|The carpet industry is responding to concerns about VOCs.|
Photo credit: "Swatches of carpet 1" by Quadell
But in recent years, customers have been asking for carpets that don't "off-gas," meaning carpets that won't release chemicals, which may be hazardous to health.
And the carpeting industry seems to have taken the hint.
For one thing, most carpets no longer release those volatile organic compounds, or VOCS, that come from the glues or other components. Consumers should look for the industry-run certification Green Label Plus.
More carpet is made of recycled content, and more is being recycled all the time.
Indeed, the carpet industry has been a leading innovator in construction, said Janet Milkman, executive director of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council.
"They've been analyzing the environmental impacts of their products and processes for years, and are now looking deeply into the human health impacts," she said.
Experts credit the U.S. Green Building Council's building certification system, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which sets standards and drives purchasing decisions.
The thousands of buildings across the nation that are now LEED-certified represent countless phone calls to manufacturers from architects and interior designers asking about all kinds of environmental considerations, said Max Zahniser, who once ran the LEED certification program but returned to Philadelphia seven years ago to start a green consulting firm, Praxis Building Solutions.
Enough of those, and manufacturers take heed.
While American rugmakers have stopped using stain repellents made from perfluorinated chemicals, some think the replacements aren't much better. And carpet made abroad, even if it's for a U.S. company, may contain the old chemicals.
Some companies still use vinyl plastic in the backing; triclosan may be used as an antimicrobial as well. Both are linked to health effects, said Michael Schade, a campaign director with the nonprofit advocacy group, Safer Chemicals/Healthy Families. Ask, he said, and choose alternatives.
Last year, researchers at the Healthy Building Network, a nonprofit that works to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals in building products, looked at 50 "asthmagens" - substances that can cause asthma - in carpet and other building materials.
Only three were covered by the leading indoor air quality protocols, said Jim Vallette, one of the researchers.
There seems to be no end to things consumers should consider.
Deep-pile or not? Over time, deep-pile carpet will generally harbor more microbiotic organisms.
Natural wool or manmade fiber such as nylon? Wool often does not have stain-resistant chemicals or flame-retardants, another group of chemicals that concern health professionals. But it's not very durable, and so is less sustainable.
Nylon is durable, but it's made from petrochemicals. Then again, it's recyclable.
That's another major industry advance, experts say. Many companies have take-back programs for older, less environmentally friendly carpeting.
But in the push to increase the proportion of recycled materials in carpet in order to meet sustainability goals, some manufacturers are using coal fly ash - a byproduct from coal-fired power plants that may contain heavy metals - as a filler in the carpet backing.
Whatever type of carpeting you get, the advice of experts is to take care of it - extending its lifespan and reducing its environmental footprint (not to mention the drop in your bank account).
That includes cleaning it with a vacuum or chemicals that are too brutal on the poor rug. The institute's website (www.carpet-rug.org) lists its approved vacuums and cleaners.
This article has been edited for length.
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