Wondering about Wool

Wondering about Wool

Reader says shopping for chemical-free carpet spurs confusion

Dear Natural Interiors:

Your blog and the Natural Housewife got me thinking about indoor-air quality, and wool carpeting, because I am getting ready to replace old carpet in my home. But after going to a local flooring store, I am really confused.

The salesman showed me some wool carpets, but they all had been treated with mothproofing chemicals, and some contained synthetic materials, too. I said I did not want chemical emissions, but he said I would be okay with any brand in the store – even synthetics made from petrochemicals — because they all had CRI Green Label Plus.

When I named Nature’s Carpet, the salesman pulled out a box of small carpet pieces from under the counter. But I know from going online that there are a lot more styles than the ones he had. He said that he only kept the box for people who specifically asked for it, and that it really wasn’t needed because of all the advances in limiting chemical emissions. So, what’s the deal?

— Wondering

Dear Wondering:

Well, the truth is that selling natural, chemical-free carpet is a challenge for many mainstream flooring dealers because of all the mainstream carpet brands they have in their stores. I’ve had dealers tell me that they cannot point out the benefits of natural products because, in doing so, they cannot avoid implying that their other carpets are hazardous, because they do emit chemicals.

First be clear on what CRI Green Label Plus means. This indoor-air quality certification is administered by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), which uses an independent certifier to test chemical emissions from carpet. Emissions from carpet with this label cannot exceed limits set by California standard 01350, which has been hailed as the strictest health-based standard in the United States. The limits CRI has set for carpet pad, however, are not as stringent, and a number of manufacturers now offer reduced-emission or natural carpet pad.

Having CRI Green Label Plus, or CRI Green Label as is the case with pad, means that emissions from a carpet are within the set safety limits, chosen by CRI – a manufacturers’ trade association. It does not mean that a carpet is chemical-free. The Nature’s Carpet Dark Green line is manufactured without synthetics, chemical treatments or dyes, which means chemical-free.

What confuses this issue further is that Nature’s Carpet also has CRI Green Label Plus certification. Why would a chemical-free carpet need this testing? Because LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines pretty much require it if the product is going to be put in a building that receives credit under the LEED rating system. It would be great if consumers could compare the testing results among brands, but under CRI rules, manufacturers are not allowed to use test results for marketing.

In the mainstream carpet world, traditional wool carpet is known as one of the most resilient and one of the best for indoor-air quality because it traps and holds pollutants circulating in the air until you remove them by vacuuming. Making a wool carpet with all-natural materials — including jute backings and natural latex — and no chemicals takes these well-known benefits to the next level.

While many mainstream flooring companies now offer and support products like Nature’s Carpet, it might be some time before some are able to explain the product’s benefits without feeling as though they are slighting the large, mainstream carpet manufacturers, which by the way, reward retail salespeople with commissions and prizes.

For now, you probably will get clearer answers if you stick with the Nature’s Carpet dealer list. Best of luck!

— Nancy Kibbee is the editor at naturalinteriors.com

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