Recycling Old Carpet in the Garden

I’d like to turn part of my yard into a Japanese garden. Can I use old carpeting or rugs as underlayment beneath my pea gravel? -Ken

Old carpet and rugs are popular choices for underlayment when building ponds and water features, so it stands to reason that it could also function as a weed barrier and padding underneath pea gravel. However, I’m a little prejudiced on this one.

Not only am I believer in organic gardening, but I’ve also rehabbed several yards that were landscaped with buried carpet, plastic sheeting, and numerous other unexplainable pieces of debris. Years later, bits of slimy material continue to work their way to the surface, usually to be hit by my lawn mower or yanked using thick gloves. It’s been the source of some of my most creative grossed-out grumbling!

Nonetheless, here’s what you need to know about recycling old carpet in your yard:

On The Plus Side:

  • The price is right: Old carpet is cheap, and you can even find roadside freebies.
  • Ease of use: It’s thick, sturdy, and easy to handle (if a bit heavy).
  • It works: It will suppress weeds growing up through your gravel while still allowing water to drain.
  • Recycling is good: Synthetic carpeting can take thousands of years to fully decompose in a landfill – recycling is the very least we can do!

On the Other Hand:

  • The “Ew” Factor: If you’ve ever pulled old carpet out of a house, you know that it’s a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. After a couple of years of rain and soil, “Zen” is not exactly the term that comes to mind!
  • Soil Contamination: Synthetic carpet is made of petroleum products that have been treated with chemicals and cleaners – do you really want this leaching out into your soil?
  • Nothing Lasts Forever: Even though synthetic carpet is veeeeerrry slow to decompose, it will fall apart (especially if the binding is organic) and will be hard to remove. And if weeds do grow on top of your carpet, their roots will twine through the fibers, making them nearly impossible to pull.
  • Is It Necessary: If you’ve properly prepared your gravel bed, with a tamped-down base material and thick layers of gravel, you don’t really need any underlayment at all.

Choose natural fibers.

Earth-Friendly Recycling:

If you want to use underlayment, here are some ideas that are more environmentally friendly:

  • Carpet or blankets made of 100% natural fibers such as wool, cotton, or jute
  • Pieces of cardboard
  • Thick layers of newspapers

You may need to replace these in a few years, but your soil will be much less contaminated. If you have old synthetic carpeting to dispose of, check around – recycling programs are spring up all over the place to turn old carpet into building and paving materials, insulation, new carpet, and all sorts of useful things!



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14 Comments on “Recycling Old Carpet in the Garden”

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  • jennifer Says:
    June 2nd, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    my yard is huge and covered in awful weeds. its out of control. i am following some of the suggestions here–a few of which i knew of already. i am using landscaping fabric along the side i share with the neighbour. and for the rest of my yard i am going to use black construction plastic, but, it is not that easy to find in my town… would i get that at any building centre?… like home hardware? or at the nursery? i have also just contacted a carpet layer in town and asked him to give me his old carpets, too.

  • Hillary Nissen Says:
    April 30th, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    I have a synthetic carpet that was buried in my back yard about 4 yrs ago. It is now rising to the surface in pieces and making it very hard to grow anything but weeds, which by the way, are now harder to remove because their roots get tangled. Any ideas on how to remove this carpet without digging out all the dirt?

  • Sheryl Gallant Says:
    April 20th, 2017 at 11:30 am

    I have used old jute backed carpet in a large winter squash and pumpkin garden with great success. Turned upside down with the jute back on top it looks like mulch. I cut holes in it big enough for the squash and pumpkin plants and just let them grow out over the carpet. No weeds or grass all summer! I used cardboard alone the previous year but it broke down halfway through the summer and the weeds grew back. Cardboard is successful as a base for at least four inches of mulch, however.

    While it can be “yukky” when pulled off the floor, the whole bottom is soon covered with blown dirt and tracked mud and maybe manure after a month in the garden. You can always put an inch or so of mulch on top of it.

  • Pauline vereker Says:
    June 3rd, 2016 at 2:38 am

    Hi I have put down old carpet on part of my lawn where I am going to put a raised flower bed for flowers . Now under the raised bed I put used carpet to prevent weeds coming through now it’s full of topsoil and stones all around it , there is one thing in the winter would the rain go through the carpet for drainage

  • Grace Says:
    April 19th, 2016 at 6:41 am

    Trying to source cheap ideas to cover soil in our outdoor area in a school in England. Would indoor carpet that I am getting rid of be ok to lay on top of the soil? Stop it turning into a mud bath and children can walk on it?

  • carol Says:
    May 9th, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    old carpeting works for me under clear cut stone (gravel) under our old pine trees. This areas was previously a dust bowl especially in July, as for the weeds burn them off with my weed dragon (though not during fire ban season).

  • barbara Says:
    August 3rd, 2014 at 9:41 am

    My plan: 1) use surplus, on hand, indoor-outdoor carpet (cut 2.5 ft width by needed length along house foundation in a few areas where shrubs planted, slashing at base of each shrub (small now, large all too soon) and cover with gravel (not pea). Goal/benefit: no more erosion of soil along foundation (caveat emptor first-time home buyers – this is a problem with graded properties). Warning re: newspaper layers near home – subterranean termites can digest cardboard, so it stands to reason they can “dine” on newspaper – newspaper and cardboard fine farther out in yard. Another option for the same project would be heavy duty black construction plastic, which is effective to lay over areas where weeds become prolific (leave in place, secure with stones through hot weather to “solarize” – smother – weeds and weed seeds; am doing this now and seeing good results). Don’t worry about what neighbors “think”! They will be happy to know you’re engaged in this never-ending battle – and may soon be coming to you for tips…:)

  • Peter Says:
    July 22nd, 2014 at 12:55 am

    I live in a canal estate at Newport, Queensland, Australia. My problem is that water runs straight through the garden and weeps into the canal, thereby over draining the lawn, even after heavy watering or rain , with the result being a forever dry, brown and unhealthy lawn. I have considered laying old carpet or carpet underlay, with the hope that this will remain damp then top dressing,then a new lawn. Any suggestions on this or any other method to retain moisture in the lawn in a highly porous garden??????????

  • Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    May 25th, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Hi Fae,
    Good to hear the carpet idea worked! Thanks for the feeback.

  • Fae Shaw Says:
    May 24th, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    I have had 2 ft wide strips of synthetic berber laid down behind raised wooden vegetable beds and the back fence . It has definitely kept the weeds down and because it is at the back of the garden so not very visible I wasn’t worried about the aesthetics. Over last 4 years the neighbours cedars have gotten taller making it shady – carpet has become covered in moss and I quite like it !

  • Laura Eryasa Says:
    November 29th, 2013 at 9:25 am

    so, its ok for the chemical filled carpet to be inside our homes but the concern is for carpet outside ruining the environment? thats unusual.

  • Adam Says:
    November 23rd, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    Ugly bamboo? Odd perception. Invasive, yes. I can’t imagine carpet would solve your difficulty. However, some idiot was providing you with a food source. For the running bamboo, harvest the edible shoots by pulling or cutting where the shoot emerges from the rhizome when they barely poke through the ground. Some can be eaten raw, for most boil 5-10 minutes for sweet types, 10-20 minutes with one change of water for bitter types.

    Source – Eric Toensmeier, perennial vegetables

  • Tracy Zeltser Says:
    November 1st, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Thank you – the best info on using carpet as weed barrier. Will probably not be using cheap old carpet this way – looking for better recycling nearby.

  • Brook Says:
    January 7th, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Will this work on bamboo that is a ground runner? Some idiot planted this years ago in our front yard. I used to spend hours a week pulling it up – the root systems are complex, running under sidewalks, “hiding” by strangling the roots of other plants. At first we planted things around the bamboo (damn-boo!) that would look ok with it, but it took over. Now our front yard has some well-placed rocks and nothing but ugly bamboo.

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Recycling Old Carpet in the Garden