Expert Advice: How to Track Down Ethically Made, Eco-Friendly Rugs: 12 Tips

Where to begin when searching for eco-friendly, ethically-made household rugs: floor coverings that are beautiful, durable, made of renewable materials, and aboveboard in every way? For advice we turned to Catherine Connolly, CEO of Merida, a company specializing in natural fiber, zero-synthetic rugs that is helping to revive the weaving industry in the old Massachusetts mill town of Fall River. Some of Merida’s designs are also made in India by workshops that are Goodweave-certified, ensuring that weavers are fairly paid and that materials are of the best quality. And all have received Green Product Assurance (GPA), intensive third-party testing for quality and safety.

Here are Catherine’s answers to our many questions.

made in massachusetts, merida’s jacquard woven heywood natural area 9
Above: Made in Massachusetts, Merida’s jacquard-woven Heywood Natural area rug is composed of 91 percent undyed wool and 9 percent felted wool.

What are the essentials to know when browsing for rugs?

For anyone committed to low-impact living, there are three factors to consider when assessing a rug: 1. The impact to the environment 2. The impact on human health and well-being. 3. The impact on the people who made it. A rug made from natural materials that are sustainably sourced is a good choice for the planet and for respiratory health.

What are some rug materials that are notably eco friendly?

Look for rugs that are woven from rapidly renewable natural materials: the ideal are eco-friendly natural fibers that look and feel like the original source, such as wool, mohair, alpaca, or sustainably sourced plant fibers like linen, sisal, jute, and abaca.  A shocking 90 percent of rugs on the market today are made of nylon or polypropolene (PP). Even many so-called “natural” rugs are blends containing a high percentage of synthetics, which become harmful as they break down and are released into the atmosphere over time—like many paints, offending rugs have high levels of VOC emissions. If you can’t trace the provenance of all the materials in the rug, you don’t really know what you’re bringing home.

berlin based dutch designer hella jongerius’s argali rug for mahara 10
Above: Berlin-based Dutch designer Hella Jongerius’s Argali rug for Maharam is handwoven by Nepalese weavers from argali, the wool of Himalayan wild mountain sheep, and detailed with silk-wrapped fringe. It’s available in six colorways (natural brown shown here; black, available from DWR, is shown in the featured image above) and comes with an environmental data sheet. Maharam offers a range of rug pads made of recycled materials, including one a Wool Rug Pad of 100 percent recycled wool.