If you buy responsibly, wooden floors are a much better option than fitted carpets in terms of sustainability – wood flooring will last longer, and doesn’t require harsh chemicals to keep it really clean. It’s also true that wooden floors can look a bit stark on their own, so many people will want to add a couple of rugs, particularly in a large space such as a living room.
Natural Fibre Rugs
What are the best types of rug to go for if you want to make a truly sustainable choice? Obviously, a rug made entirely from natural fibres is the ideal answer. It will give you years of service then, when it finally reaches the end of its life, you can use it on fallow parts of your garden or allotment to keep the weeds down. When it starts to break down after a couple of years, you simply put it on the compost heap and it will eventually rot down completely.
Wool rugs are just as good in this regard as rugs made from plant fibres. Well-rotted wool is a fantastic source of nitrogen for your garden plants. It is used on certain commercial crops, such as the rhubarb in Yorkshire’s “Rhubarb Triangle”, for this very purpose.
Plant Fibres used in Rugs
In addition to wool, natural fibres used in rug manufacture include sisal, hemp, jute, seagrass, cotton, bamboo and even paper. If you can find fair trade rugs made from organically grown natural fibres, using non-synthetic dyes, then so much the better.
The great thing about fibres such as sisal and seagrass is the fact that they have their own inherent natural colouring, ranging from pale beige to khaki. This ties in perfectly with today’s trend for neutral décor as well as avoiding the use of dyes altogether.
Where to Use Different Rug Types
Which type of fibre you go for in your rug will depend on where you’re planning to put it. Sisal, jute and seagrass rugs are attractive and durable, but they’re not the softest thing to walk on. They are best suited to high traffic areas such as your hall, rather than in the more intimate setting of your bedroom, for example, where you want something soft and warm on your feet.
For those of us on a budget, the best option is to recycle or reuse by buying an antique or second hand rug rather than a new one. You can find some excellent bargains in second hand, vintage and charity shops.
Looking for Rugs to Reuse
If you’re on a budget look for places where people advertised unwanted goods. Many areas in the UK have email groups or bulletin boards where people put wanted and offered posts for unwanted goods. Keep an eye out in newsagents windows and supermarket noticeboards too.
Some online forums which offer items for sale will allow free listings for things that are being offered for nothing, so keep an eye on those too. It’s a great way of getting rid of good but valueless items which would otherwise be put in the landfill and makes rugs more sustainable than they otherwise would be.
Slip and Slide
One drawback to rugs on a wooden floor is their tendency to slip. This is especially true if you’ve bought an all-natural rug, as it usually won’t have a non-slip backing. You will therefore need to use some kind of rug underlay or rug pad to prevent slippage.
The ideal choice from a sustainability point of view is a rug pad made either entirely from natural rubber, or from a layer of natural rubber and a layer of jute felt. Failing that, see if you can source a felt made from recycled synthetic fibres. With these felt and rubber pads the rubber layer comes in contact with the floor while the jute layer sits uppermost, next to your rug.
Do make sure that the rubber underlay really is natural rubber and not a synthetic substitute Not only are synthetic underlays (e.g. polyurethane) non-sustainable, they can also end up sticking to your wood floor and possibly marking or discolouring it.
Keep it Real
For anyone keen on maintaining a sustainable lifestyle there isn’t really any course of action other than rugs made from natural materials. Whether you choose wool or a plant fibre like jute or sisal, they should give you years of pleasure. Then they simply disappear into the ground when their time is up.