A Complete Guide To Buying A Vegan, Ethically-Sourced Area Rug

“Wool is like the whey of textiles. It doesn’t really need to be there, yet somehow always is.”

Anji Mountain’s recycled denim Hydra rug. Photo provided by Anji Mountain.

When I’m not scrolling through the countless photos of stacked vegan burgers and triple chocolate brownies on my Instagram feed, I’m probably looking modern interior design accounts full of light, airy rooms filled with lush fiddle leaf figs and vibrant gallery walls.

As someone who’s been vegan since her teen years, I know how to read ingredient lists like a pro. My closet has long been veganized. Cosmetics are checked off that list, too. So when I became an adult, I couldn’t wait to decorate my apartment so it was stylish and cruelty-free.

Non-leather couch? Check.

Throw pillows without down? Check.

Wooden coffee table? Easy peasy.

The rugs, however, were a little more difficult. Not every rug has wool in it, but naturally, all the rugs that I actually found cute had something like 10% wool in them. Typical.

Wool is like the whey of textiles. It doesn’t really need to be there, yet somehow always is. Silk rugs are also a thing, though they’re expensive and seem to be deeply impractical. Sheepskin and leather sometimes sneak their way into interior design trends as well. I didn’t realize taxidermy bear rugs were still an actual thing until I started looking for second-hand options here in Maine.

But like whey, wool and other animal products are easy to avoid once you know what to look for — and get over the heartbreak of your favorite design being one of those pesky wool options.

“We have decided somewhere that wool carpets are an expensive luxury item. Yes, they are expensive,” said designer Risha Walden, who offers vegan interior design services at her company, Walden Interiors. But “I think there’s something luxurious about having that choice to decide what product to have in your home. There’s a luxury in that.”

Nowadays, you can find wool-free rug options at big box stores everywhere — Target, Overstock, Home Depot and more. That’s great. Having accessible, affordable options means that more people are able to have wool-free rugs in their homes.

However, I didn’t just want any vegan rug. I was looking for a rug that would align with my other priorities of sustainability and ethical shopping. I wanted it to be made in a way that wasn’t exploiting my fellow humans, and I wanted a rug made from biodegradable fibers or recycled materials, or both.

For purposes of this list, I’m only looking at rugs that are in the 8-by-10-foot range. Many of these rugs come in smaller sizes, and there are countless other options for small spaces or doormats. Finding a large, ethically made, vegan area rug that doesn’t totally break the bank is where things can get sticky.

Another thing to note: despite my best efforts, I was unable to find an all-vegan rug company. So unfortunately, you will have to filter through some non-vegan options to get to the good stuff. However, I did encounter vegandesign.org, run by vegan interior designer Deborah DiMare, which features a curated list of vegan rugs as well as other resources for a cruelty-free home.

So, after years of hand-me-down rugs and smaller mats, I finally decided to get my first ethical, vegan area rug for my living room. Here’s what I learned.

Recycled materials

It seems like you can make anything from recycled materials these days, and rugs are no exception. Fab Habitat makes rugs out of recycled plastics such as bottles and straws. The ones made from straws are reversible so you can flip it over for a slightly different design or for the inevitable messes that happen at home. The rugs are often suitable either indoors or outdoors and range from $169 to $895.

Over at Anji Mountain you can find rugs with bold designs made out of recycled blue jeans, which they call their “bell bottom blues.” Ranging from $450 to $825, these rugs use a blend of post-consumer PET and, of course, recycled denim to create a “soft, dense pile.”

“Anything that’s upcycled, of course, is great because you’re reusing something that would’ve been in the landfill,” DiMare said.

West Elm offers multiple recycled polyester rugs ranging from $399 to $799, and for our United Kingdom-based friends, Weaver Green features recycled plastic rugs, which can be made from up to 3,000 plastic bottles and range from £440 to £935.

West Elm’s Ikat Mix rug. Photo provided by West Elm.

Jute, sisal, seagrass, hemp and other natural fibers

A longtime favorite of vegans and eco-minded individuals, rugs made from natural fibers bring a natural, earthy aesthetic into the home. But if you’re into bold, colorful patterns, don’t rule out these options either. Natural fibers can be woven with other materials to create a bolder, graphic design for those looking for something less rustic.

Fab Habitat’s Anatolia Soumak Rug in Charcoal. Photo provided by Fab Habitat.

Savavieh is one place — of many — where you can find rugs made from all of these natural fibers. Since you can search by material (cotton, jute, hemp, silk, sisal, traditional synthetic, viscose and seagrass), it’s easy to track down the vegan rug that’s right for you.

West Elm offers custom hemp and sisal rugs, as well, if your space requires a rug that doesn’t come in standard sizes. And Loomy features a vegan rug section on its website, which is composed mostly of jute rugs. NuLoom as an extensive collection of rug options, and it’s easy to find rugs made from natural fibers and to filter out the wool rugs on its site.

Organic, recycled and “eco” cotton

Hook and Loom makes what they call “eco cotton.” Basically, the company collects donated textiles, removes excess features such as zippers and buttons, separates them by color and spins the fibers into new rugs. The company features three types of these cotton rugs: loom-hooked, flatweave and braided, which range from $275 to $685.

Organic and recycled cotton rugs are increasingly common finds, too, with stores such as Target getting on the sustainability train. Smaller companies, including Fab Habitat, sell organic cotton rugs, too.

Fab Habitat’s recycled cotton Sunny rug. Photo provided by Fab Habitat.

Be careful though. Conventional cotton requires about 6 percent of the world’s pesticides, according to Refinery 29, and it takes 20,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of water (equivalent to one T-shirt and jeans), according to the World Wildlife Fund.

That’s not all. DiMare warns that organic cotton can actually include casein, a milk protein, in its production because it softens the fibers. “Even if it’s organic cotton, it could still have animal products,” she said.

Bamboo

It’s no secret that bamboo is a sustainable, renewable resource, with its use in everything from flooring to cutting boards. But it also makes for great area rugs, too.

There’s the simple bamboo mat-style rugs, which is what you might think of when you think of bamboo rugs. Coming in around $200, these often-modern rugs range from the earthy tan tones you would expect to pinks and greens for a little pop of color.

Anji Mountain’s Premier bamboo rug. Photo provided by Anji Mountain.

You can also find bamboo shag rugs, which are made from a blend of cotton and bamboo viscose and run around $250. From geometric patterns to bold reds, these are perfect for vegans who want a shag rug made from natural fibers.

Second-hand

It would be a grave mistake if I didn’t recommend shopping second-hand. Visit your local thrift stores or online marketplaces and see if you can snag a second-hand rug on the cheap.

Plus, you contribute to the circular economy (reusing what we already have) instead of a linear one (buying new). But you might live somewhere where that’s not possible or can’t seem to find one that suits your needs second-hand, and that’s OK.

“As a designer, I love using second-hand products, but clients don’t always,” Walden said. That’s because it takes much more time to source those rugs than shopping online or in a store. If you do opt for a second-hand option, be patient. Sometimes what you’re looking for will be available in a month or a few months from when you start looking.

Other things to know

Any vegan knows that animal products can be sneaky. Despite many rugs listing vegan-friendly fibers in its materials, there could always be elements not included, such as casein in cotton. Glues and dyes can sometimes be tricky. So if you’re especially concerned, don’t be afraid to ask the producer for more information.

“My best piece of advice is just ask questions and make sure you understand what the content is, what the durability is, the soil and stain resistance, and how it’s going to fade because carpeting is going to sit somewhere where natural light is coming in,” Walden said.

“Just know what you’re buying,” she added.

Another tip from Walden? Get a rug pad. It helps with longevity because debris lands in the carpet pad instead of the debris creating friction between the rug and floor. Walden says this saves your floors and your carpets — especially if you’re talking about wood floors.

“It’s about taking care of the products you do have,” she said.

A longtime vegan and journalist based in Bangor, Maine.

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