How to Choose an Eco-Friendly Outdoor Rug

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Tuohy
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Earlier this year, I wrote this post for MOTHER EARTH NEWS about how to choose eco-friendly indoor rugs. As I discovered in my research, indoor air pollution is a real issue in modern homes and choosing the “wrong” rug can contribute to that problem. After thoroughly exploring the best options for indoor rugs, I began to think about my outdoor space.

Living in the South, my family and I like to spend as much time as possible outdoors. It being the buggy South, however, this means staying inside a screened-in porch! I started looking for a way brighten up this space and went on a search for an eco-friendly outdoor rug.

At first, I assumed that the same rules as those for indoor flooring would apply, but it turned out that was only partially true. First off, the issue of “off-gassing” isn’t such a concern in an outdoor space. Second, most of those natural fibers that are ideal for indoors don’t work well outdoors, because when combined with persistent moisture they become mildew magnets.

So what are the best options for eco-friendly outdoor rugs? 

The best material for an outdoor rug is synthetic, as these don’t absorb water and therefore won’t grow mold when left outdoors (which can be harmful to your health, as well as spoil the look of your rug).

Synthetic, you say? Isn’t that bad for the environment? Not necessarily. If you research the materials well, you can actually end up with a product that is attractive, eco-friendly and, crucially when it comes to being green, long-lasting. One thing to note: Look for hand woven or hand tufted rugs, both of which are more durable than machine-made and will last longer.

Here are the most popular materials for outdoor rugs, along with their “green” attributes:

Synthetic Blends

This hand-hooked synthetic rug is durable, long-lasting and boasts all-weather durability, so it’s a great choice for a high-traffic patio area. Plus, you can clean it with a hose.

Carpets made from a blend of synthetic fibers, such as Derclon, nylon, olefin (also known as polypropylene), polyester, rayon and acrylic, are a good choice for outdoor rugs. Generally waterproof, stain resistant, durable and easy to clean, responsibly manufactured synthetic rugs gain green credentials because, unlike cotton or wool, synthetic fibers don’t require high volumes of water and grazing land in their manufacturing process. They also have a much smaller carbon footprint than those of natural fibers. On the flip side, they can contain VOCs that off-gas (not a big problem if used outdoors) plus they are largely non-biodegradable (although carpet recycling is becoming much more ubiquitous).

This rug is made with Derclon, a popular synthetic material for outdoor rugs as it closely resembles wool, is durable and resists stains and fading. It also doesn’t shed its fibers like wool rugs can, so it’s a good hypoallergenic choice.


This rug, made from 100-percent polypropylene, is quick drying, non-fading and resists staining and mildewing, making it great for outdoor areas. It can also be cleaned easily with a garden hose.

Polypropylene (also known as olefin) is a very eco-friendly synthetic rug material, as it is made from recycled soda bottles, milk bottles and other plastic packaging. But don’t worry—it doesn’t feel likes it’s made of plastic bottles. It has a natural-fiber appearance, but without the disadvantage of absorbing water, as natural fibers do. Alongside being completely waterproof, polypropylene rugs are also strong and stain-resistant and can be hosed off when they need to be cleaned, meaning this rug is likely to be around a long time—a key factor when shopping for a green rug. Look for 100-percent UV-stabilized polypropylene, so that the rugs won’t fade from sunlight.

Recycled Plastic PET

PET is similar to polypropylene in look, feel and characteristics, but it is made exclusively from recycled soda bottles. Because soda bottles are required to be made with top quality resins by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, there’s less concern about harsh chemicals leeching from your nice new rug.

Plastic Rugs? Really?

Recycled plastic is undoubtedly a green material. Keeping soda bottles and other plastics out of the landfill and putting them to a new use hits all three criteria of the “Three Rs” (reduce, reuse and recycle). But is it safe for your family? This Scientific American Article addresses this issue and overall concludes that it is a green choice.  

“Overall, PET carpet … is a pretty green choice. … PET fibers are naturally stain-resistant and do not require the chemical treatments used on most nylon carpets, and they retain color and resist fading from exposure to the sun or harsh cleaning. … Also, old PET carpet can live another day when it is ‘down-cycled’ for use in other applications such as car parts, insulation, and even furniture stuffing.”

So go ahead, green up your outdoor space this summer with a colorful, durable, weather-resistant rug, and tell your spouse that you’re just doing your bit for the planet… I know I will!

Jennifer Tuohy is an environmentally conscious mom who likes to provide advice on how you can be more green with your home décor.  She gives tips from picking a greener area rug to the what product will save you money and energy.  Visit Home Decorators to view a selection of outdoor area rugs like those she talks about in this article. 

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