6 Types of Rug Materials and How to Choose One

White woven rug on a hardwood floor

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A rug forms the foundation of a room and anchors the furniture, which is why choosing the right rug is key. Not only does it protect your floors, it adds warmth and comfort and is a great way to add color and make a design statement. Shopping for a new rug can be overwhelming and intimidating — between different styles, sizes, shapes and materials, there is a lot to consider. Today, we're focusing on commonly used materials to help you decide whether wool, silk, cotton or something else is the right rug choice for your home. Keep reading to learn more about the various fibers used, what their characteristics are and the spaces they are best suited for.

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    Cream area rug in a room with blue chairs, a large mirror and other furniture

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    Best for: high-traffic areas, for comfort and a cozy feel

    Wool is one of the most commonly used fibers for rugs and also one of the most durable. It's a good choice for a high-traffic area like a living room or dining room because it's resilient, yet it's still incredibly soft and comfortable. Wool rugs are naturally water and dirt repellant, and because the fiber is elastic, it bounces back to its original shape quickly. They are available in a range of different pile heights and styles, and are often combined with other fibers to bring down the cost of the rug, as a pure wool rug can be quite expensive. Wool rugs are one of the oldest types of rugs, the original hand-knotting technique dating back to BC times. Today, they are hand-tufted, hand-knotted or hand-loomed, or machine-loomed when other synthetic fibers are added.

    Common Styles of Wool Rugs

    Because wool is one of the oldest materials used to make rugs, heirloom Persian and Oriental rugs are one of the most typical examples. They tend to have a medium-pile height, often feature bold colors and patterns and sometimes have fringed edges. Kilim rugs are another common style of wool rug. They are flat-woven rugs that originated in Turkey and the Middle East and also feature bright colors and patterns. While rug pads are recommended to use with most rugs, they're especially important for flat-woven ones such as the Kilim, as they'll prevent the thin rug from sliding around and make it more comfortable underfoot.

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    Natural Fibers

    Round jute rug on a wooden floor

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    Best for: to layer under another rug, add texture and a natural, organic look

    Natural fiber rugs bring in an organic feel and are a great way to add warmth and texture to a room. They are usually inexpensive and are a great layering rug as well— for an interesting visual effect, layer a jute rug under a wool or cotton rug, leaving up to a foot sized border around it to leave the jute visible. One downside of natural fiber rugs is that they show water marks easily and can be tricky to clean.

    Common Styles of Natural Fiber Rugs

    Jute, sisal and seagrass rugs are the most common natural fiber rugs, and come in various shapes and sizes to suit different rooms. They do tend to shed and sisal and seagrass rugs often have a cotton border around them to prevent fraying. Natural fiber rugs are a classic choice that works with a variety of interior styles, from coastal to farmhouse, and they are a great option for a hallway runner, under a breakfast room table or as a neutral living room area rug.

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    Room with a chaise and side table and a cowhide underneath

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    Best for: an accent rug for a small area or to layer over a larger rug

    Hair-on-hide rugs are either full-sized animal hides that have an organic, irregular shape or area rugs made up of cut hide pieces stitched together to create a geometric pattern. The rugs have a soft, short-pile texture and add a modern rustic vibe to a space.

    Common Styles of Hair-On-Hide Rugs

    Cowhides are one of the most common types of hair-on-hide rugs and they make for a great accent rug under a small seating area or bedroom reading nook. You can also position them over other, larger rugs for a layered look. They are full-sized cow hides and every single one is unique in coloring. Synthetic cowhides are available as well, some dyed in bright colors or speckled with metallic flecks. For the best way to clean natural cowhides, shake them out, vacuum and spot clean any stains as soon as they happen. Sheepskin rugs are another example of commonly used hair-on-hide rugs and are a great way to add cozy texture and a small decorative accent next to an armchair, at the foot of the bed or even draped over a bench.

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    Striped runner in kitchen corner

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    Best for: areas where you frequently change rugs, seasonal rugs

    Cotton rugs are soft and comfortable while also being affordable. Cotton is an excellent material choice for a space like an entryway, kitchen or bathroom where you know you'll need to replace the rug pretty often due to high volume of use. Most cotton rugs are machine-washable for convenience and are best placed in an area that doesn't get direct sunlight as they easily fade.

    Common Styles of Cotton Rugs

    Kitchen runner rugs and entryway runners are often made from cotton for ease of maintenance and to make replacing them affordable. From solid colors to stripes and other patterns, there are countless versions and styles available on the market. Use a rug pad under a cotton rug or runner to keep it in place and provide a more comfortable walking surface.

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    Synthetic Fiber

    Patterned rug in an open living space with a leather sectional

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    Best for: high-traffic areas, seasonal rugs, wall-to-wall carpeting

    Synthetic rugs such as microfiber rugs are either made from polyester or from a blend of polyester, nylon and other synthetic fibers. This is an affordable rug option since the machine-woven rugs are usually plush and comfortable and made to look like more expensive cotton or wool rugs, but for a fraction of the cost. Synthetic rugs have come a long way and it's often hard to tell the difference between them and natural fiber rugs, which is why they have grown in popularity. Many are machine-washable, highly durable and stain resistant, which makes them a great option for high-traffic areas such as living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens. And because they're not as big of an investment, they're a good choice if you're looking for a seasonal rug or want to try a bright pop of color without spending a fortune.

    Common Styles of Synthetic Fiber Rugs

    While synthetic fibers are used to make countless types of rugs, one of the most common styles is wall-to-wall carpeting. Synthetic fibers give the carpeting that plush, soft feel and make it durable and stain resistant as well as affordable.

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    Close up of colorful patterned rug

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    Best for: bedrooms, low-traffic areas

    Of all the natural fibers, silk is one of the strongest and most durable. Similar to clothing, silk rugs are associated with luxury and have been a high-end, expensive choice for centuries. The rugs have a smooth, slightly shiny texture and appearance and shouldn't get wet as liquid can cause permanent damage. They have a delicate low-pile height and tend to be elaborately decorative which is why they have traditionally also been used for wall decor. To clean a silk rug, use a professional cleaning service.

    Common Styles of Silk Rugs

    Persian and Oriental rugs are two of the most well-known silk rug styles and their history goes back centuries. Today, silk rugs are available in traditional patterns as well as ultra modern designs. Because of their high cost and difficulty to clean, they are best suited for low-traffic areas where there isn't a danger of daily spills.

Choosing a Rug

A rug has the power to completely change the look and atmosphere of a room, and the material that it's made from plays a role in its appearance as well as practicality and comfort level. To choose the right rug for your home, consider the following factors: What room is the rug going in? Is it a high-traffic area? What size do you need? Do you have small children and/or pets in the home? Is budget a concern in your decision or are you prepared to splurge on the right rug?

Answering these questions is a good starting point as it will help you narrow down your choices. For example, if you have a reading nook in front of your fireplace that's slightly awkwardly shaped and can't quite accommodate an area rug but needs something on the floor, a cowhide is a great option. Its irregular shape is well-suited for a smaller space and its texture and neutral colors will add cozy warmth and a comfortable atmosphere. On the other hand, if you're going for a coastal look in your living room, a large jute or sisal area rug is a great choice that will bring in a texture that works well with this design style and pairs beautifully with the whites, tans, grays and blues that are synonymous with a coastal style.