Natural fiber rugs

I’ve gone off the idea of carpet over the last few years; particularly since moving to a state where dust is a major issue. No matter how much you vacuum, carpets tend to trap all sorts of pollutants as well as dust; including pesticides brought in from outside. I remember my very house-proud mother being positively mortified at the amount of gunk that issued forth when our old shag carpets were ripped up.Carpets are also a favorite hiding place for nasty critters such as bed bugs.

In many cases the carpet itself isn’t all that environmentally friendly as they are often made with petrochemicals; i.e. derived from crude oil. Add to that some of the products we apply for stain resistance, plus powders and potions for cleaning and carpet can wind up being a toxic waste dump. 

I’ve learned to appreciate wooden and slate floors, with just a few rugs strategically positioned around the place for added comfort. Hanging out the rugs occasionally and giving them a good beating helps keep them cleaner than any vacuuming can.

But rugs being just a smaller version of carpet means the same challenges remain as to their manufacture and materials.

I love some of the rugs from the Middle East and Asia – aside from the shipping emissions issue; they are quite ” green” as they are often hand-made from wool and vegetable dyes. Given the amount of work involved in making the rugs and relatively cheap prices you see, it does concern me whether those who have made the rugs are properly paid, so I’ll be looking out for “fair trade” certification next time I purchase a rug.

Organic cotton rugs are also now available in a vast range of colors, styles and sizes.

But earth friendly rugs aren’t confined to just organic cotton and wool. I was amazed at the range of natural fibers that are being used in rug making, such as sisal, jute, hemp, coir, bamboo, mountain grass, abaca, seagrass and paper. Yes, paper

Sisal: is derived from the agave plant

Sisool: a sisal and wool blend

Jute: is a soft, flexible and hard wearing fiber from the jute plant and also often used to make string, reusable bags and hessian sacks.

Abaca: is part of the banana family and is considered the strongest of all natural fibers

Seagrass: is a salt water plant found growing close to shorelines. While natural seagrass meadows are under threat and many are protected, a thriving seagrass farming industry is now established in China.

Hemp: is something most of us would be familiar with – industrial hemp is an amazing plant and one that can survive in very harsh conditions without excessive watering or the use of pesticide.

Bamboo: isn’t just used for rugs, bamboo is a versatile material with hundreds of applications – from food, to fiber, to furniture.

Mountain grass: comes from plants grown in high altitude slopes of China. 

Coir: is the fibre from coconuts and is also used in mattresses and as an alternative to peat moss.

Paper rugs: are made from fibers from softwood trees such as conifers.

The beauty of these natural materials is they are all hard wearing, but unlike their fossil fuel based counterparts, they are 100% biodegradable.

Each of the above materials has its particular texture and qualities. For example, sisal is anti-static, sound-absorbing and naturally flame retardant. Jute has abrasion-resistant properties and seagrass is spill resistant.

Assuming the above plants are sustainably grown and harvested, it’s nice to know there are plenty of options when searching for a natural fiber rug with a lower environmental impact.