Are you looking for a safe natural non-toxic rug free from harmful chemicals for your living room or for the kids bedroom? Natural fiber rugs are a great choice for anyone looking for the safest selections. There are also rugs made from synthetic fabric that also avoid the most problematic chemicals as well. Based on your budget and interest, we can help you find a great rug for your home. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best organic mattresses, best air purifiers, & safest non-toxic upholstery & carpet cleaners, now join us for a guide to how to buy the safest rugs available.
Disclosure: This post was medically evaluated by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN and Rebecca Harks, RN, BSN. This post also contains affiliate links.
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Most Commercial Rugs are Made From Toxic Chemicals & Synthetic Materials
Most commercial rugs you’ll find in big box stores are made with toxic materials that serve many purposes that sound great like (1) flame resistance, (2) stain resistance, (3) water resistance, (4) to make the fabric bright and colorful, (4) to keep lice and other bugs from infesting them, and (5) to keep the rug from slipping on the floor. However, in order to solve these problems, toxic chemicals and materials were typically used for these purposes and over the years independent researchers have discovered that many of these chemicals are more problematic than we originally understood.
Over time these toxic materials and chemicals can break down inside your rug to expose you. Not to mention how toxic they can be to young children and pregnant women, who are the most vulnerable to hormone disrupting chemicals within our population. Before you purchase another rug, it’s important to know what your options are and where you can find the safest rugs. Mamavation has created this investigation on rugs to answer some of the most important questions about rugs and their materials. We’ve also created a plan for you to mitigate your indoor air quality even if you have a more toxic product already.
How Chemical Applications on Rugs Can Cause Problems
Some applications of chemicals have been more detrimental to public health. Rugs may be beautiful but over time some of these toxic applications can become airborne in the air and potentially disrupt hormones. Here we some of the issues you may run into if you purchase a conventional rug.
- Synthetic fibers like Olefin (aka polypropylene) and nylon, are derived from petrochemicals. The problem with petroleum based chemicals are they are incredibly flammable on their own. And thus, chemicals must be added to these fibers in order to pass the strict flammability standards set forth by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. So lots of times, polyester and other petroleum based fabrics are treated with antimony, a toxic heavy metal, to keep the fibers from catching fire. Will you be exposed to antimony when you purchase rugs made from synthetic fabrics? We are not sure, but over time and wear & tear, the antimony will release from the fibers. (This is also a problem with mattresses.) This is not so much of an exposure problem with the backing portion of the rug as much as it is the portion that you walk on. But over time, both the backing and the exposed part of the rug will break down if they are made from synthetic materials.
- Chemical treatments for stain-resistance, water-resistance, flame resistance & fade resistance can also be added to rugs. This is where you will see PFAS “forever chemical” treatments, additional flame retardant chemicals, or other types of mystery chemicals used to keep the rugs bright and clean. Some states, such as California, are moving to restrict some of these chemicals in rugs, but this is not true for the rest of the United States. Unfortunately, most of the chemicals used to treat rugs are also endocrine disrupting chemicals that are linked to cancer, reproductive, or developmental issues. The chemical treatments used in rugs are more of a direct exposure issue because over time these chemicals are released into the air and attach themselves to dust which are breathed into the lungs. You can also be exposed when these chemical particles get on your hands and you eat without washing your hands first. If you have small children, they can also be exposed to these chemicals simply by playing on or around the rug.
- Backing materials used in area rugs are important so you don’t slip but these materials are mostly made from synthetic rubber, which can release butadiene, a classified toxic pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Toxic glues and adhesives are also used in the backings are often made with formaldehyde and other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that can off-gas into your indoor air creating poor indoor air quality.
- Colorful dyes can be made from toxic chemicals that can also contain heavy metals. For instance, dyed wool rugs can be treated with especially harsh chemicals to absorb those bright colors. Of particular concern are AZO dyes, which could be potential carcinogens.
- Fumigants are also something you can find as a contaminant in the rug industry. When something made from raw wool or cotton is shipped to the United States from another country, it must go through customs. Lots of times, it’s treated with fumigants (mostly methyl bromide) to kill any sort of pest species that may have hitched a ride on the boat. In order to protect agriculture, it’s a high priority to kill these pests before they escape customs and get into the environment where they do not belong. This does not mean, however, that your rug would automatically be exposed to fumigants if they took precautions by wrapping them in a heavy plastic beforehand. This would be an example of a good use of plastic to keep the rug or raw materials from being exposed to the fumigants.
Natural Materials Used in Non-Toxic Rugs
The best materials to use in rugs are natural materials. The following materials would be the most non-toxic options available:
- GOTS certified organic cotton, Egyptian cotton, or recycled cotton: The best part of cotton is most of the time, these rugs are machine washable, which make them a great choice for family rugs or underneath dining tables.
- Wool or GOTS certified wool: Wool has natural fire retardant qualities and also has a natural ability to inhibit the growth of bacteria and dust mites without any use of chemicals whatsoever. It’s also very hearty and can handle high traffic areas and is easier to clean than other natural materials.
- Hemp: Hemp rugs don’t attract dirt like other types of rugs do so they are much better for allergy and asthma sufferers. Hemp fibers are also durable which makes them perfect for high traffic areas. They are also mildew-resistent and thus can go inside or outside areas.
- Jute: Jute is a flexible fiber derived from the jute plant that typically grows in India or China. Jute rugs are sustainable and made to create small or chunky braids which can add a depth and richness to décor.
- Seagrass: Seagrass is grown in saltwater marshes thus making it naturally water resistant. Sea grass is also stain-resistant, durable, and is very sustainable because it is fast growing and easy to harvest.
- Fique Fiber: Fique is a plant from the furcraea plant, which look similar to agave plants. This fiber is familiar to most people because it’s typically woven into sacs to carry coffee and cocoa. It grows sustainably in Columbia, but also grows in Brazil and Venezuela.
- Silk: Silk rugs are exotic and beautiful, but most of the time they are combined with another natural fiber like wool or bamboo. However, they are very expensive and not easy to clean so they belong in a low traffic area and will likely need to be professionally cleaned.
- Sisal: Sisal are natural fibers coming from the leaves of the agave plant. It’s naturally stain resistant, does not trap allergens & dust, and is static-free. It’s one of the most durable natural fibers for rugs.
Basic Non-Toxic Certifications Found in Rugs
This is not a complete list of all the certifications found in rugs, but these are the most important ones (and most popular) you will find in terms of non-toxic or natural rugs and have most of the attributes you are looking for.
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): This is the gold standard of all the certifications in terms of avoiding toxic materials. A textile product carrying the GOTS label must contain a minimum of 70% certified organic fibres, however, a product with the label grade ‘organic’ must contain a minimum of 95% certified organic fibres. Here is a long list of the problematic chemicals they do not allow in GOTS certified products.
- Prohibited Synthetic backing materials
- Prohibited flame retardants: Chlorinated flame retardants, Brominated flame retardants, Phosphate based flame retardants, Flame retardants containing antimony or antimony trioxide, & Disodium octaborate.
- Prohibited Chlorinated benzenes and toluenes.
- Prohibited Chlorophenols (including their salts and esters).
- Prohibited Complexing agents and surfactants.
- Prohibited Formaldehyde and other short-chain aldehydes.
- Prohibited Glycol derivatives.
- Prohibited Genetically modified organisms (GMO).
- Prohibited Heavy metals. Prohibited Inputs (e.g. azo dyes and pigments) which release arylamines with carcinogenic properties.
- Prohibited Inputs containing functional nanoparticles (= particles with a size < 100 nm)
- Prohibited Inputs with halogen containing compounds
- Prohibited Organotin compounds
- Prohibited Plasticizers with endocrine disrupting potential like BPA & phthalates
- Prohibited Per- and polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
- Prohibited Quaternary ammonium compounds
- Prohibited Chlorinated paraffins
- Prohibited Cyclic siloxanes (D4, D5, D6)
- Prohibited microplastics
- Prohibited Quinoline
- OEKO-TEX Standard 100: This standard is not as strict as GOTS, but it does have some teeth to it. For instance the following are prohibited:
- Prohibited azo colorants
- Prohibited pentachlorophenol
- Prohibited per-fluorinated substances (PFAS, PFCs)
- Prohibited cadmium
- Prohibited lead
- GREENGUARD Gold Certification by UL: A GREENGUARD Certification means the product was tested and reviewed for low emissions of more than 360 VOCs and total chemical emissions. This does not mean, however, that these chemicals are not used in manufacturing, what it means instead is these chemicals are not emitting from the product in levels they deem appropriate by the State of California, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other reputable public health agencies. GREENGUARD does not include lead testing.
- GoodWeave: The GoodWeave Standard assures that goods are produced without child labor, forced labor, or bonded labor. This certification doesn’t really focus on non-toxic attributes like other standards do.
What To Do If You Don’t Want to Buy a New Rug
If you have already spent a ton of money on a rug that has toxic materials and chemicals and don’t want to purchase a new one, there are some things you can do to mitigate and manage the exposures you have. Here is what we recommend you do:
- Vacuum weekly. The chemicals inside your rug will become part of your indoor air quality when they are exposed to heat from the sun or wear and tear. When you vacuum, you remove those particles as they break down.
- Dust weekly. Weekly dusting from the top of the room to the bottom will help you cut down on exposure to your family. But make sure to start at the top of the room with the fan and then do the floors last. Dust bunnies & random dust is what you want to eliminate here because the toxic chemicals from your rug attach themselves to dust bunnies like little magnets.
- Get a good air purifier. Getting a good air purifier will help you cut down on dust in your indoor air quality. Here’s the list air purifiers we recommend that are also good for allergens.
- Wash on cold setting only and do not put rug in the dryer. Heat is something that causes plastics and other petroleum products to leach. Therefore, warmer water is more efficient at breaking down the fibers inside your rug. So if you can wash them, please keep that to cold and never put in the dryer.
- Use natural spot treatments. Natural treatments are gentler and less likely to break down the polyester fibers and chemical treatments inside your carpet and rugs. Here’s a list of upholstery and carpet cleaners we recommend.
Mamavation’s Investigation on Eco-Friendly Rugs
Mamavation spent all of 2023 emailing different rug brands for you. We ended sending most brands about 1-5 emails depending on their response to us. Brands varied in their responses. This is what we asked them about:
- Materials used, including synthetic materials
- Use of stain-resistent chemicals
- Use of water-resistent chemicals
- Use of fire retardants, if any
- Use of fade-resistent chemicals
- Types of glues used, if any
- Use of dyes, particularly AZO dyes
- Backing material
- Spraying of pesticides on the product
- Any Prop. 65 warnings on product
- Country of manufacturer
- Any additional information on Philanthropy or fair trade practices (although this didn’t rate as high as toxic free materials to us)
If brands were willing to give us information, we tried to be as specific as possible, however, not all of them were as transparent or took as much time answering our questions as we had hoped so we did our best to rank them even if we had some incomplete information. We’ve tried to make our categories as clear as possible, however, please understand that products can change without warning. We have no control over how their business changes after this study is published.
Not Our Favorite Rugs
These rugs may contain synthetic materials, fire retardants, PFAS “forever chemicals,” toxic adhesives, pesticide residue, or other materials that can be problematic. We also put brands in this section that were contacted twice and simply did not respond to any of our inquiries and thus we didn’t have enough information about their products to rate them higher.
- Allen + Roth
- Anthropologie Responsibly Made
- Design Materials, Inc. (DMI)
- Gentermanian Rugs
- Home Dynamix
- Home Depot rugs
- Jaipur Living
- Loloi Rugs II Rugs
- Loloi Rugs
- Lowe’s rugs
- RugsUSA Eco-Friendly/Responsibly Sourced Collection
- Schwally Picnic Mats
- Schwally Playmats
- Serena & Lily
- Siscal Rugs
- Staples Rugs
- Thomasville Rugs (Timeless, Shag, Marketplace, Luxury, Trellis)
These rugs are a happy medium. They are far safer than the “not our favorite” rugs, but may still have some issues. This category is also likely more affordable than the “best” realm. These rugs differ in quality, but most are free from PFAS “forever chemical” coatings, and fire retardants. However, most of them are made from petroleum or petroleum byproducts.
- Annie Selke/ Dash & Albert
- Avery Row (Manufacturer has OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification)
- Ben Soleimani (Goodweave Certified)
- Cali Bamboo Floors (OEKO-TEX Standard 100 Certified)
- Chilewich (Green Label Plus™ and GreenGuard® Certified)
- Crate & Barrel
- Dynamic Rugs: A Walk on Fashion
- Ferm LIVING
- Little Bot
- Little Cabari
- Lulu & Georgia
- Pillowfort by Target (OKEO-TEX Standard 100, Goodweave Certified Cotton)
- Room & Board
- Safavieh (OEKO-TEX Standard 100 selections made from synthetics)
- Threshold (Target Brand)(OEKO-TEX Standard 100 Certified)
These rugs do not use fire retardants, PFAS “forever chemical” treatments, toxic dyes, or other materials that may off-gas and create an air quality problem inside the room. These rug are made with natural materials like wool, cotton, jute, hemp, etc. There are some rugs in this category that have a GOTS organic certification and we will mark those with a * very clearly.
- 4Favorites (Goodweave Certified)
- CICIL Home (Sign up for their newsletter and get 10% off your order!)
- Cold Picnic Rugs (Goodweave Certified)
- *Coyuchi (GOTS Organic)
- Earth Weave
- EcoFiber Custom Rugs (Goodweave Certified)
- *Hook & Loom (GOTS Organic for cotton selections)
- Lakaluk (was formerly Kekoni)
- Leah Singh (Goodweave Certified)
- Lorena Canals Rugs (Use discount code “MAMAVATIONXLC10″ for 10% off products!)
- Maison Deux (Goodweave Certified)
- Merida Studio
- Nature’s Carpet (LEED Qualified North America)
- Nico & Yeye (Cotton rugs are OEKO-TEX Certified, some Wool rugs are Woolmark Certified)
- Nordic Knots (Goodweave Certified Weavers in India)
- Oh! Happy Home (Goodweave Certified) (Use discount code “MAMAVATION” for 10% off products!)
- Organic & Healthy
- *Organic Weave (GOTS Organic) (Use discount code “MAMAVATION” for 10% off products!)
- Rugs by Roo (Goodweave Certified)(Retailer: Stick with the brands we recommend here) (Use discount code “MAMAVATION15” for 15% off products!)
- Safavieh (natural selections, not all selections)(OEKO-TEX Standard 100 Certified)
- The Citizenry
- *TuftLove (GOTS Organic)
- *Under the Nile (GOTS Organic)
- *Willaby (GOTS Organic)