This Is the Most Important Thing to Consider When Buying a Rug

The secret is in the type of material.

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If you're new to the rug shopping game, it's pretty easy to feel overwhelmed by all the different types—and the lofty price tags attached to many of them. Picking a rug comes down to three primary considerations: style, placement, and budget. Some other factors you may want to keep in mind include how easy it is to clean the rug, how long you intend to keep it, and whether you prefer specific types of materials.

Before you consider the style of your area rug, it's important to learn the different types of rug materials available. From natural to synthetic fibers, there are pros and cons to each type. Here are the eight most common rug materials and our favorite shopping picks.

Wool Rugs

Wool is a natural fiber rug that's traditionally handwoven, hand-tufted, hand-knotted, or hand-loomed. There are machine-loomed wool rugs, but these are typically made with synthetic fibers and not true wool. True wool rugs are more expensive due to the extensive work that goes into designing and building them, but the quality is excellent. In fact, wool rugs are often passed down from generation to generation, making them an heirloom investment. Given its robustness, this type of rug is ideal for high-traffic spaces, like the living room, bedroom, and entryway.

"Wool is my material of choice," says certified interior designer Liz Toombs, president of PDR Interiors. "It holds color beautifully and cleans up easily, and my favorite feature is how soft wool feels. The cost can be higher than other materials, but it is worth it for the repellency." She adds that wool does shed at first, so it requires regular vacuuming in the first few months.

Try: Bea Rug, starting at $68;

Silk Rugs

"Whether 100% silk or a silk blend, the inclusion of silk in a rug creates a luxurious shine that's unmatched by other fibers," says Alessandra Wood, the vice president of style at online interior decorating service Modsy. In addition to its sheen, silk rugs are often thin, fine, and soft to the touch.

"Silk rugs are incredibly delicate and can be difficult to clean, so this rug type is best in low-traffic spaces" Wood says. Rayon and viscose are synthetic alternatives to true silk and are considered slightly less durable than the real deal.

Try: Hagues Hand-Knotted Silk Dove Area Rug, starting at $225;

Cotton Rugs

Cotton is an inexpensive and playful rug material that serves as a budget-friendly alternative to higher-cost rugs made of wool or silk. However, cotton tends to fade quickly and doesn't repel stains, so Toombs says not to expect your cotton area rug to last for decades. Cotton rugs are best used in casual spaces and are a good option if you want to change your rug depending on mood or season.

Try: Yumi Grey Multi-Color Rag Rug, starting at $35;

Jute and Bamboo Rugs

Jute and bamboo are natural rug materials that can add a coastal vibe to any indoor space. "These are a nice choice for rooms needing texture and their economical price point makes them a good value, especially in areas where a large rug is needed," Toombs says. "Natural rugs are also great for layering underneath smaller, more decorative rugs. For example, if you have a gorgeous 6-by-9-foot rug that you want to use but it's too small to accommodate your seat grouping, layer it over a correctly sized natural woven rug." Be careful about where you place these types of rugs, as some of them can show watermarks and be difficult to clean. If you're buying a jute or bamboo rug for an outdoor space, make sure it's approved for exposure to the elements.

Try: Chunky Wool & Jute Rug, starting at $199;

Leather, Hide, and Sheepskin Rugs

"Leather and sheepskin rugs are made from those animals' hides. Leather rugs can be woven strips, while hides and sheepskins are full animal hides," Wood says. "These are great pieces for small spaces, awkwardly shaped rooms, and luxurious layering."

Wood says that sheepskins are pretty easy to clean: Depending on the size, you can throw them in the washing machine or hand wash with a mild detergent. They are especially great for layering on furniture or placed next to your bed so you have something soft to step on first thing in the morning.

The downside to hides is that they can shed and curl up at the edges, but this is a simple fix. "Just flip them over and iron them from the backside with low heat to keep them flat," Wood says. They also tend to accumulate dirt, which can make light-colored hides look dingy, so it's important to shake them out and wash regularly.

Try: Grey Cowhide Rug 5'x8', $599;

Faux Fur and Faux Hide Rugs

If you don't like the idea of having real animal hide, or if your budget is tight, consider a faux hide or fur rug. "Faux fur rugs are often made of acrylic and synthetic blends and are typically power-woven," Wood says. "These are great for those who want the luxury of fur without worrying if it was sourced ethically." A downside is that they are prone to shedding, especially when brand new, and they're not as easy to clean as the real deal.

Try: Carvapet Luxury Soft Faux Sheepskin, starting at $18;

Polypropylene Rugs

"A lot of rugs on the market are made from synthetic materials, like polypropylene, nylon, polyester, or viscose," Toombs says. "These rugs tend to be thinner than a wool rug, but some can still feel as soft. The main selling feature is the price point; they are very budget-friendly, making it affordable to swap out rugs often."

Additionally, polypropylene and synthetic blend rugs tend to clean up easily and are usually fade-resistant, making them ideal in high-traffic locations, such as children's bedrooms, entryways, dining rooms, and outdoors. The primary drawback to these types of rugs is that polypropylene does not decompose quickly. "If you are environmentally conscious, it may not be your best choice," Toombs says.

Try: Shoreline All Weather Rug, starting at $79;

Microfiber and Polyester Rugs

Microfiber rugs are another synthetic rug type. These are made from either 100% polyester or a blend of polyester and other synthetic fibers. "Microfiber rugs use tiny strands of thread to create a plush feel," Wood says. "They're often machine-woven but can mimic the look of more expensive wool rugs. The standout in synthetic rug material is PET, which is made from recycled plastic bottles and is a bit softer to the touch."

Synthetic rugs are typically inexpensive, so they're great when you want a quick pop of color without a huge investment, Woods says. However, unlike true wool rugs or other natural fiber rug types, synthetic fiber rugs often look dirty faster because the smooth strands can't trap dirt.

"And because synthetic fibers are petroleum products, they're not always a great option for those with small children crawling on the floor, or those who want to be more environmentally friendly," she adds.

Try: Gatlin Warm Gray Area Rug, starting at $177;

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