Rug Materials - Natural & Synthetic

The look, feel, durability and value of a rug have a lot to do with the rug materials used in making it. If you want a rug that meets your needs for now and are not concerned with how long it may last, then any rug will do. However, if many years of use and even an heirloom quality rug are important to you, then certain materials are a much better choice.

Let’s start with an overview of the different types of rug materials commonly used in making rugs. Just as the characteristics will vary between the types of rug materials, so will the cost. In-depth information on various types of materials can be found on their respective pages.

There are two groups of rug materials:

  • Natural:  Animal or plant fibers, including wool, cotton, sisal, jute,
       seagrass or bamboo.
  • Synthetic:  Man-made material such as viscose, rayon, nylon,
       acrylic or polypropylene/olefin.

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    Wool is widely used and it is the main component of higher quality pile area rugs. Most wool comes from sheep, but it can also come from goats, llamas or alpaca. Wool is a resilient material and it has greater durability than synthetic material. Wool absorbs and retains dyes amazingly well. It is naturally resistant to fire, water and stains. Wool area rugs also naturally resist dust mites, which is important to people with allergies, because dust mites can aggravate allergies.

    See for yourself why Wool Rugs are simply the best!

    Cotton is a natural fiber that is strong and durable. Area rugs made of cotton can easily absorb and retain a wide variety of dyes, which provides the user with a multitude of color choices. In rug making, cotton is often used in conjunction with wool. Area rugs made with the cotton-wool blend have a nice feel, especially on bare feet. Cotton-wool rugs usually cost less than all-wool rugs, but people should be aware that cotton has a tendency to wear out sooner than wool.

    What are the most popular types of Cotton Area Rugs?

    Sisal, extracted from the leaves of the ‘Agave Sisalana’ plant, is the most popular of the plant fibers used for rug making. This plant, sometimes called the American Aloe or Century Plant, is native to Central America, but is now grown all over the world, especially in Java, East Africa and Mexico. Even though sisal is only one of the plant-based rug materials, the name has come to be used generically for all plant-based rug materials. Sisal has long, fine fibers that allow it to be made into smooth textured yarn. Sisal rugs are anti-static, sound absorbing, flame retardant and long lasting, all of which make sisal rugs worthy of your consideration.

    Show me an example of a Sisal Rug.

    Jute, made from stem fiber plants, comes mainly from India and China. Jute is well-suited for making durable yarns and fabrics because of its stability and firmness. Like other plant fibers such as sisal and coir, jute has a nice look when made into rugs, but it can be coarse and also susceptible to stains. This is just one of the reasons that natural and synthetic rug materials might be blended together to make area rugs.

    Take me to the Jute Area Rugs page.

    Seagrass (also spelled sea grass, with a space) comes from a tall plant found in wetlands areas. It has grass-like stems and is a durable material for rugs. Seagrass is known for its non-porous surface that gives it a naturally smooth texture. It has a hay-like smell and color, both of which will fade over time.

    Why are Seagrass Rugs so popular?

    Bamboo is a woody material that is found mostly in China and Japan. Bamboo, like sisal, is durable and can hold up under heavy use, which makes it a great choice for an area rug in a high-traffic area. In general, a bamboo area rug can offer great quality at a lower price. Bamboo area rugs are available in a surprisingly wide range of shapes and styles.

    Tell me more about the Bamboo Area Rug.

    Silk is a natural fiber that may be used on its own or included in higher quality rugs, such as Persian and Oriental rugs. The silk is added for its luster and shine. Silk is the most expensive rug fiber and even a little bit of silk added as an accent can raise the price of the rug. Silk rugs should be handled with care and should only be cleaned by a professional rug cleaner.

    There is also something called faux silk or “false silk.” It is usually a synthetic, made from polyester fibers such as viscose/rayon. Mercerized cotton can also be used as a look-alike for real silk. Faux silk, also called art silk is most often used as small accents or in the construction of a short, dense pile rug.

    Viscose, made from wood pulp, is a shiny, silk-like fiber. Viscose is susceptible to matting when it is used on its own. However, when used as an accent or in a blend it becomes an excellent replacement for real, and higher-priced, silk.

    Rayon is a synthetic material that has a resemblance to silk. Rayon is derived from wood (made from cellulose found in trees). Although it is similar to silk in its look and feel, rayon will melt if it is exposed to open flame.

    Nylon, another of the synthetic rug materials, is widely used in rug making. Nylon rugs have great characteristics such as uniformity and strength as well as stain and soil resistance. Nylon area rugs come in an unlimited variety of colors and they can be easily cleaned. The resilient nature of nylon rigs makes them a good choice for placing under furniture and for areas of heavy traffic. The cost of a nylon rug is usually less than that of rugs made from natural materials. However, nylon rugs do not hold their value as well as a quality wool or silk area rug.

    Acrylic, another synthetic material, can be blended with other fibers to produce a rug that has the look of a wool rug, but at a lower cost.

    Polypropylene or olefin fibers are petroleum-based products that are derived from propylene and ethylene gases. These fibers are strong, colorfast, quick drying, abrasion resistant, mildew resistant, along with soil and stain resistant. Rugs made from these materials are at the lower end of the cost scale, making them more affordable than some other types of rugs. Olefin, which has a soft wool-like feel, is one of the more widely used synthetic fibers for machine made rugs. Polypropylene can be heat-set to give it more durability and less sheen, for a look that is more like wool. Polypropylene/olefin rugs are popular but because they are lightweight, they may not be the best choice for areas with high traffic.

    Bulk Continuous Filament (BCF) is the name given to synthetic yarns that are made by a mechanical process to fluff them out before the yarn is used for tufting or weaving.

    If you're thinking that rug makers in different parts of the world have different preferences about the type of natural fiber they use, you’re right! Wool and silk are the most commonly used rug materials in Asia, India, the Middle East and Central America. Sisal, jute and seagrass are the rug materials used most often in Mexico, Brazil, Africa and some parts of Asia.

    Natural fibers are used in both hand-made and machine-made rugs. On the other hand, synthetic fibers are used exclusively in commercially produced (machine-made) rugs, no matter which country they come from.

    Some of the most popular rugs are blends, where two (or more) types of rug material are combined to make a rug that has the characteristics of one material enhanced with those of another. It might be a wool rug with silk highlights, a wool and cotton blend or a mix of natural and synthetic materials. The result can be a rug that has a more desired look or feel, along with more durability and/or value.

    In addition to the rug materials listed above, you'll probably want to take a look at this worthwhile information.

    Sheepskin Rug

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