Most new carpets emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals that can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat. What's more: If you opt for a handmade rug from South Asia instead, it was most likely produced by child laborers, according to RugMark, a nonprofit human rights group.
Instead of crossing carpets off your list, shop at companies like FLOR, which sells easy-to-install modular carpet tiles (you can arrange the pieces on the floor as you wish) made from recycled nylon or natural fibers like wool and hemp that are low in VOCs, and Merida, which also uses natural, sustainably sourced fibers such as bamboo and seagrass.
Another way to find a low-VOC carpet? Check the label to make sure it's been tested by the Carpet and Rug Institute Indoor Air Quality program. (Learn more at www.carpet-rug.com.) If you want a hand-made rug, look for the RugMark seal on the back-it certifies that no children were exploited to make the item (RugMark also funds rehabilitation and education programs for former child laborers in the carpet industry).