Olefin rugs are generally considered a safe synthetic rug choice. Of course, all synthetic carpets could potentially trigger some health hazards, mostly during installation when the carpet is new and creating a “new carpet” smell as a result of off-gassing.
Synthetic materials are created through chemical processes. Synthetic does not necessarily mean it is harmful, but it can transfer chemicals to the human skin depending on how it is produced.
If you have children or pets or are simply looking for a more natural solution to flooring, there are some issues to consider before buying an Olefin rug.
How Are Olefin Rugs Made?
Olefin was first discovered in Italy in 1957 by a scientist who won a Nobel Prize. By 1960, the US was widely using olefin in textile products.
Olefin is a synthetic fiber that is made from poly olefins, such as polyethylene or plastic polypropylene. The compounds are polymerized to create thick fiber. The thickness of the fiber gives it bulk and strength making it a great textile for carpet and rug making. It also has fantastic absorption ability, which makes it a great choice to use in high-moisture areas.
Greener Up-cycling Process
The process of making olefin is actually considered to be greener than the process that goes into other textiles thought to be environmentally friendly, such as cotton, wool, silk, or rayon. The reason for this is that olefin is actually an up-cycled by-product of petroleum.
Up-cycling is a process that is used to create materials that were once thought to be nothing but waste. Up-cycling is friendly to the environment because of its green manufacturing process.
Olefin requires no water or land for production, which makes it one of the most environmentally green textiles with a small carbon footprint. In fact, on the Higg index, polypropylene received the highest score for sustainability and has been widely accepted by environmental groups.
Keep in mind that being environmentally friendly and safe for human use are not the same thing.
Polypropylene, olefin, is made from the colorless gas propylene. Propylene has a faint petroleum-like smell. In technical scientific terms, Olefin is the co-product of ethylene produced through steam cracking of hydrocarbons. It was originally burnt off during oil production since nobody thought it had any industrial use. Until the 1950s, when a scientist discovered that this byproduct of petroleum that was once allowed to burn off into the atmosphere could be transformed into a useful material.
In other words, smaller single molecules were combined and linked to form longer chain molecules. This long-chain molecule, polypropylene, was put into a pellet or bead form and then melted down and run through a spinneret machine where it linked the molecules into thread. Finally, the thread is spun into yarn that is used for textile applications. The fibers for an olefin rug are inexpensive and able to be woven by machines in just a few hours.
Olefin is stain-resistant and requires no chemical treatment. To get different colors, solution-based dyes are added during the melting process. Polypropylene is chemically stain resistant making it impossible to add color dyes after it has been manufactured. Once it has been turned into thread, it will not take a dye or a stain.
Is Olefin The Same As Polypropylene?
The terms olefin and polypropylene are typically used interchangeably in the carpet industry. Olefin is the generic name for the textile which is the chemical polypropylene.
What Are The Risks Associated With Olefin Rugs?
One of the main risks associated with olefin rugs is “off-gassing”. Also, olefin rugs are usually treated with chemicals to make them colorfast, stain-resistant, and flame retardant. These chemicals release Volatile Organic Compounds VOCs and Polybrominated diphenyl ethers PBDEs used in fire retardants, which may be harmful to babies.
Because olefin naturally repels water and stains, there is no need to spray Polyfluorinated Compounds PFCs on olefin rugs. However, they are usually treated with flame retardants since they melt when overheated.
As with any synthetic carpet, olefin rugs also tend to be backed with a latex mix that contains styrene which is a possible human carcinogen. Synthetic rubber could contain phthalates, which may disrupt the endocrine function.
The polymers used to form olefin produce another chemical called ethylene. Ethylene is also used in antifreeze, solvents, and surfactants.
Toxic dyes may have been used during the dying process. Glues and other adhesive components may contain formaldehyde or other harmful chemicals. Formaldehyde is also an ear, nose, and throat irritant.
Some rugs may be sprayed with fungicides, pesticides, or fire retardants. PFCs that are often added to synthetic rugs and labelled as water-repellent or stain-resistant, can disrupt the endocrine activity, lower immunity, or enter the human bloodstream to even be found in breast milk of nursing mothers.
Olefin often contains a blend of chemical compounds including ethylene and VOCs which turn into gases. Usually, an olefin rug will go through a process of off-gassing. If you notice a “new carpet” smell, then you know your olefin rug is in the process of off-gassing.
The odor and harmful chemicals usually dissipate after time, but one of the best ways to handle the off-gassing is by using an indoor air filter, or opening windows and doors to let some fresh air in. If the rug is not too large, let it off-gas outside, since the sun will help speed up the process. If possible, it’s best to go elsewhere and not reside in the area until the off-gassing is complete.
Expect the initial off-gassing to take a couple of days until the odor fades.
Exposure to high levels of toxic fumes, like those produced during off-gassing, may cause short-term health problems such as triggering allergies or nausea especially in those who are chemically sensitive. They may also cause long-term health problems such as memory or learning impairment, decreased fertility, congenital disabilities, hypothyroidism, kidney failure, liver disease, or even cancer.
However, the off-gassing process does not last forever. Once the gassing process is over, the carpets are considered safe to use.
The olefin material itself is stain-resistant, so there is no need for water-repellant or anti-microbial chemicals to be added. However, olefin is often treated with hazardous chemicals like Polyfluorinated Compounds PFCs used to repel stains and water, fire retardants, or antimicrobials.
Even if you purchase a rug made out of an organic material, such as wool, it is likely treated with hazardous chemicals and insecticides as well.
Child Safety with Olefin Rugs
Polypropylene, Olefin, is the least resilient of all synthetic fibres, so it is going to show wear and tear quickly and are not the best choice for high-traffic areas since they are prone to crushing. It will become dull fast, and matted very easily if you use it in high-traffic areas, such as stairs, family living areas, or in homes where children or pets are playing on it often.
Avoid using an olefin rug if you have crawling babies or pets who could leave stains on the rug. Olefin is not resistant to oil-based stains.
Wool is considered the safest and most durable for babies.
Cleaning And Kitchen/Dining Room Use
Olefin rugs are not recommended for kitchen or dining room rugs. They are often treated with harmful chemicals, and oil-based stains are not easy to remove.
Clean Olefin rugs often to keep them from losing their shine. Have them cleaned when they are first installed to help alleviate some “new carpet” odor. Vacuum every other day to keep it looking fresh.
Olefin rugs can cause some issues with certain types of flooring as well.
Why Choose an Olefin Rug?
Olefin rugs are very affordable, offering quality and durable fibres at a reasonable cost. They are considered to be some of the best quality rugs on the market and are a great choice for areas like damp basements or outdoors. Olefin dries fast when it gets wet and is not prone to mold or mildew. The way it is dyed also makes it fade-resistant, so exposing it to sunlight will not leave the rug discolored.
Rugs made from Olefin textiles are:
- easy to clean
- resist staining except for oil-based stains
- resistant to bleaches and fading
- made with up-cycled materials
- Have no need for PFC treatments to control stains or repel water
Olefin rugs are often used more in commercial or outdoor settings than they are in residential homes. They are often looped style rugs, such as Berbers or level-loop commercial carpets with a low-pile, and tightly looped for the most durability. Olefin rugs are best suited for low-traffic areas.
If an olefin rug is not treated with any harmful chemical sprays, it is considered safe to use after the off-gassing process has ended.