Whether you’re dealing with natural fiber rugs or synthetic fiber rugs, fiber content is the most important deciding factor when it comes to rug performance, aside from the rug’s weave density. But if you’ve ever tried to shop for a new area rug, you may realize it’s easy to become confused and discouraged trying to decipher all the different types of rug fibers.
The purpose of this piece is to briefly review the most common rug fibers and their particular applications, so the next time you are rug shopping you don’t have to flip a coin to decide between wool and polypropylene.
Types of Fiber
Acrylic – synthetic fiber, manufactured from acrylonitrile, the petrochemical
The biggest advantage of acrylic yarn is the ability to absorb the dye, producing area rugs with the brightest shades of color. Acrylic rugs are inexpensive, have a soft, wool-like feel, are resistant to sunlight, chemicals, and oil. One of the major disadvantages of having acrylic rugs is that acrylic has a low melting point, which can be a fire hazard. Because of strict fire regulations in the USA acrylic rugs that are imported use a specially modified acrylic yarn for increased fire resistance, commonly known as Mod-acrylic or Polyacrylic yarn.
Cotton – a soft natural fiber that grows around the seeds of a cotton plant
Cotton is easily spun into tread, creating a wide variety of fabrics and textiles. Rugs made from cotton are extremely absorbent to moisture and luxuriously soft under the foot. The disadvantage of using cotton rugs is that the cotton crushes easily and, due to absorbency, stain removal can be difficult. Cotton is seldom used to produce room-sized hand-hooked rugs or bathroom mats. Major rug applications of cotton include foundations (warp and weft) of hand-knotted rugs, as well as a secondary backing and scrim of hand-tufted rugs.
Jute – is an inexpensive natural fiber, produced mostly in Indonesia and India
Jute has very strong and long fibers. It has been used in a variety of textiles for centuries. Today, jute is primarily used as a foundation in most machine-made rugs, as well as casual flat-woven jute rugs from India and China. Being a natural fiber, jute rugs absorb moisture and are somewhat difficult to clean. But its strength, abundance and low cost have earned jute the nickname ‘the golden fiber’.
Nylon – is a synthetic polymer fiber, developed by Dupont Co. in 1939
Although nylon is more expensive than other synthetics, nylon has been widely used in the carpet and rug industry. The benefits of nylon rugs include strength, elasticity, resistance to abrasion and chemicals, and a low moisture absorbency. In rug applications, nylon can be space dyed, i.e. strand of yarn dyed in a multi-step process, creating an airbrush effect in the rug. Use of nylon in power-woven rugs has increased dramatically in recent years, with the majority of nylon rugs being produced domestically.
Polyester – a generic name for a group of synthetic fibers, most commonly refers to polyethylene terephthalate or PET
Usually, it is produced from oil through multi-step processes of cracking and polymerization. The advantages of polyester rugs are their low cost, great dye absorbency, luxuriously soft feel, stain resistance and durability. Polyester rugs and polyester blend rugs are quickly cementing their position as a favorite rug material. One of the newest and most technologically advanced variations of polyester available for floor coverings is Triexta, marketed by DuPont and Mohawk as SmartStrand, Sorona and Sorona Silk.
Polypropylene (Olefin) – is a synthetic fiber, widely used in area rugs
It is inexpensive, strong, and stain-, fade-, and soil- resistant. Olefin fibers resist dyeing, so it is colored in pellet form and then converted into the yarn with the extrusion process. Heat Set Polypropylene is made during extrusion, by twisting and heating up fibers to produce wool-like in appearance fiber. Another benefit of polypropylene rugs is that there is virtually no shedding (it is a continuous filament fiber). Olefin in non-heat set form is primarily used in entry-level rugs, with heat set polypropylene rugs produced in the widest variety of qualities, from entry-level to extremely dense and fine masterpieces.
Sisal – a natural rug fiber, produced from Agave plant
Sisal rugs have a coarse natural feel and create an upscale casual environment in the room. Generally woven into wall-to-wall carpet or area rugs. Sisal does not take dye consistently, which is why most common sisal rug colors are natural and bleached. It does not attract dirt, so it is easy to vacuum. Sisal rug pile will crush in high-traffic areas. It is recommended that you use fiber sealer or Scotchguard protection on sisal rugs. For cleaning- your best bet is dry powder cleaner.
Silk – for hundreds of years, the most prized textile fabric
Produced by silkworms, it is a natural protein. Although the most expensive natural fiber, silk and silk rugs are very desirable. Properties of silk rugs include incredible strength, sleek luxurious feel, and shine. In today’s rug industry silk is primarily used as an accent or outline for better quality wool rugs. Limited production of highly decorative, 100% silk rugs still exists in China, Kashmir (India) and Hereke (Turkey). The finest silk rugs could have over 1,200 knots per square inch density and are normally used as wall art.
Wool – is one of the oldest fibers known to man
Sheep raised in cold climates produce the longest staple and the strongest, most elastic wool yarn suitable for high traffic area rug use. Wools from New Zealand, England, Scotland, Pakistan, Mongolia, and India are used to create the most prized wool rugs. The benefits of having wool rugs include natural resilience, fire resistance, luxurious to the touch, naturally resistant to soil and dirt, and the absorbance of dyes. That is why high traffic commercial areas, such as fine hotels, airplanes etc. all employ wool carpeting. In the household, wool rugs will provide many years of durability, look great for longer, and their colors will age gracefully. Wool rug fiber looks like a spring, when compressed it bounces back repeatedly. That’s why wool rug pile will not crush and performs to the highest standards.
The best grade of rug wool is fully worsted wool. Usually, it is sheared in the springtime from the belly of the sheep, with the longest fibers exceeding 6 inches long, then combed to remove short fibers and impurities. Only the finest rugs produced will use fully worsted wool. The vast majority of wool rugs that are manufactured use semi-worsted wool or wool blends from different regions to achieve different characteristics. However, remember that 100% wool does not always make a superb rug fiber. There are plenty of basic, low-quality hand-tufted rugs made with inferior quality wool. Low-quality wool rugs, while affordable, will shed continuously, with fibers coming out and breaking.
Viscose (Rayon) – synthetic fiber, manufactured from cellulose
Rayon rugs have a great silky finish, are easy to dye, soft and luxurious to touch. The disadvantage of having rayon rugs or viscose rugs – they constantly shed. Rayon rugs are very popular in Europe and the Middle East. In the United States and elsewhere, rayon is primarily used as an accent in wool rugs to mimic real silk, or in power woven rugs that are designed for moderate traffic. Viscose is also commonly referred to as “artificial silk”.
You can shop our full area rug assortment here.