Eco-friendly Accent

By Chandra Orr

June 20, 2008 5 min read


Natural, recycled materials put choices on the carpet

By Chandra Orr

Copley News Service

Whether framing a seating area or accenting the master suite at the foot of the bed, area rugs are a natural choice for pulling together the look of a room - and natural and eco-friendly fibers offer plenty of inspiration.

From bamboo and seagrass to sisal and coir, natural fibers are durable, stylish, sustainable and environmentally friendly - and they're an affordable way to makeover any decor in an instant.

"Area rugs, like jewelry, are accessories that can be continuously updated and interchanged with little investment," said Emily Morrow, director of color, style and design for Shaw Industries, a leading carpet and rug manufacturer. "They offer variety and flexibility. They allow personality and individuality to prevail without a commitment."

Like a bracelet that makes a basic black dress pop, area rugs add a well-needed dose of color, pattern and texture to break up bland wall-to-wall carpeting and define a room - and the natural hues, organic textures and classic weaves found in natural rugs perfectly compliment virtually any decor.

"From a design perspective area rugs are necessary, and they do one thing well - they define a space," said interior designer Scott Thomas of Thomas-Somero Design in Hollywood, Calif. "They let the eye know that a particular space is there for a specific purpose."

Natural materials are nothing new, but they are seeing a new surge in popularity thanks to the growing green movement.

"Sustainable and organic materials have been used in flooring for decades," said designer Debbie Wiener of Designing Solutions in Silver Spring, Md. "Organic cotton, New Zealand wool, sisal, bamboo, coir and grass mats all come from sustainable sources."

Before you buy, consider the following eco-friendly options:

- Bamboo is a natural choice for sustainability. It grows an astonishing 8 to 12 feet per year and thanks to its robust root system, it's abundant as well. For every mature stalk harvested, multiple new shoots grow in its place. Bamboo is naturally resistant to water, mold, mildew and insects. It's also naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial.

- Seagrass is derived from tropical salt marsh grasses indigenous to China. It is one of the most stain-resistant and durable natural fibers available. Seagrass is generally not dyed, allowing the natural variations in color and texture to show through. The blonde fibers have a slight green hue that fades over time as the grass ages.

- Sisal, prized for its strength and durability, is derived from the Agave sisalana cactus plant and commonly harvested in Africa and Brazil. Sisal stands up to abrasion and performs well in high-traffic areas. Sisal is also naturally resistant to dust and static. Avoid sisal rugs for entryways and spill-prone areas as fibers expand when wet, unless treated with a sealant.

- Organic wool, grown without pesticides or fertilizers, is stronger than cotton and more insulating than plant-based fibers. The naturally occurring lanolin in wool acts as a water-proofing agent, making it resistant to moisture and stains. As a result, wool wears well and offers optimal comfort. And, unlike many plant-based fibers, wool readily accepts color. Look for rugs tinted with natural, organically grown vegetable- and soy-based dyes.

- Coir, a fiber extracted from the outer shell of coconuts, offers unsurpassed durability. Brown coir, taken from fully ripened coconuts, offers high abrasion resistance and has long been a staple in welcome mats and outdoor rugs. White coir, taken from immature coconuts, is smoother and finer and generally spun into yarn to make woven mats. Natural oils in coir make it insect- and water-resistant.

- Recycled nylon may not come straight from Mother Nature, but the latest nylon rugs are surprisingly eco-friendly and multipurpose. Nylon is one of the most widely used materials in rugs - and for good reason. It's strong, durable, resilient to matting and wear and generally stain-resistant. It's also quite versatile. From dramatic large-scale patterns to bold colors, nylon rugs come in myriad designs and color schemes.

Shaw Industries is on the forefront of the nylon-recycling movement. All of Shaw's Anzo nylon rugs contain recycled content and are recyclable at the company's Evergreen Nylon Recycling Facility in Augusta, Ga. The Evergreen facility is the only one of its kind. There, the company recycles carpet fiber made from Type 6 Nylon and makes it into new carpets and rugs without a loss of beauty or durability.

Visit or call (800) 434-9887 for more information on recycling household nylon carpet and rugs.

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