Dear EarthTalk: Where can I find carpeting without the strong odors and health concerns of conventional synthetic materials?
—Denise Purdy, via e-mail
Wall-to-wall carpeting, while comfy on the feet, has long been the bane of those sensitive to pollutants. But the chemically sensitive can now rejoice, as carpets made from all-natural materials are now readily available. Companies such as Earth Weave and Natural Home manufacture attractive carpets that are entirely biodegradable and are made of wool, jute, hemp and rubber. Both companies pride themselves on making products free of toxic dyes and mothproofing or stain-repellant chemicals.
These carpets are becoming more popular in part because there are, on average, 120 chemicals in each new piece of conventional synthetic carpeting, including the adhesive. Many of these chemicals are suspected or known carcinogens, such as formaldehyde. According to a spokesperson for Antibody Assay Laboratories, which provides services to health care providers, “These chemicals “off-gas” into the environment, polluting indoor air with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can create symptoms from itchy eyes to shortness of breath, headaches and nausea.”
If you must install new synthetic carpet, make sure you air the carpet out well before putting it in place. And consider using less-toxic installation techniques such as that developed by the Ontario, Canada-based TacFast Systems International—a hoop-and-loop method similar to Velcro that eliminates the need for liquid adhesives. Another environmentally conscious backing choice is all-natural wool carpet padding from the Environmental Home Center in Seattle (they ship worldwide). The backing is made from a variety of wool fibers, without dyes or fire retardants, and is mechanically needled (not glued) to biodegradable jute backing.
Getting carpets cleaned is another opportunity to introduce unwanted chemicals into your home. But again, alternatives do exist. Carpet cleaning companies that specialize in all-natural treatments—using enzymes and other natural cleaning agents to get rid of dirt, stains and odors—have sprung up from coast-to-coast. And those can-do folks who want to tackle it themselves can mix up a batch of all-natural carpet deodorizer (one cup baking soda, one cup dried lavender flowers, and 5-6 drops of essential lavender or cedarwood oil) to be sprinkled on offensive areas as needed. Other options include AFM Enterprises” odorless carpet shampoo, which decreases carpet toxicity, and Carpet Guard, which minimizes off gassing.
One additional way to live with traditional carpeting is to fill the room with plants that have been shown to absorb toxins, including aloes, philodendrons and spider plants.
CONTACTS: Earth Weave, (706) 278-8200, www.earthweave.com; Natural Home, (707) 571-1229, www.naturalhomeproducts.com; TacFast Systems, (905) 886-0785, www.tacfastsystems.com; Environmental Home Center, www.environmentalhomecenter.com, (800) 281-9785; AFM Enterprises, (619) 239-0321, www.afmsafecoat.com.