Wednesday, December 21, 2011


* due to its popularity this article has been updated.  Feel free to click over to our newest post "WHAT'S THAT SMELLY (AND TOXIC) NEW RUG SMELL AND HOW TO AVOID IT"

I really do like area rugs.  I like how it feels to walk on them with my bare feet when I wake up in the morning (much nicer than walking on a cold floor!) and I like how they can immediately decorate and make an impact on a room.
Our new lovely (but smelly) rug

Recently my husband and I  were lucky enough to receive a brand new bedroom set that was given to us on the Nate Berkus Show by Gilt Home  (to have a little laugh and see the rug, you can check out the link and see how excited we were).  The furniture arrived last Friday and it is gorgeous.   We are super happy and recognize how fortunate we were to have received an entirely new bedroom set, designed by a professional designer, no less! 

When the delivery people left, however. we realized that a very strong order lingered in our bedroom.  REALLY. STRONG. ODOR.  As I have said a couple of times in this blog, I usually follow my nose when it comes to chemicals... if it smells strong, it usually involves a chemical.  This time I new exactly where it was coming from :  our new area rug.  

It is a gorgeous area rug and very high quality, dont get me wrong, but upon further investigation I learned that it was a 100% wool “hand tufted rug”.  After further research I learned that what was smelling was a cocktail of chemicals used to glue the wool to the base of the rug.  EEEWW


This is important for your family, because chances are you are like most parents I know who choose to buy a new area rug for their baby’s nursery and, as the children grow, an area rug continues to form part of the kids bedroom decor, playroom and living room.  Unfortunately for us parents, most mainstream rugs from stores like Pottary Barn Kids, Ikea, Room and Board etc come with the same chemicals and smells. According to the EPA “over 90 percent of commercial carpet is tufted”.  Other than a nasty odor, the leaching of chemicals can and have led to children developing asthma and allergies and flu - like symptoms  (it gave me a horrible headache).

Also important to understand is that many of these rugs are made in foreign countries with absolutely no regulation on chemicals (mine was made in India) so the makeup of the glue could be worse than suspected.

Styrene-butadiene latex is the most common bonding material used in carpet backing systems. According to the EPA short term exposure can “  potentially cause the following health effects from acute exposures ....nervous system effects such as depression, loss of concentration, weakness,
fatigue and nausea. .. Styrene has the potential to cause the following health effects from long-term exposures : liver and nerve tissue damage. ...Cancer: There is some evidence that styrene may have the potential to cause cancer from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL."

Once again, I worry more about the long term cummulative effects than the more obvious short term effects. The headache and irritation that the off-gassing of the latex bothered me, but I was freaking out about  sleeping in a room (or even worse allowing my munchkin to sleep in a room)  for 8 - 12 hours a night inhaling these chemicals.   Especially when no long term studies have been done on humans.

Relax, you don’t have to give up area rugs or carpets!  Here are easy tips on how to avoid these chemicals and /or what to do if you already have a smelly carpet at home.

 1. Avoid hand tufted. A hand tufted rug it is a rug created by pushing wool or acrylic yarn through a primary backing , creating a ‘tufts’ .  The ‘tufts’ are then glued and held in place using a latex glue.  So a good start is not to buy a hand tufted rug... go for the (usually more expensive) hand knotted rug or a rug that specifies that it is non-toxic.
2. Also avoid moth proofing (usually sprayed on wool carpets).  More chemicals.
3. When you do purchase a new rug look for the CRI (Carpet and Rug Institute) Green Label Plus logo, which indicates a very low-emitting carpet (in the United States).
4.  If you bring a rug home and it smells... return it.

5.  If you need to purcase a synthetic carpet, the least toxic carpets on the market can be found on this website:  The Carpet and Rug Institute Green Label Carpets. These are "low-emitting" carpets, most made from synthetic fibers.


1.  CONTACT THE MANUFACTURER.  Some manufacturers, like Pottery Barn Kids, have been known to offer you a refund if you call and complain about a smell and stick firmly to your rights (they now use a non smelling adhesive in their newer carpets so newer purchases might not have this problem), other companies might not be so lenient.  
2.  TRY CLEANING/VENTILATING: Do not try to clean the carpet with more harsh chemicals. Try steam cleaning your carpets with plain water and opening windows or turning  fans on the ventilate you room.  The longer you can let your carpet off gas (ventilate) the better!  Vacuum frequently with a HEPA filtered vacuum.

What am I going to do?  Even though it PAINS me to get rid of it (it is beautiful and makes such an important design impact on our room) I don’t want it in our house emitting toxic chemicals that give me a headache one more day.   We have been sleeping in the living room for almost a week because of the smell! Come tomorrow we are putting it in our balcony for a couple of days. Since we will be traveling for almost a month I will probably wait to see if the smell is completely gone upon my return and if not I will contact the manufacturer to see what they can offer me and if not I might have to throw it out  or try to recycle it :-(  (Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE)) listing of carpet recycling programs) I cant even bring myself to sell this rug in good consciousness!

* due to its popularity this article has been updated.  Feel free to click over to our newest post "WHAT'S THAT SMELLY (AND TOXIC) NEW RUG SMELL AND HOW TO AVOID IT"


  1. WOW! Thanks for this article about area rugs . This helps a lot! I really needed to read this information! :)

    1. Thank you for your comment! Feel free to send me a message if you have any other questions!

    2. My sister recently gifted me with 4 rugs from K-Mart. Rubber backed, shaggy bathroom rugs. I have to spend the winter in a camprt in NW MT so she thought it would help with the cold floor situation. It did and they looked nice, but after the first night, I got sick. She called me in the morning and I couldn't talk at all. Sinuses stopped up, lungs full of congestion and serious laryngitis. It was bad. I didn't think about the rugs. I thought that for the 1st time since 1984, I might be sick. I went out in this condition because I needed groceries, and wonder of wonders, all my symptom went away. As soon as I came home I noticed a decidedly chemical smell. I knew that I never get sick, so sat and thought about what was new in my environment and saw the rugs. I thought, no, that can't be it. I left them down again for another night because it was -15F and cold. I awoke in the morning sick as hell again. This time I grabbed a bag, tied them up in it and put them aside. I still didn't feel well the next morning, so I took the bag out, and put it under the camper. aired out the camper, and wonder of wonders again, I was healed.
      My sister said, sorry and she'd just take them home and use them. I think she thought I was being silly. I told her, if you get sick, get them out of your house. Then I forgot because she left the bag in her car for a few days before bringing them in and using them. The day she brought them in, and hadn't even put them down, but the bag was open, she called me that night and said she was sick as a dog. All the same symptoms I had. 4 days into her being sick she called her doc because it wasn't getting better. I awoke in the middle of the night last night by the realization that she now had the toxic rugs in her house. I talked to her and she had just made an appointment with her doc this morning. I said, "try this, get the rugs out of your house and air it out". She said, "it's cold, not gonna air the house today". I'll just wash them. Yikes. So, waiting to hear from her on that note. She had to go out today for the 1st time in days. I'll bet she comes back feeling well again. I'll let you know. I know it was those rugs beyond a shadow of doubt.

    3. These chemicals cause millions in America alone to become very ill, disabled, and death. I lost three degrees, pre Masters, due to this type of poisoning in offices and after a building fire (the chemicals used to renovate). My background is in the sciences, health care (but use natural only ) and chemistry of arts and arts materials. (and more).

      It is called MCS (the sensitivity is a reference to cell damage not one being "fragile) or EI so on. The Rx and other industrial companies that make these chemicals lobby hard to make sure the public is not aware of them.

      Search even "toxins in fragrance" products - same highly toxic chemicals OSHA and MSDS (material safety data sheets) will show all organ systems - heart, brain, immune, muscle and all others being affected)

      As well mainstream MD's are not at all trained in toxicology and since the Rx companies make highly toxic products any MD who is not in a medical freedom state stands to loose their license - they are slandered, attacked until many, not having millions to defend themselves give up. (only 11 when I was almost dead - and did the Max Gerson MD therapies and others to be able to function again. I was "paralytic" internal organ bleeding and most all organs breaking down - could not even form a thought)

      There is an estimated 79 million in America from all walks of life - now on SSDI or dead. A lawyer wrote a recent book "Poisoned".

      My main MD with 3 advanced degrees in Environmental Medicine/Toxicology and served in Vietnam working with civilians and Vets regarding agent orange just lost her license at age 99! Only when NYC and Oregon were my MD's able to do the therapies I wanted after they became medical freedom states.

      Your instincts are correct - the body does not lie. Get them out. Babies have died on new carpeting even.

      (background in legal and medical research and many other areas).

  2. This is a very helpful article. Thanks for pointing out that "handtufted" rugs need to have adhesives to hold the tufts in place--many people are not aware of this.

    I'd like to mention my company as a source for non-smelly rugs: Garuda Woven Art.

    Our rugs are handwoven in Nepal. We use natural dyes exclusively (with alum as a mordant). The pile is pure Tibetan wool; the foundation is unbleached cotton. We wash the rugs with either soapnut or a mild soap. We do not use any chemical treatments: no mothproofing, no stainproofing, no flame retardants, no glues. As a result, our rugs don't stink!

    The colors are beautiful and the rugs are extremely durable--they should last generations.

  3. Nice Modern Area Rugs recent I purchased a Moroccan Beni Ouarain Grey rug for my living room. it was a great deal

  4. What happened, did you keep it or chuck it because the smell lingered? thanks

  5. Nice post and share too..!!

    I am big fan of rugs and usually buy machine area rugs.

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  8. Thank you so much for the article. I discovered it while searching for information about toxic chemicals on wool blankets and other textiles. Its amazing how little information about these things come up in internet searches. I just recently purchased some wool 80% wool blankets on Amazon (from India) and they smelled powerfully like petroleum. I washed a couple and am now seriously regretting it. It didnt remove the powerful toxic smell even after multiple washes and I realized that I'm just sending toxins downstream into our shared water by simply washing them. Look out California. Please consider this. Washing carpets puts the chemicals in our water. All the threads I saw about people trying to deal with toxic blankets suggested washing them with this or that solution but not considering that the toxins are then going into our water. Toxic bs. I am angry as hell that we can be sold these things in the first place.

  9. I admire this article for the well-researched content and excellent wording. I got so involved in this material that I couldn’t stop reading. I am impressed with your work and skill. Thank you so much.

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  10. Your articles are always interesting and understandable. Thank you! Couristan Area Rugs

  11. I found it interesting that you recommended looking at CRI (Carpet and Rug Institute). I looked at their website for products that were low in VOCs, but didn't find any recommendations. However, I did find their page urging people to oppose Minnesota legislative bill HF2209, which is a bill that would regulate the use of toxic flame retardants in upholstery, children's products, and mattresses. Some of these compounds are endocrine disrupters and some have already been banned in Europe. As a Ph.D. biochemist myself, this makes me wonder just how "green" CRI is. Does anyone else have information about this? (see also:!/engage/hf-2209 ;; the Wikipedia page on "Brominated flame retardant" and )

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