There are a lot of rug materials out there—and when you’re rug shopping, it can be difficult to know the difference between all these different materials, and what materials are best for your particular home. We know how overwhelming it can be!
- What are natural/synthetic rugs?
- The pros and cons of natural and synthetic rugs
- Common natural and synthetic rug materials
When it comes to choosing a rug, there are two main categories that rug materials fit into: natural and synthetic fibers. What’s the difference between synthetic and natural fiber rugs? We’re giving you a breakdown of natural vs synthetic rugs, what specific materials are included in each category and the pros and cons of each kind!
What are natural fiber rugs?
Area rugs made of natural fibers range from wool, silk, and cotton to jute, sisal, and seagrass. All of these materials come from the natural world—whether through plants or animals—and are harvested, processed into fibers, and woven into rugs.
Pros of Natural Fiber Rugs
As a whole, natural fiber rugs tend to be more durable than their synthetic counterparts. This is a major reason why so many people love them; they have a much longer lifespan than the average synthetic rug.
And, since they’re made of natural materials, they tend to be more eco-friendly (due to their smaller carbon footprint) and most are naturally non-toxic. If you have pets or babies crawling around, this is an important consideration, as some synthetic area rugs contain chemical dyes and can off-gas potentially toxic VOCs.
Cons of Natural Fiber Rugs
Ever wondered why are rugs so expensive? More effort goes into getting these fibers ready to be woven into rugs, and that laborious process means they tend to be more expensive. Wool and silk, especially, will be on the high end of the price spectrum.
If you’re on a tight budget, this may steer you away from natural fiber rugs. However, jute, seagrass, and sisal rugs tend to sell at lower price points, more on par with synthetic rugs.
The Most-Common Types of Natural-Fiber Rug Materials
Wool: Wool is one of our favorite rug materials! There are so many things to love about wool rugs—they’re durable, stain-resistant, naturally antimicrobial, soft, and oh-so-versatile. And as we mentioned, they’re also naturally non-toxic (as long as the wool is certified organic). On the flip side, wool is one of the most expensive rug materials on the market. But if you can stretch your budget for one of these babies, it will more than pay for itself over the years you have it, since wool area rugs are so durable and long-lasting. You’re welcome, great-grandkids.
Cotton: Your favorite t-shirt material is also used for rugs! Cotton is soft and fluffy—making it an ultra-cozy option for your floors. Like with clothing, cotton rugs are easy to clean, which makes them great for homes with kids and pets. However, cotton isn’t as durable as other natural fibers, so these rugs aren’t great for high-traffic areas and you likely won’t be able to pass them down to your grandkids as an heirloom. Similar to wool, if you want a truly non-toxic rug, you’ll want to double-check that the cotton is certified organic.
Jute: Jute rug designs are big on texture—and jute is one of the softer options for natural fiber rugs. The way jute rugs are woven gives them a chunkier texture, which adds a lot of visual appeal to any room. Their natural color is a light brown (think: burlap), but jute can also be dyed in an array of colors. But beware: jute does shed, so skip the roller brush when vacuuming these puppies!
Sisal: Sisal rugs are seriously durable. We’re talking about a material that is used to make ropes! Translation: it can handle some major wear and tear. However, sisal rugs aren’t the softest underfoot, and they’re more absorbent than other natural fibers (hello hard-to-remove stains)—so keep those factors in mind when shopping for sisal rugs!
Seagrass: Seagrass rugs are also very durable, and are softer underfoot than sisal—and, as an added bonus, they’re water-resistant because the fibers of seagrass are non-porous. So, these are great for dining rooms or family rooms where spills are more likely to occur! However, since they’re non-absorbent, they don’t take dyes well-meaning, they tend to be in a more limited color range of natural hues.
Synthetic Fiber Rugs
Synthetic fiber rugs are—you guessed it—made of synthetic fibers. These fibers are machine-made from various petroleum-based chemical compounds. In other words: these are not fibers that occur naturally. But that doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad! Below are some of the pros and cons of synthetic fiber rugs.
Pros of Synthetic Fiber Rugs
One of the best features of synthetic fiber area rugs is their affordability. You can get a lot of rug for not a lot of price tag. Many synthetic fiber rugs are also manufactured in a way that makes them resistant to mold and mildew, as well as stains. This makes them a bit more low-maintenance, and who couldn’t use more of that in their life?
Cons of Synthetic Fiber Rugs
Synthetic fiber rugs simply aren’t as durable as their natural fiber counterparts. So, while they’re more affordable, you might end up shelling out more money replacing your rug in the long run.
Some synthetic fiber rugs also contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which release potentially harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. If you opt for a polyester rug, which is the material that’s most likely to contain VOCs, consider letting it sit out, unrolled for a day or two before bringing it into your home. This will give it the opportunity to “off-gas” some of the chemicals (and the potent smell) before you welcome it into your home.
The Most-Common Types of Synthetic-Fiber Rug Materials
PET/Polyester: Polyethylene Terephthalate (say that 5 times fast!), or PET, is the same thing as polyester—but you may see either of these names listed when you look at the rug material.
PET is made from plastic bottles, making it a bit more eco-friendly than other synthetic fiber rugs since it helps take plastic bottles out of landfills. We like PET because it’s the easiest synthetic fiber to clean (a little diluted bleach and elbow grease usually do the trick), and it’s the material that a lot of indoor-outdoor rugs are made of. The way that PET is woven also gives it a similar appearance to wool, and it’s very soft underfoot.
In general, polyester rugs are the most likely to contain VOCs, and they also fade easily and are more difficult to clean than other synthetic fibers. That’s because they’re made of petroleum-based materials, which causes the fibers to reject water and hold onto dirt.
Polypropylene: Polypropylene rugs are one of the best synthetic dupes for wool, due to the way the fibers are woven. These rugs are soft and sturdy, as well as affordable. However, some polypropylene rugs are treated with chemicals that make them stain-resistant, which can be a concern for those wanting to cut down on chemicals in their home.
Nylon: Nylon is durable, stain-resistant, and affordable—all great qualities for a rug! With this material’s durability, it’s a great choice for high-traffic areas. However, some nylon rugs have a chemical smell when they first arrive, because of how they’re made, so make sure your room is well-ventilated.
Natural vs Synthetic Rugs: How Do You Choose?
The rug material you choose is all about your lifestyle and budget. So, the choice you make is based on your personal needs! Thinking through where you want to place the rug; what style, color, and pattern you’d like; how much you’d like to spend; and if you’re concerned about sustainable, eco-friendly materials. All of these factors will help guide what material to choose.
- Want a rug that’s great for high-traffic areas? Opt for a low-pile wool rug or a durable sisal or seagrass rug.
- Looking for bright colors and intricate patterns? Try out PET, polypropylene, or silk.
- On a tight budget? Go for any synthetic-fiber rug. You can also find some great affordable seagrass, sisal, and jute options.
- Want a rug that will last a lifetime? Wool is the way to go.
- Looking for a kid or pet-friendly rug? Try wool, seagrass, or PET.
And remember—if you’re totally lost, our Modsy designers are here to help! When you start a Modsy design project, we’ll design your space in 3D, decorating it with real products you can shop on the spot. Plus, you can see how different rugs look in your space, with your other furniture and decor.