Not all carpet is bad for the environment. Carpet can be made from natural materials, such as wool made from the hair of sheep or llamas. Wool carpet provides an extremely durable, fire-resistant, stain-resistant and hypoallergenic option in comparison to synthetic carpets. This type of flooring is great for high-traffic areas because of its springy fibers, which bounce back naturally after pressure. Wool rugs can be vacuumed, but care should be taken when cleaning with certain chemicals. They look and feel luxurious, but there's a cost for that luxury: Wool carpeting is significantly more expensive than other carpets.
A less-expensive yet still environmentally friendly option is a rug made from any of several plant fibers. Sisal is a fiber from the leaves of the agave plant that results in durable, easy-to-clean and sound-absorbent flooring. Seagrass is another option. It grows underwater, is inexpensive compared to other plant fibers and is easy to care for. It's a bit darker, so it might be the best bet to hide dirt tracked in by kids and pets. Jute is the softest plant fiber, but also the least durable and one of the most expensive. Other fibers include abaca, which is a knotty material that's in the banana family, and coir, which is harvested from coconut husks [source: Green Living Ideas]. Coir dries quickly, making it a good option for a room with moisture, such as a bathroom.
Some people love the rugged texture of plant fibers, but some materials, like sisal, are scratchy, so take the time to feel each one before making a decision. While some of these are available as wall-to-wall options, they're more commonly area rugs, because they expand and shrink when they get wet.
If plants aren't your thing, you may want to look at linoleum, a blanket term that includes vinyl flooring. You might not think it, but linoleum is actually a natural product made from linseed oil, cork dust, wood flour, tree resins, ground limestone and pigments [source: Maas]. Natural linoleum costs more than vinyl but lasts 10 to 20 years longer. It's easily cleaned, although it does require regular waxing. If you scratch linoleum, you can buff out the offending mark, and it works well in kitchens and bathrooms. A few people are sensitive to the smell of linseed oil, however, so spend some time near a linoleum floor before bringing it into your home.
Vibrant colors are one of the hallmarks of natural linoleum; a company named Forbo offers one product called "Marmoleum," which has the colors of quarried rock, and another product called "Artoleum," which has bright colors taken from MRI scans [source: Chang]. Natural linoleum can be bought at many home improvement and flooring stores, but because many people think of vinyl and linoleum as synonyms, be sure to check the label to ensure the project is natural. Installing sheet linoleum is tricky, so if you want a do-it-yourself project, it's probably better to go with linoleum tiles.
Still not enthused about natural flooring materials? We're not done yet.