Attentive Leaf Score readers will notice that I often bemoan the lack of safe and sustainable options across many household product categories. Not so with rugs! Happily, there are some amazing companies out there doing excellent work creating eco-friendly and non-toxic rugs that are beautiful and socially responsible to boot. So much so that I dithered quite a bit when buying a new rug for my home recently.
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Synthetic rugs are problematic for the planet
Natural fibers grown organically and/or sustainably, that haven’t been treated with toxic chemicals, are better for people and the planet. Synthetic and conventional rugs can have serious adverse effects not just on our health but also on the planet and global warming. The energy footprint, water use, and environmental pollution attributable to conventional synthetic or cotton rugs is staggering. What’s more, many of these items simply end up in landfill when styles change, where they off-gas, leach chemicals, and can take decades or longer to degrade.
Rugs are also a better option than carpet in many ways, given that fewer resources go into making them and, once you’re ready to let a natural fiber rug go, it’s much easier to repurpose or recycle. If a rug does end up in landfill a natural, non-toxic rug will break down much faster and without leaching toxins into the air, water, or soil compared to a synthetic rug or rug treated with toxic chemicals.
Rugs and indoor air quality
VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are emitted as a breathable gas from rugs, carpets, and other common household furnishings and products. So much so that, according to the EPA, concentrations of VOCs inside a house can be ten-fold higher than outdoors, which is why we did the research for our readers on the best indoor air quality monitors.
VOCs are commonly found in rugs because these textiles are treated with stain and water repellents, antimicrobial treatments (in bath rugs, for instance), and anti-static treatments, as well as adhesives, artificial dyes, and flame retardants. In general, if a rug is marketed as stain resistant, it has probably been treated with toxic chemicals or is made with synthetic, closed fiber materials that cause environmental pollution and health problems of their own.
Questions to ask before buying a new rug
If you’re in the market for a new eco-friendly rug, and want to make a healthy choice, consider the following questions:
- What materials are used in making the rug?
- Are these materials recycled and/or recyclable, organic, natural, and fairly sourced?
- Are the materials or the final product treated with toxic chemicals, such as azo dyes?
- Does the manufacturing of the rug harm humans, other animals, and/or the environment?
- Does the rug have green certifications?
The best natural rugs: our top picks
What follows is a quick overview of my top companies for natural rugs, with links to individual reviews of rugs I recommend.
Highlights: Colorful rug brand carrying a new lineup of 100% GOTS Certified organic cotton rugs free from dyes, chemicals, VOCs, and more.
UPDATE: Hook and Loom responded to our original review and decided to launch a brand new collection of 100% GOTS Certified organic cotton rugs! This bumps them up to a five leaf rating from us, for that collection, which is made without dyes, chemicals, VOCs, latex, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, mordants, or defoliants. For the other rugs in their range, the four leaves still stands (and they’re still a great choice!).
If you’re looking for a colorful rug, Hook and Loom are a great place to start. This company is based in Massachusetts and make rugs in carefully selected workshops in India, free from child labor. The rugs are made from undyed wool and recovered textile fibers, including cotton and recycled plastic, without dyes or chemicals, and are shipped with minimal packaging to reduce environmental impact.
Rugs start at $22 for 2′ x 3′ and are handwoven on wooden looms. They are available in a variety of colors, patterns, pile heights, and sizes and are made without stain repellents, fire retardants, or other chemicals.
Unlike other companies who use ‘recycled’ cotton that is actually just new cotton rejected for poor quality, Hook and Loom amass discarded textiles and recover the fibers, separating these into spools of colored yarn. They then hand-weave new rugs without having to add dyes or chemicals. As such, the rugs do not fade or bleed when washed. Because of the nature of recycled textiles, Hook and Loom rugs are listed as comprising 85% cotton, 12% polyester, and 3% other materials.
Highlights: Arguably one of the best eco-friendly rug companies on the planet! Rugs carry a broad range of certifications, and the company’s known for making what may have been the first GOTS-certified organic rugs.
Organic Weave are arguably one of the best of the best for eco-friendly rugs. Based in Montreal, Canada, the company was founded by Linda Alexanian after a trip to India in 1989 where she witnessed widespread child labor in the rug industry and committed to bringing change to the industry. Organic Weave produced what may have been the first GOTS certified organic rugs available and remain committed to partnering with women in rural India to provide dignified work and sustainable income while guaranteeing that no illegal child labor is involved.
Organic Weave offers a wide range of rugs handmade in India by skilled women artisans. Their rugs are GOTS certified, GoodWeave certified, and are vibrant, safe, sustainable, and attractive. This makes the company possibly the only one around making truly eco-friendly and sustainable rugs that also factor in a commitment to social fairness.
The company uses FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified natural rubber glue (or latex) in the manufacture of handtufted rugs. The latex is used to secure (or glue) the pile of the rug to the backing (organic cotton canvas). Rugs are typically custom made and non-refundable. Organic Weave offer a range of rugs ranging in price from just under $300 to several thousand dollars, including cotton rugs, wool rugs, and wool and cotton shag rugs. And, if you’re looking for a real masterpiece, Organic Weave even have incredibly ornate silk rugs priced up to almost $13,000.
Highlights: California-based company making beautiful rugs, on top of numerous other great sustainable products.
Coyuchi was founded more than 20 years ago in a small coastal Northern California town and have long produced a line of home textiles rooted in nature, including products made from 100% certified organic cotton. They produce their goods using a zero-waste water recycling method and are committed to sustainable practices.
Coyuchi requires that their supply chain partners are fully compliant with the strictest environmental and social regulations. This includes working with European manufacturers who follow the REACH chemical standards aimed at reducing chemical risk to human health and the environment. They also adhere to the Restricted Substances List (RSL) of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and try to source from as many Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)-certified suppliers as possible.
They have Fair Trade certification and are a member of 1% for the Planet, an organization founded in 2002 to connect nonprofit environmental organizations to businesses and individuals who can provide direct funding to projects that help protect the planet. Not all standards apply to all products.
Coyuchi products also carry the MADE SAFE® seal, which means that a product is made with safe ingredients not known or suspected to harm human health, animals or ecosystems. Certified products have been thoroughly examined by researchers and scientists to ensure they’re made without known behavioral toxins, carcinogens, developmental toxins, endocrine disruptors, flame retardants, heavy metals, neurotoxins, high risk pesticides, reproductive toxins, toxic solvents, or harmful VOCs. Ingredients are further examined by a chemist for the potential for bioaccumulation, persistence, general ecosystem harm, and for aquatic and animal toxicity.
Coyuchi are also involved in the Fibershed program which “develops regional and regenerative fiber systems on behalf of independent working producers, by expanding opportunities to implement carbon farming, forming catalytic foundations to rebuild regional manufacturing, and through connecting end-users to farms and ranches through public education”.
Check out my review of Coyuchi’s Ano Nuevo Cotton Rug.
Highlights: The first carpet manufacturer to make 100% biodegradable carpets – now offered in rug forms too!
Earth Weave are a big name in eco-friendly carpeting because they were the first carpet manufacturer to use only natural materials such as hemp and natural latex to produce 100 percent biodegradable products. Happily, Earth Weave also offer their Bio-Floor carpet range in a rug style. These rugs are made in the US and do not include any synthetics, including no synthetic yarn, backings or adhesives. Their Bio-Floor rugs are made with naturally pigmented undyed wool fibers, while their OrganoSoftColor™ range offers wool rugs dyed with safe ingredients. Earth Weave rugs are all natural, non-toxic, and do not off-gas harmful chemicals.
Highlights: Rug company that utilizes leftover scraps from clothing production in manufacturing.
Under the Nile offer handmade rugs that are loomed using leftover scraps from their clothing production. These rugs are an excellent option for every room of the house as they are soft but durable. They are certified GOTS and are all ethically and sustainably made in a Certified Fair Trade facility in Egypt that adheres to the highest global textile and labor standards.
Under the Nile was founded by a woman looking for non-toxic, safe, and sustainable baby clothing options. The rugs are a continuation of that ethos, helping not only to reduce manufacturing waste but to provide an eco-friendly play mat option for nurseries and children’s rooms.
These rugs are made of 100% organic Egyptian cotton, are free of azo dyes, BPA, flame retardants, formaldehyde, fragrance, PVC, and lead, and are made with the same cotton certified to the Gold Egyptian Seal of authentic premium, combed Egyptian cotton.
The company uses only low-impact, metal free dyes when dying yarn and they never use bleach in any processes. To provide color continuity across products, they instead use an oxygen-based whitening process.
Under the Nile organic cotton play mats start at $46 for 2.5’ by 3.25’ and are produced in Europe in factories that empower women. The company also supports various social and charitable causes promoting child welfare, environmental responsibility, and gender equality.
You can see my reviews of Under the Nile’s Big and Small Rugs here.
Highlights: The first home retailer to join Fair Trade USA. Their jute and wool rugs get 5 leaves from us, but you’ll want to check the label on the rest to be certain.
In 2014, West Elm became the first home retailer to join Fair Trade USA™. They offer a range of Fair Trade Certified™ products including rugs, bedding and furniture. They also aim to use GOTS certified cotton in all their bedding by 2020, demonstrating their further commitment to eco-friendly practices.
I’ve reviewed only a small number of their rugs at Leaf Score (so far) because most continue to lack legitimate eco-credentials. Those I have included are made with materials that are typically the most eco-friendly, including jute and wool. Check out my review for the West Elm Jute Boucle Rug here.
Highlights: Georgia-based business selling handwoven rugs made in an Amish family workshop.
A great choice for 100% GOTS organic cotton rugs, Willaby is an Ohio, Georgia, business and all the rugs are made using handweaving and treadle sewing machines at an Amish family workshop. All of the rugs are free from azo dyes, flame retardants, formaldehyde, and other concerning chemicals.
These super-soft rugs come in a variety of sizes, ranging from small rugs perfect for bath, baby play mat, or doormat, to area rugs and runners. The rugs are machine washable and can be dried on a low heat. They measure about 3/8th of an inch thick and you’ll likely want to use a rug pad underneath to keep the rug in place.
Willaby offers fabric swatches to help you figure out the right colour, but don’t expect a quick turnaround if you’re on the hunt for an area rug right away. The smaller rugs may ship fairly fast, but the larger handmade rugs take 4-6 weeks to make and ship.
Safavieh [Staff tried and tested]
Highlights: Artisanal rug company that produces sustainable, eco-friendly rugs – albeit at a slightly higher cost than some competitors.
Safavieh was founded in 1914 as a family company committed to working with artisans to provide handmade rugs to consumers worldwide. This company has grown considerably in the last few decades and now works with top designers and celebrities to produce unique collections in addition to quality, sustainable, eco-friendly rugs handmade using natural materials such as jute, cotton, sisal, and recycled fabrics and fibers.
They make a conscious effort to select natural materials that are sustainable, such as legally harvested forest products, responsibly produced plantation products, and recycled content. They request that suppliers decrease their use of known toxic chemicals for treatments, binders and finishes, replacing compounds that compromise indoor air quality and are harmful to human health.
Safavieh also ask vendors to use textiles with a lower environmental impact, such as organic cotton instead of conventionally-grown cotton. They also pay living wages (not just minimum wage) and are taking steps to reduce energy consumption, offset carbon emissions, and have replaced a portion of the energy they consume with certified renewable energy, either directly or indirectly. More information can be found at Safavieh’s listing on the Sustainable Furnishings Council website.
Safavieh is also a member of the ORIA (The Oriental Rug Importers Association), an organization that supports the needs of children and their families in major carpet weaving districts around the world.
Unfortunately, not all Safavieh products are made to the same eco-friendly standards, so be careful when browsing listings. Check the specifications and ask questions where necessary. The Safavieh jute, seagrass, and sisal rugs are generally good options that are sustainable, non-toxic, and eco-friendly.
I bought a jute rug from Safavieh in 2018 and love it (as does my dog!). It’s held up incredibly well and looks fantastic. After five years, there’s no sign of wear and tear and it has helped tie the room together in several rooms and two houses. It currently graces my office floor, where it adds some much-needed hygge and insulation. The main downsides are that office chair wheels don’t roll on this chunky ridged rug and it needs a pretty high power vacuum for a good clean (for smaller rugs, you could hang them outside and beat them; for larger rugs, they’re way too heavy for this).
Highlights: Partnership with TerraPass gives us some hope for this eco-friendly brand, but we’d ultimately love to see more in the form of specific third-party certifications.
VivaTerra offer contemporary and traditional eco-friendly home décor products made with sustainability and fair trade in mind. They work with artisans to create unique and earth-friendly goods and have been in business since 2004. Founded in California, the company is now based in Virginia and specializes in recycled glass accents, block-printed textiles, and reclaimed wood furnishings. They also provide some eco-friendly rugs, with items sourced from more than 20 countries worldwide.
VivaTerra claim to favor fair-trade partners and sustainable methods of production, but most products do not carry specific third-party certifications, making it difficult to ascertain how robust these eco-friendly claims really are. They have, however, partnered with TerraPass, an organization that supports businesses in taking responsibility for climate impacts and offsetting carbon footprints.
Check out my review of VivaTerra’s Starburst Seagrass Rush Rugs here.
- Bungalow Rose Lebrun Recycled Black Area Rug
- Organic Weave Cotton Rugs
- West Elm Mini Pebble Wool Jute Rug
- Milwood Pines Emrys Berber Hand-Woven Area Rug
- Earth Weave Dolomite Collection Area Rugs
- Earth Weave Pyrenees Collection Area Rugs
- Earth Weave McKinley Collection Area Rugs
- Hook & Loom Wool Rugs
- Organic Weave Wool & Cotton Shag Rugs
- Organic Weave Wool Rugs
- One-of-a-Kind Leone Gray Checker Cotton Area Rug
- Earth Weave Catskill Collection Rugs
- Hook and Loom Eco Cotton Rugs
- Under the Nile Big and Small Rugs
- Bungalow Rose Alapaha Cotton Chenille Area Rug
- Coyuchi Ano Nuevo Organic Rug
- West Elm Jute Boucle Rug
- VivaTerra Starburst Woven Rush Rug Collection
- Safavieh Natural Fiber Collection Jute Area Rug
- Safavieh Cape Cod Collection Jute Area Rug
Without a doubt, my top picks for eco-friendly, non-toxic rugs from excellent companies are Hook & Loom, Organic Weave, and Earth Weave. Coyuchi also consistently perform across multiple product categories, making wonderful rugs, pillows, duvets, bed sheets, and more. As always, if there’s a company or rug you think deserves my attention, get in touch and I’ll check it out.
Organic rugs FAQ
If you have kids or non-human animals in the house, a stain resistant rug might sound especially appealing, given the potential for messes. However, kids, dogs, and cats are more likely than the average adult to spend time in close contact with a rug, meaning they’re at increased risk of exposure to any toxic chemicals. Once you start looking at the materials and methods used to manufacture rugs for the nursery or playroom, it’s quite shocking to think of the chemicals to which most infants are exposed early in life when developing brains and bodies are especially vulnerable to their effects.
Stain resistant rugs have typically been treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which according to the Environmental Working Group, are associated with a number of health issues, which is why we left stain resistant rugs off our list.
Synthetic rugs may be treated with flame retardant chemicals that are toxic. Rugs made with nylon and polypropylene are almost always treated with fire retardants because they are essentially flammable petroleum products. For a good primer on the potential problems with human exposure to flame retardants, see this excellent write up from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Conversely, wool is naturally flame retardant, meaning that it does not need to be treated with these harsh chemicals.
Wool is also quite resistant to staining, so much so that many companies feel compelled to use harsh chemicals on wool to make it absorb dyes, turning a natural material into a toxic environmental hazard.
Companies such as Earth Weave have invested in creating innovative natural ways to color wool without relying on problematic chemicals, which is why I’m a big fan of their products and include them in my round up of companies to consider for responsible rugs. We have done a number of Earth Weave carpet reviews, such as the Earth Weave Dolomite Collection, the Earth Weave Pyrenees Collection, and the Earth Weave McKinley Collection.
Wayfair offers rugs with less robust or non-existent eco credentials but that are made with recycled and seemingly eco-friendly materials such as recycled cotton, jute, hemp, and other fibers. Be cautious when looking through these listings and ask questions if details are lacking for a specific item.