You can tell that there’s something not quite right about new carpets if those carpets are made from synthetic ick – it smells. That characteristic chemical “new” smell. Now, the fumes and vapours given off by a new carpet are not quite as bad as some toxins that you probably get exposed to during a renovation or redecorating session – paint, for example, is much worse, unless you’re using “green” paint – but every little bit counts. And there are other options.
There are other alternatives to carpet, too. From a health perspective, having smooth floor surfaces means that fewer dust mites can lurk in your home causing asthma and allergies. Carpet gives them a place to hide in, as carpets trap dust. From a house cleaning perspective, however, having carpets down traps dust, which means the dust isn’t going all over the house, requiring you to dust more frequently as well as sweeping/vacuuming.
But you probably know what you need for your floor, whether you want something hard or soft, depending on which room we’re talking about and what your lifestyle and family are like. What are your more natural options suitable for natural cleaning products?
* Plain wood. If you’ve got nice wooden boards on your floor, why cover them? They’ll need to be sanded and sealed. This is not the moment to open up the polyurethane varnishes and stains. Instead, try lime-washing the wood or waxing it. There are plenty of eco-friendly low-toxin options knocking around. With some woods, the issue of tropical hardwoods from dubious sources crops up. To be on the safe side, stick to non-exotic woods – woods from conifers (pine, cypress, spruce, larch, fir and cedar) look good, wear well and are usually harvested from properly managed forests.
* Cork. Cork is softer than other wood used for flooring (e.g. pine) and is that little bit warmer. Finish like wood.
* Natural fibre mats: Coir, sisal and reed mats are soft enough to sit on and are also quite hard-wearing. They usually come in their natural colours (usually cream or beige), but you can get dyed and patterned ones. They can absorb liquids easily, so it may not be the best idea to use this where people are likely to spill drinks or ink, as it’s very hard to get the stain out.
* Rag rugs. These are often bright and colourful, giving a room character and a bit of cheerfulness. They are fairly easy to clean, too. As a bonus, they are nearly always made out of recycled materials.
* Woollen carpets: Wool is a natural material, after all, so this is one place where what’s natural is also luxurious. They’re delicious to lie on and to touch.
* Rugs made from natural skins. Cow hide and sheepskin rugs are a by-product of the meat industry, and are durable. People have been softening floors with skins for millennia! Hides from Friesian/Holstein or Ayrshire cattle look particularly striking.
* Stone and tile. A cooler surface to walk on but very durable and easy to clean as well as being natural. They have the added advantage of absorbing and storing heat, and are widely used in home with passive solar heating.
* Recycled rubber mats. These may not be the most attractive, but are great in rooms where you need a tough surface.
No matter what type of flooring you’re considering, also give consideration as to how you’re going to keep it in place. It’s no good buying a natural floor finish only to stick it down with fume-laden adhesive. Use a hammer and tacks, or track down adhesive made from cow’s hooves.