5 Questions To Ask Before Buying A New Rug

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Written by Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT


Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

Sustainability Expert

Leigh Matthews is a sustainability expert and long time vegan. Her work on solar policy has been published in Canada's National Observer.


Buying a new rug is a bigger decision that can have an impact on indoor air quality. Here are questions to ask before bringing a new rug home.

Anybody who has seen The Big Lebowski knows that a rug can really tie the room together. Rugs are also great for soundproofing, can reduce your heating bills, and generally make a space feel cozier and more comfortable, especially for families with children. If your rug is off-gassing toxic chemicals, however, or is responsible for environmental pollution during its manufacture, that warm and cozy feeling might prove elusive.

Thankfully, eco-friendly rugs are available in a variety of sizes, shapes, designs, and materials, so you can accent any space whatever your style.

If you’re in the market for a new eco-friendly rug, consider the following questions:

  1. What materials are used in making the rug?
  2. Are these materials recycled and/or recyclable, organic, natural, and fairly sourced?
  3. Are the materials or the final product treated with toxic chemicals, such as azo dyes?
  4. Does the manufacturing of the rug harm humans, other animals, and/or the environment?
  5. Does the rug have green certifications?

Other rug considerations

Foot traffic

When choosing a rug, it’s important to bear in mind the level of foot traffic in your home. High-traffic areas such as hallways and stairs require more robust rug materials than low traffic areas such as bedrooms or guestrooms. This might mean choosing a higher quality rug with a higher pile weight for an entrance way, living room, and hallways, and opting for thinner, less expensive rugs elsewhere.

Top-Tip: Living with small children (human or otherwise), senior animals, or accident-prone adults, needn’t mean sacrificing style. Instead, choose a darker rug with a smaller, tighter pattern and eschew rugs with larger monochrome areas. Marks and spills won’t show up so easily on these rugs. Also, choose a machine-washable eco-friendly rug such as one made with organic or recycled cotton.

Rug size

Rug size is also important. Typically, if you’re going for an area rug, you would subtract 3 feet from the length and breadth of the room. So, if your room is 12 feet by 10 feet, you would want to go for a rug measuring around 9 feet by 7 feet. Leaving some exposed floor at the edges of the room makes it look bigger. Designers also recommend that a rug is big enough for the front edges of furniture to rest on. And, if you’re going for a rug under a dining table, choose a rug with at least 24 inches of material from the edge of the table. That way, pulling out dining chairs won’t mean pulling them off the rug.

If you’re shopping for an eco-friendly runner, choose something that it around 4 inches narrower than your hallway or entranceway, and around 20 inches shorter, but make it is wide enough to comfortably walk along with both feet side by side.

Finally, when choosing a rug pad, make sure it is around an inch smaller all round than your rug. You can cut most rug pads to size with scissors. And, watch out for rug pads that contain toxic chemicals. A lot do, even ones that seems at first glance to be made entirely with latex. Check with the manufacturer if you’re not sure.

Rugs vs. carpets

One major advantage of rugs over carpets is that they are typically easier to clean, but this is not the case with every rug. If you or a family member has allergies, a natural fiber rug that can be machine washed or simply taken outside and beaten regularly to remove dust and dander can help keep indoor allergens to a minimum. 

Organic cotton rugs used alongside a natural rubber rug pad are a great option if dust, mold, and/or dander allergies are a consideration. Wood and bamboo mats are also a good option as these don’t collect fine particles and are easy to wipe clean. They are also less likely to develop mold and mildew, making them a good choice for the kitchen and bathroom. Washable cotton rugs are another good option here.

What to do with old rugs

The environmental impact of a rug doesn’t just rely on your choice of a new rug. Most old rugs are dumped in landfill, where they remain for decades, leaching toxins into the soil and water supply. 

Instead of sending a rug to landfill, consider giving a faded rug a facelift. Stained and faded rugs can be dyed to give them a fresher look, while worn rugs may be able to be cut down to create a smaller rug for use by the kitchen sink or bathroom vanity, or as a hallway runner or entrance mat.

Old rugs are also great for:

  • Controlling weeds in the garden
  • Adding cushion, comfort, and insulation to a workshop or storage area
  • Cutting up for use as floor protectors under heavy furniture 
  • Use as padding when moving or packing up fragile items for shipping
  • Turning into a decorative wall hanging 
  • Seat protection in the back of the car (especially if you have a dog who loves to writhe through mud, like I do)
  • An emergency picnic or beach blanket to keep in the trunk of your car

If you have any great ideas for up-cycling an old rug, let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

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