Choosing Rugs

Where to use which fiber

Persian rug

Area rugs are exceptionally diverse and can provide a distinctive accent to any room. For rooms with less than spectacular "bones," a good rug can provide a foundation for the style you are trying to achieve.

If you are concerned about indoor air quality because family members have allergies, you are probably already aware that wall-to-wall carpeting can exacerbate those conditions. Dust and dust mites take up residency in the bedroom carpeting making life miserable for the sufferer. In addition, synthetics contribute their own air quality issues because of the offgassing of glues and backing used in many products.

The solution? Hardwood floors with a few strategically placed, but attractive, area rugs. These days, there are also many environmentally sound options to go with when choosing your rugs.

Wool

Wool is one of the nicest materials for area rugs, and has great durability. Unlike synthetics, wool is less likely to harbor dust mites. It's very dense material for a rug, and the denser the rug, the better longevity and durability it will have. Wool takes color well so the range and grade of colors are excellent. Wool is incredibly versatile, too. There is virtually no setting or style that can't take a wool carpet.

Wool carpets are available in new, reproduced, and vintage styles. Antique Persians or Orientals, vintage Danish rya rugs, and a huge variety of new rugs in every imaginable style are widely available. Wool is comparatively expensive, but will last a life time if cared for.

Cotton

Cotton carpets are often relatively inexpensive but come in every color in the rainbow. When the carpet is small enough, it may be washable, which can be a big advantage in kids' rooms or bathrooms. Rag rugs can be braided or woven for a simple, cottage effect and are common in traditional Early American and Scandinavian-style designs. Woven, napped carpets are often found in many interesting ethnic designs at import stores and can provide a lot of bang for the buck.

Many times, you’ll find a combination of cotton and wool in area rugs. Cotton, being less dense and strong, holds up under foot traffic a less well than plain wool, hut they are very soft and often a more economical choice.

Silk

If you'd like a Kevlar carpet, try silk. Ounce for ounce, silk is stronger than steel and Kevlar, resilient, and takes color in ways other fibers can't. Often combined with other fibers like cotton or wool, silk brings light weight and unique texture to the party, which makes it excellent for decorating. Silk is often used in expensive Oriental and Persian area rugs because it lends itself to very delicate, intricate patterns and designs.

Real silk rugs are usually high quality and expensive ... they also often require special care. They are generally not appropriate for high traffic areas or locations where spills are likely. Though somewhat more water resistant when combined with wool, silk is best suited for rooms where beauty and impact are desired, but heavy wear isn't likely. Master or guest bedrooms are good choices. In other words, if you have a few toddlers running around, or a dog that likes to play in the mud, you might want to go with an option that’s easier to maintain. If you are passionate about a silk carpet, consider hanging it as a display piece.

Nylon

Nylon resists stains, comes in every color under the rainbow, and is available in all styles and many patterns. Nylon rugs are everywhere at every price point. Though nylon is not the best option environmentally because it isn't a sustainable material, it generally makes a durable rug that won’t dent your pocketbook. Technically, nylon carpet is recyclable, though as of 2007, no domestic recyclers have the capacity to take used carpet. That should change in the not too distant future.

Seagrass

Seagrass is the least expensive of the natural material rugs and the most popular. Aside from being naturally stain resistant, seagrass is very durable and can be used in high traffic areas. These rugs are not dyed and come in their natural shades of brown. They are environmentally sound and hypoallergenic.

Sea grass is available for runners and tiles and can be used virtually anywhere in the home. It's water-resistant and durable and, unlike other natural grass fibers, it's soft. Color variations add textural interest which makes sea grass attractive in clean, modern rooms. Patterns of weave that are commonly available include herringbone, basket, and plain weaves. With a latex back, the rug become more stable and long lived.

Jute

This type of rug material comes from Asia and is widely known to be one of the prettiest natural floor coverings. Jute usually comes in a natural tan color, but it can be bleached or dyed. It’s one of the softer natural fiber rug materials, and also one of the finest.

The big advantages of using a jute rug is its relatively low cost. It's also fire resistant, strong, durable, and because it comes from an easily grown plant, very sustainable. Jute fiber rugs shouldn't be used in very damp or humid environments as exposure to wetness tends to degrade the fiber. Though it is reasonably durable, it will wear out, but when it does, it's not a problem. Because it's a natural fiber, it can literally be composted.

Sisal

Like jute and seagrass rugs, sisal is another environmentally friendly option. Sisal is naturally anti-static and doesn’t trap dust. Many are left undyed and so come in a neutral color palette. They are very easy to clean, and you only have to vacuum them every once in awhile unless they are in a very heavily trafficked area. They are very durable, but eventually biodegrade. Try that with nylon!

Despite sisal's many advantages, it can't be used outdoors and isn't the most comfortable rug for walking on barefoot. It's most suitable for indoor, casual spaces where ease of maintenance is desired such as offices, dining rooms, or living rooms. It looks contemporary and clean, so works well in a modern setting as well. For a finished edge, many are available bound.

A word about quality

As with any rug, look for rugs that are well knotted for the style. Rugs range from very coarse knot density to extremely fine. About 30 knots per square inch equals a very coarse density. Approximately 290 knots per square inch denotes a much finer density that is often reflected in a more delicate design. Typically, people think that the finer the density, the better quality the rug is and often that is true. However, though density plays a big part, genuine quality is derived from high quality materials, colorfast dyes, and workmanship that executes the design and style in a way that is superior to other similar carpets. When selecting carpets the best teacher is experience, so shop around and familiarize yourself with the range of available rugs that could meet your intended purpose.


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