Guidelines for Choosing a Nontoxic Nursery Rug

bedroom nursery Aug 24, 2018

by editorial team and Sophia Ruan Gushée


Who would ever think that rugs designed for nurseries could pollute our indoor environment? I certainly didn't know to be thoughtful about how my nursery rug may affect my infant's indoor air quality. But it does.

Below is a summary from the book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Our Toxic Exposures by Sophia Ruan Gushee. It can be used as guidelines for choosing a nontoxic nursery rug.

Can nursery rugs influence your child's health?

Just as we're understanding the importance of learning about the ingredients of what we eat, we should start learning more about the components of what comprises our household products. This includes rugs, and nursery rugs.

With breads, for example, how healthy or unhealthy they are depends on what they are made of, and how they were prepared. For example, bread made with white processed flour and other chemical ingredients is not as healthy as one made of 100% natural ingredients.

Rugs are also made in a variety of ways. Below are common components of popular nursery rugs. Each component can influence your indoor air quality.

  1. Synthetic rug material. Nursery rugs are often made of synthetic materials, like acrylic and polyester. Synthetic materials are often made from oil byproducts, and various chemicals (like acrylonitrile, which is a probable human carcinogen).
  2. Rug backing. Flip a nursery rug to the back side and you’ll often find synthetic rubber used to keep the rug from sliding. What you don’t see is the chlorine commonly used to make the synthetic rubber. The chlorine can react with other compounds and create “unintentional by-products” that have strong links to bladder cancer.
  3. Synthetic dyes. Made from a mix of chemicals, synthetic dyes are often used to color nursery rugs. Both the dye itself and the chemicals or heavy metals used to adhere the dye to the material can be toxic and have been known to damage the brain and nervous system.
  4. Finishes. Labels such as “waterproof” and “stain resistant” are often made of chemicals such as formaldehyde that is a known human carcinogen.
  5. Adhesives. Adhesives used to glue rug backing to the rug material can contain chemicals such as benzene found to damage chromosomes.
  6. Pesticides and fertilizers. Conventional cotton is heavily sprayed with pesticides and fertilizers. Residues can remain on the cotton. While it is unclear if those pesticides and fertilizers in cotton rugs can affect human health, it certainly does affect the health of the farmers, their families, and our local communities.
  7. Flame retardant chemicals. Nursery rugs can contain flame retardant chemicals known for off-gassing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. VOCs have been directly linked to indoor air quality.

What are nontoxic nursery rugs made of?

  1. Untreated natural fibers. 100% wool, sisal, hemp, silk, cotton, and seagrass are all examples of natural fibers. Consider finding rugs that are made of untreated natural fibers such as these.
  2. Natural dyes. Similar to choosing natural fibers, consider choosing natural dyes or those that are low-impact dyes.
  3. Stitched together. Instead of the rug backing being glued on, look for a nursery rug where the backing is stitched to the rug.
  4. Washable rugs. Opt for small rugs that can be washed in the washing machine for cleaning.
  5. Low- or no-VOC adhesives. If the rug backing is glued, look for a low- or no-VOC adhesive rug.
  6. Natural rubber backing. Consider natural rubber cushioning or backing for your nursery rug in order to avoid chemicals found in synthetic rubber backing.
  7. No backing. Heavy but small washable organic cotton rugs without backing are a great option.
  8. Free of chemical treatments. Nursery rugs free of chemical treatments, such as “stain resistant” or “water resistant” are a good option to consider.
  9. Flame retardants. Look for nursery rugs that don’t have flame retardants in them; one less group of chemicals that your children will be exposed to in the nursery.

Guidance on choosing a nontoxic nursery rug

In terms of indoor environmental health, the best option is to have no nursery rug at all. Carpets trap dirt, dust, and chemicals from outdoor and indoor sources. Vacuuming rugs do not remove all dirt and debris, like cleaning a hard-surface floor does.

However, there are benefits to rugs, especailly in a nursery, that lead most people to use nursery rugs.

When choosing a nontoxic nursery rug, consider choosing a rug made of natural materials with natural dyes. Opt for materials that do not have water resistant, stain resistant, or flame retardant chemicals. Rugs that are stitched together are preferable. However, if adhesives are used, look for low- or no-VOC options. Consider choosing backing made of natural rubber or no backing. Rugs that are small enough to wash in the washing machine can be cleaned more thoroughly than larger un-washable rugs.

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About Ruan Living

Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

In no event will Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living be liable for any damages or loss of any kind resulting from the use of this website. Anyone relying upon or making use of the information on this website does so at his or her own risk.

Some of the services and products recommended on this website provide compensation to Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living. All recommendations are based foremost upon an honest belief that the product, service, or site will benefit our site visitors in some way.  

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