphasis is placed on ensuring that products also do not contain chemical residues (8). All GOTS products contain 95 percent certified organic fibers (9).