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How Toxic Are Synthetic Rugs To Us And The Environment?

par Jennifer Liong février 27, 2024 7 lire la lecture

How Toxic Are Synthetic Rugs To Us And The Environment?

This post is written by our sustainability researcher, Jaclyn Howden who is a student of Environmental Technology at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. 

Since 2020, there has been a common trend of living healthier and more sustainable to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and an increasing amount of people are trying to remove all of those substances or materials that are adding toxins into our homes. 

One of the sneakiest toxins is plastic! Reducing your plastic use isn’t just a good way to help the environment, it can also be very beneficial to your health as well. Every day we are surrounded by plastic through furniture, accessories, clothing, and even our decorating choices. From the curtains hung above the window, to the rug in the living room. 


How can synthetic rugs affect the environment?

The materials that cheaper rugs are commonly made out of are synthetic, the most used being nylon, polypropylene (also known as olefin), and polyester. In 2018 there was 3.4 million tons of rug, carpet, and other flooring waste produced that contributed to landfills and very little is recycled (only 9.12%). 


Because of the nature of how carpets are produced, synthetic carpets are not always completely made up of synthetic fiber. When being manufactured the synthetic material is dyed, weaved, then possibly glued to a backing, which can make it harder to recycle. It must be sent to a special facility designed to recycle rugs and carpets.

Obtained from petroleum and takes a lot of energy to produce, causing more greenhouse gasses. Nylon also sheds microplastics when it’s washed which ends up in waterways and different water bodies most water systems don’t have the technology to remove it. 

When it is disposed of, it ends up in the landfill and will stay until it’s fully degraded. However, there are available recycling programs for nylon rugs.

Polypropylene (Olefin)
Also obtained from petroleum and takes a lot of energy to produce. As goes with nylon, polypropylene is also a material that will stay in the Landfill until it’s fully degraded, which can take up to 30 years

Polypropylene is also able to be recycled but if it is mixed with other materials it is then in an impure form, and makes it even harder to recycle. 


What chemicals are found in synthetic rugs?

The 3 main materials (nylon, polypropylene and polyester) that rugs are made of aren't the only things that are found in carpets either!

Other chemicals that can be found
- nitrous oxide
- VOCs

- phthalates (used to soften plastic)

- Antimony (catalyst during production)
- PFOA (used to waterproof)
- Formaldehyde (finishing agent)
- PFCs (used to make stain-resistant)
- BPA (can be found in recycled polyester material)


dying material:
- Amines
- Heavy Metals
- Pentachlorophenol
- Chlorine bleaching
- Fire retardants

rug backings:
- Styrene and butadiene (from the rubber backing on some rugs,)
- 4-PCH (a VOC that causes the smell a new carpet has)
- PVC (from other potential backings on some rugs)

These chemicals have been know for not all but some or a variety of these effects:
- cancer
- endocrine disruption
- reproductive system disorders
- respiratory disorders
- heart disease
- nerve damage


There has been research done on nylon and compiled by OEHHA that shows the REL for being exposed on a daily basis through inhalation should be no more than 2.2 µg/m3, with side effects being inflammation in the upper respiratory system (nasal cavity).

Polypropylene is suggested to be one of the safer materials to use because it doesn't contain BPA, but is still recommended to avoid along with other types of plastics. 

OEHHA has also compiled research for polypropylene, and the found REL based on an animal study done in rodents, for being exposed on a daily basis through inhalation should be no more than 3 mg/m3. The side effects that were observed in the study were squamous metaplasia in males and females. In females, there was epithelial hyperplasia, which in humans can be benign but can increase the chances of developing breast cancer. Inflammation in the nasal cavity was also observed in the males. 

There have been many studies done on the effects of polyester, most of them being tests for the toxicity specifically about the fabric because polyester is potentially a growing concern for health-related issues. There also unfortunately have been a lot of animal tests on canines and the effects of polyester, most of the tests showing that there are reproductive issues in both women and men that are derived from polyester undergarments. But that doesn’t mean that other materials derived from polyester are safe. 

From the research that I had done, I could not find a REL for polyester, and that could be because the material itself isn’t as concerning as the chemicals used in the production of the material.


Off Gassing in your Home! 

As listed in the chemicals that rugs can contain, VOCs are emitted from the rug into the air of your home and can continue for up to 5 years. So even with the possible smell of the new rug going away, that does not mean that the VOCs have left your home, just decreased in volume that is in the air. 

Most of these VOCs will come from the backings or adhesives, as well as certain types of possible treatments that rugs go through when they are produced. 


How synthetic (plastic) material is bad for your health


One of the scariest things that I read when researching the effects of synthetic material, is that microplastics can enter into your bloodstream, and have the potential to reside in your body. So even if you aren't exposed to a lot of microplastic every day, if you were the week before, and you were today. There is a possibility that microplastics keep entering your body faster than your body can get rid of it. 

It is becoming more known that microplastics have the potential to damage the cells in your body, causing cancer, respiratory disease, birth abnormalities, and can also carry diseases into your body.  

This blog is only a fraction of the research and potential threats that microplastics present to our health. There are around 13,000 chemicals that are used when producing plastic. 3,200 are known to be a chemical of potential concern, and 6,000 of those chemicals are unknown if they are a hazard to our health. 

So, to live healthier and more sustainable we need to start being conscious of the plastic or synthetic materials that we are allowing ourselves and our loved ones to be surrounded, and affected by every day. 


Abbreviation Definitions


Perfluorooctanoic Acid


Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment




Recommended Exposure Limit


Volatile Organic Compounds


Microgram per 1 cubic meter


Polyvinyl Chloride


Milligram per 1 cubic meter






What can I do to reduce my exposure to these materials?!

Try to find alternatives for the products in your home that you can! Read the labels.
Replace your plastic cutting board with a wooden one. Buy clothing that isn’t made of synthetic material, or if that isn’t an option look at the label on your clothing to see the percent of natural fibers used in the fabric. Purchase cotton, wool, bamboo, or hemp-based bedding. When shopping for furniture, try to buy wood, leather or metal materials.  Buy natural fiber rugs that aren’t made of synthetic material.  Your health and your family will thank you.

The types of natural fiber materials that you should use are cotton, wool, bamboo, and hemp.


*disclaimer: this blog will be talking about rugs, but rugs and carpets are manufactured in a similar manner. The difference is carpet is installed and not as easy to remove from your home, and a rug can be moved easily and may be hand woven depending on the source of the rug. 

Janine & Micheal. (2023, April 19). Carpet Fibers 101: Nylon, polypropylene, Wool, Polyester, Triexta. Floor Decor Design Centre.


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Truscott, L. (2020, January 24). How companies can source nylon more sustainability. GreenBiz.,of%20its%20product%20life%20cycle


Alsabri, A., Tahir, F., & Al-Ghamdi, S. G., (2022) Environmental impacts of polypropylene (PP) production and prospects of its recycling in the GCC region. Materials today: proceedings, 56, 2245-2251. 

Yao, Z., Seong, H. J., & Jang, Y., (2022) Environmental toxicity and decomposition of polyethylene. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 242,

Singh, Z., & Bhalla, S., (2017) Toxicity of Synthetic Fibres & Health. Advance Research in Textile Engineering, 2(1), 2572-9373.,a%20known%20potent%20carcinogen%20also.

WebMD. (2023, September 23). What to Know About the Toxicity of Polypropylene. 

Kumar, K. (n.d.). Is Polypropylene Toxic to Humans? MedicineNet.,with%20food%20and%20beverage%20storage


Saddleback Leather Co. (n.d.). Polyester is Dangerous and Bad for your Health.,liver%2C%20kidney%20and%20skin%20ailments


Shafik A. (2007). Effect of different types of textiles on pregnancy. Clinical and experimental obstetrics & gynecology, 34(4), 244-246. 


Shafik A. (1992). Contraceptive efficacy of polyester-induced azoospermia in normal men. Contraception, 45(5), 439-451. 


Shafik A. (2008). An experimental study on the effect of different types of textiles on conception. Journal of obstetrics and gynaecology: the journal of the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 28(2), 213-216. 


Shafik A. (1993). Effect of different types of textile fabric on spermatogenesis: and experimental study. Urological research, 21(5), 367-370. 

Miller, J. (2023, November 19). Is Polyester Toxic & What are the Health Risks? Retrieved February 2, 2024, from

Rovira, J., Nadal, M., Schuhmacher, M., & Domingo, J. L. (2015) Human exposure to trace elements through the skin by direct contact with clothing: Risk assessment. Environmental research, 140, 308-316.

EWG’s Health Living: Home Guide. (n.d.). Carpet.

Berson, B. (2017, April 17). Carpet Off-Gassing: What You Need to Know. Creative Carpet & Flooring.,distinct%20%22new%20carpet%22%20scent.

U.S. Department of Labour Mine Safety and Health Administration. (2006, April). Polyurethane Foam Health Hazards.

Earth Day. (2023, July 19). What you Need to Know About the Impact of Plastics on Human Health.

Carrington, D., (2022, March 24). Microplastics found in human blood for the first time.,their%20ability%20to%20transport%20oxygen.

Geneva Environment Network. (2024, January 27). Plastics and Human Health : Plastic and the Environment Series. Retrieved February 2, 2024, from

Bolstad, H., (n.d.). Risk Assessment of Air Contaminants. OEHHA.

OEHHA. (n.d.). Caprolactam.

OEHHA. (2020, April). Appendix D.3 Chronic RELs and toxicity summaries using the previous version of the Hot Spots Risk Assessment guidelines (OEHHA 1999).

American Cancer Society. (2022, January 25). Hyperplasia of the Breast. Retreived February 16th, 2024, from,breast%20cancer%20(see%20below).

Photo citations
Love your rug. (n.d.). [Untitled online image of a pile of rugs].

Econyl. (n.d.). [Untitled online image of rug and carpet recycling].

Plastics Industry Association. (n.d.). [Untitled online image of plastic being made].

Construma. (n.d.). [Untitled online image of carpet being woven by machine].

National Geographic Kid. (n.d.). [Untitled online image of plastic being made].

Textile Exchange. (n.d.). [Untitled online image of polyester].

Asked dall-e for a capybara recycling a colourful rectangular rug. (Dall-e, personal communication, February 16th, 2024).

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