Area Rug Rules of Thumb

Area Rug Rules of Thumb
A bright rug helps liven up this light living room. Adobe / Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons why it’s a good idea to have an area rug in a living room or family room. Area rugs provide comfort, warmth, and decorative interest (color, pattern, texture, etc.). They can act as artwork for the floor, and they can create a frame in which to place furniture and define spaces.

Area rugs are often advantageous over wall-to-wall carpeting because they are easier to clean, and if you get tired of the look, it’s easier to switch out an area rug and replace it with something new. While there are tons of options in the field of area rugs, there are certain things to consider when using them. Here are some rules of thumb to consider before buying an area rug.

Size Matters

When putting an area rug in a living room or family room, keep the following tips in mind:

  • The most frequent mistake people make with area rugs is to get one that is too small. An area rug should fit under all of the key furniture pieces in a room. It this isn’t possible, you should be able to fit at least the front legs of major upholstered pieces on the rug (the back legs can be off). But all the legs of smaller pieces should be on the rug whenever possible. Think about your furniture arrangements before committing to a rug.
  • If you have a particularly large room, divide up the conversation areas and use a different rug for each one (they don’t have to match but should be tied together by color or pattern).
  • For most average-sized rooms, there should be approximately 10" - 20" of bare floor between the edges of the area rug and the walls of the room (depending on the size of the room you can go as low as 8” and as high as 24”). Make sure the rug is centered in the room, and the distance between the rug and the wall is the same on all four sides.
  • No matter what the size, make sure that in heavily trafficked areas, there is enough room for people to walk on the rug (they shouldn’t have one foot on and one foot off).

Color and Pattern

  • Area rugs are like artwork for the floor, and they’re a great way to infuse some playfulness into a room. Don’t be afraid to choose something with color and pattern.
  • Area rugs with bold patterns can be a lot of fun, but make sure that when you place furniture on them, the designs aren’t totally covered up. Take furniture placement into account before you buy.
  • If your room is an unusual size or you want to customize a pattern, consider carpet tiles. Carpet tiles (like those from FLOR) come in a large variety of colors and patterns so you can choose what works for you. It’s also possible to switch out tiles if there’s a spill.
  • For inspiration on color and pattern, check out rug sources like Madeline Weinrib and Dash and Albert.


Cleaning tips for individual rugs vary, but there are certain things you can do to maintain your rug to help it look its best and last for years to come. Before buying, think about where you’ll be using it and what kind of maintenance will be required.

  • Generally speaking, medium-to-high pile rugs should be properly cleaned once a year to remove dust, hair, and any allergens (vacuuming isn’t enough).
  • Low-pile and flatweave rugs should be taken outside periodically to be shaken out.
  • Check the cleaning instructions before making a purchase. Rugs made of natural fibers like jute and sisal can’t really be cleaned, so big spills could result in permanent damage. That said, they don’t show minor dirt and stains as much as other fibers.
  • Keep the tags with any cleaning instructions. Some rugs can last for several years, and you may forget the best way to clean them after a decade or so has passed.

Watch Now: How to Select an Area Rug