Can Carpets and Rugs be Toxic? (Truth Revealed)

TheRoundup is reader supported. We may earn a small commission when you make a purchase via links on this site, at no cost to you.
James Miller
James is an environmentalist, sustainability expert and senior editor at TheRoundup, specializing in testing non-toxic, organic and eco-friendly products. James, his wife and two daughters believe in chemical-free and zero-waste living. They aim to leave the planet in a better state than we found it, for future generations to enjoy.
James Miller
Updated: April 14, 2024

Rugs and carpets can be a cozy and attractive addition to your home, but did you know they can also be toxic and emit chemicals that can seriously affect your health?

I don't want to scare anybody, and I certainly don't recommend you go and rip out your old flooring if it still has some life left in it. But if you're looking to buy new floor coverings, then this is definitely something you need to know about.

In this guide I reveal the truth about the types of carpets and rugs that can contain toxins, the harm they can do, and the steps you can take to reduce the risk to your family.

Key Takeaways

  • Synthetic carpets often contain harmful chemicals like VOCs, PFAS, and formaldehyde.
  • These chemicals can cause headaches, respiratory issues, and long-term health problems including cancer.
  • Carpets made from natural fibers like wool, cotton, or jute contain fewer chemicals and are generally safer.
  • Proper cleaning and maintenance reduce the accumulation of allergens and pollutants in carpets.

Do Carpets and Rugs Have Harmful Chemicals?

rolls of synthetic carpet

If your rug is made from synthetic materials, chances are it may contain chemicals that could be harmful to human health.

Synthetic carpets and rugs made from petroleum based fibers (like nylon, polyester, or polypropylene) often contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene and toluene.

They may also have water and stain-resistant treatments loaded with perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) and/or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

FACT - The California Department of Toxic Substances Control has identified carpets and rugs as the largest potential sources of significant and widespread PFAS exposure in homes.

As well as the carpets themselves, VOCs and formaldehyde can also be found in synthetic rubber backing, and the glues and adhesives used to bond the backing to the carpet.

Natural fiber carpets and rugs such as those made from wool, jute, seagrass, or cotton, generally have fewer harmful chemicals or sometimes none at all.

However, simply checking the list of materials is not enough. Some so-called sustainable carpet manufacturers may still treat cotton or wool rugs with mothproofing agents or synthetic dyes that can pollute the air in your home.

Can Carpet Cause Health Problems?

Carpets, rugs, and glues that contain VOCs and formaldehyde can cause a variety of health issues including (but not limited to) headaches, eye irritation, and respiratory distress.

Long-term exposure might even contribute to more serious conditions like chronic lung problems, reproductive and neurological issues, or even cancer.

FACT - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified several chemicals used in carpet manufacturing, such as formaldehyde and benzene, as known or probable human carcinogens.

Carpets can also be a real health hazard for folks with allergies or asthma. Those fluffy fibers are like a magnet for dust, pet dander, and mold - all of which can trigger sniffles, sneezes, and breathing trouble.

How Do You Know if A Rug Is Toxic?

The first clue is to look for certifications that indicate the rug has low chemical emissions, like the Green Label Plus from the Carpet and Rug Institute.

If your new rug doesn't carry any of these labels it doesn't necessarily mean they are toxic, but it means there is no guarantee that it isn't, and further investigation is needed.

Another giveaway is a strong chemical smell, especially when the rug is brand new. That's a telltale sign of VOC off-gassing.

FACT - According to the California Air Resources Board, new carpets can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like 4-phenylcyclohexene (4-PC) for up to 5 years after installation, contributing to indoor air pollution.

I recommend checking the labels and manufacturer's website to get a definitive list of what materials a product is made from, and how it was manufactured.

Rugs made from natural, organic fibers like wool or cotton, without any unnatural dyes or treatments, are generally the safest bet.

What Are the Symptoms of Toxic Carpet?

Exposure to toxic carpets can cause all sorts of unpleasant symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Some people might even experience skin rashes or other allergic reactions.

If you develop any of these symptoms after buying a new rug, consult your doctor immediately.

FACT - A study by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Ecology Center found that over 41% of carpet samples contained detectable levels of PFAS chemicals, which are linked to cancer, liver damage, and developmental issues.

Kids, the elderly, and anyone with pre-existing health conditions are especially vulnerable, so it's crucial to keep an eye out for these symptoms.

Are Synthetic Rugs Safe?

The safety of synthetic rugs really comes down to their chemical content and where they're used.

As I mentioned earlier, these rugs can release VOCs and other unpleasant substances. But good ventilation and the use of air purifiers can improve the air quality in your home and help minimize the risks.

Regular cleaning is also key to keeping those synthetics from harboring a buildup of allergens and pollutants. Just be sure to use eco-friendly cleaners to avoid introducing even more toxins into your home.

What Is the Least Toxic Rug Material?

Natural fibers like organic cotton, wool, hemp, and jute are the best options for non toxic rugs. These materials are typically free from harmful dyes and pesticides, making them a much safer choice for your home.

Plus, natural rugs don't require the same kind of chemical treatments that synthetic options do, like stain resistance or color fastness.

Non-toxic rugs have environmental benefits as well, since natural materials are usually biodegradable and always far easier to recycle than synthetics.

Look for certifications like GreenGuard GOLD and OEKO-TEX 100 to ensure your rug is truly non-toxic and environmentally friendly.

Are Carpet Cleaning Chemicals Safe?

Many traditional cleaners pack a powerful punch, using harsh substances like perchloroethylene or naphthalene to tackle tough stains. But these chemicals can also cause serious health issues, from respiratory problems to skin irritation.

The good news is that there are more eco-friendly options out there. Look for "green" or "natural" carpet cleaners that use less toxic ingredients. Or, you can go the steam cleaning route, which uses high-pressure hot water to clean without added chemicals.

If you must use chemical cleaners, I strongly recommend you at least ventilate the area well during and after cleaning to minimize any lingering chemical exposure.

Are Carpets Unhygienic?

Carpets can become a breeding ground for germs if they're not properly maintained. Those fluffy fibers are like a magnet for dust, allergens, pet dander, and all sorts of other gunk. And if moisture gets trapped in there, you're looking at a serious mold problem.

But don't worry, there are ways to keep your carpets fresh and hygienic. Vacuum at least once a week with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner to capture those tiny particles, and get them professionally cleaned annually.

Tackle any spills or moisture issues right away, and keep humidity levels in check. With a little TLC, your carpets can stay cozy and clean.

The Final Word

We started by asking "Can carpets and rugs be toxic" and unfortunately the evidence shows that they can.

If like me you prioritize healthy living, I fully understand it can be scary to realize you've been sharing your home with potentially harmful chemicals.

If you already have an old carpet, chances are most of the off-gassing will have happened already, so changing it now just for the sake of it is likely to be an unnecessary expense.

But if you are looking to redecorate, particularly in sensitive areas like a bedroom or baby's nursery, you're now armed with the facts you need to make an informed decision about your next purchase.

You can also check out our picks of the best eco-friendly rugs which have been personally tested by me and my team.

By doing your research, choosing safer materials, and keeping up with regular maintenance, you can create a healthy, non-toxic floor in every room of your home.

Sources: EWG | GAIA | EPA | CARB

Images courtesy of Depositphotos

You May Also Like

James Miller
James Miller
James is an environmentalist, sustainability expert and senior editor at TheRoundup, specializing in testing non-toxic, organic and eco-friendly products. James, his wife and two daughters believe in chemical-free and zero-waste living. They aim to leave the planet in a better state than we found it, for future generations to enjoy. - As Seen On
As Seen On Logos


Your guide to a green and eco-friendly lifestyle. We offer simple, practical advice that anyone can follow. Together we can make a difference today & save tomorrow.

All Content ©2024 TheRoundup - All Rights Reserved.

108 E Main St Suite 3 Fredericksburg, TX 78624 | +1-830-904-0838 | [email protected]