Before you choose the style, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of each type of rug material.

By Wendy Rose Gould
May 22, 2019
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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 of rugs available—and of course, the lofty price tags attached to many of them. Picking a rug ultimately comes down to three primary considerations: style, placement, and budget. Some other factors you may want to keep in mind are how easy it is to clean the rug, how long you intend to keep it, and whether you have any preferences for specific types of materials.

Before you consider the style of your area rug, it’s important to familiarize yourself with 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 to know, along with shopping picks from some of the best places to buy rugs.

1
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 as well, 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. It holds color beautifully and cleans up easily when spills may occur, and my favorite feature about this type of rug is how soft wool feels,” says certified interior designer Liz Toombs, president of PDR Interiors. “The cost of this type of rug can be higher than other materials, but it is worth it for the repellency. Also, wool does shed for a while, so it requires regular vacuuming in those first few months.”

Try: Bea Rug, starting at $68; anthropologie.com.

2
Silk Rugs

“Whether 100 percent 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 spaces that are low-traffic,” 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 $460; perigold.com.

3
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’re interested in changing out your rug depending on mood or season.

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

4
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’x9’ 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.” You do have to 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; potterybarn.com.

5
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—you wash them like hair—and 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 an easy 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; cb2.com.

6
Faux Fur/ Faux Hide Rugs

If you don’t like the idea of having real animal hide or if your budget is tight, a faux hide or faux fur rug type is a great alternative. “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 to these types of rugs 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; amazon.com.

7
Polypropylene Rug

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

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; westelm.com.

8
Microfiber/Polyester Rugs

Microfiber rugs are another synthetic rug type. These are made from either 100 percent polyester or a blend of polyester and other synthetic fibers. “Microfiber rugs use tiny strands of thread to create a plush feel. They’re often machine-woven but can mimic the look of more expensive wool rugs,” Wood says. “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; allmodern.com.

Related: How to Choose the Right Carpet for Your Room—and Exactly What to Buy

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