Rugs 101: Material Benefits
These are Mother Earth’s gift to the world. They are naturally renewable, biodegradable, sustainable and green. Wool, Jute, Silk, Seagrass, these are gifts that keep on giving. Keep in mind, beyond the fiber, the construction of the rug is important to take into consideration because it also effects how your rug will wear and its longevity. Choosing the right construction for your lifestyle is critical but choosing a natural fiber is almost a no brainer.
The most common type of wool is that which comes from sheep, although other animals have wool coats, including, goats and alpaca. Mohair rugs, made from the ultra-fine wool coat of the Angora goat, are quite rare and should be celebrated.
Some of the finest wool come from New Zealand, Australia, & Argentina. Sheep are sheered once a year, usually in the spring after their coat has grown very long but is no longer needed.
Sheep often live at high altitudes in harsh climates. Their wool is their protection and grows thick and strong, yet soft, elastic & resilient. Wool contains the natural protectant, lanolin, its defense mechanism, against moisture and the elements. This makes for a carpet that is naturally, stain resistant and cleanable. It is hard for spills to penetrate wool so blotting it up quickly with a damp towel will be shockingly helpful. Regular vacuuming keeps the luster at its peak. It is also fire retardant, static resistant and acts as an air filter to provide healthy air for your home. What more could you ask for?
Wool’s strength and durability are to be recognized and appreciated when being compared to alternative synthetic fibers. The pile of a wool rug is very sturdy and insulating.Depending on the construction, wool rugs have been known to last many centuries. It is not a fiber that changes dramatically over time, it maintains its natural, amazing attributes year after year. It is used to create all types and styles of rugs, ranging from ultra-contemporary to traditional to seaside cottage. In the rug world – wool is the staple fiber. Check out the fabulous site for Wools of New Zealand for more information www.woolsnz.com.
Wool & Silk
A truly spectacular combination, Wool & Silk fell in love at first sight. They are happiest when they are together. Both are natural fibers, wool coming from the sheep’s coat and silk being produced by silkworms.
Silk is considered a luxurious fiber because of its high sheen and soft “silky” feel. Though it is considered fine and delicate, do not be misled, silk is extraordinarily durable. When wool & silk are used to make a rug, the rug has more dimension and usually provokes a more eye catching appearance. Many times the field, or base, of the rug will be wool, and the design will be in silk, which makes it pop. These two fibers make a winning combination both aesthetically and functionally.
Due to the outstanding look created by wool & silk rugs, rug manufacturers have started using faux silk (i.e. viscose; art silk; bamboo silk) instead of real silk to bring costs down. These rugs have some of the same great looks but their durability will not be as high as a real wool & silk. Wool & Silk rugs are easy to maintain. Regular vacuuming and quickly blotting up spills with a damp towel are keys to a long life. See rug care instructions for more details.
The patriarch of the grass family. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world and shockingly strong. Most natural bamboo rugs use bamboo from the Anji Mountains of China, the bamboo capital. They are considered eco-friendly and sustainable because bamboo is a naturally renewable resource, that grows extraordinarily quickly. You always want to catch spills as soon as they happen and blot intensely. Their life expectancy in your home depends on the traffic but 3 to 10 years would be a good estimate.
Sisal is a natural plant fiber derived from the “Agave Sisalana” cactus plant – a succulent- that comes largely from Mexico, Brazil & Africa. Sisal fibers, which can be up to 3 feet long, are sustainably harvested by hand from the leaves of the cactus plant. Sisal is the strongest, most durable natural plant fiber.
A renewable resource that has boomed in demand for its natural, clean look. Sisal is normally a neutral light beige color. It is the same fiber used traditionally to make twine or rope – so its durability and strength should not be questioned. One of its natural characteristics is its coarse, sometimes prickly feeling. I would not considerate it a soft fiber but the look is organic and inviting. It is great for high traffic areas and an economical choice. You can expect 3 to 10 years with regular vacuuming – spills should be removed quickly. The biggest issue with this type of rug is liquids can penetrate the fiber and leave a stain that is very tricky to remove.
A fabulous natural fiber, Seagrass has gained in popularity in the past 15 years. The sought after casual living look at an affordable price is hard to beat. Seagrass grows underwater in many parts of the world, most coming from Asia, and is a natural, renewable resource. Seagrass reeds are thick and rigid. The non-porous skin is smooth to the touch and gives a slight natural sheen. Because it grows in water, it has a tendency to be nonabsorbent. Seagrass is available in varying neutral tones all having hints of green undertones. Seagrass offers great texture and the durability is great. Regularly vacuum, blot spills quickly, and you will have years of enjoyment out of your Seagrass rug.
A natural plant fiber derived from the Jute plant made from the stalks of the plant and comes mainly from India and China. Jute is renewable & biodegradable and grows rapidly during the rainy seasons. It is a very malleable fiber allowing for tight braids to chunky weaves without breakage. This sustainable natural fiber will last for years to come with regular vacuuming and by blotting spills quickly with a towel. It does best in low to medium traffic areas, such as bedrooms, formal living and dining rooms, or a home office.
Hemp is a natural fiber derived from the Cannabis plant that has been used in textiles for thousands of years. Most predominantly gown in China, Canada & Australia for industrial use, hemp grows very easily in diverse climates and terrain. It has a texture similar to linen and softens with use. It has grown in popularity with the green movement and its organic feel transforms the room into a welcoming sanctuary. It’s easy to dye and the fibers are extremely tough and durable, so hemp rugs are perfect for high-traffic areas.
A true American staple, cotton is a natural fiber that grows commonly all over the world. China, India & the United States are the largest suppliers of the go-to fiber. It is mainly cellulose and has a soft, lustrous appeal, and has been used in textiles for thousands of years. Cotton is a notably breathable fiber that is used in a large array of textiles, from sheets to apparel to rugs. In high traffic areas, Cotton is not recommended. It is a more sensitive fiber and less durable. Regularly vacuuming and quickly blotting spills is key. Many cotton rugs are machine washable, a rarity in the rug business.
The history of synthetic fibers dates back less than 150 years; which is really incredible to think about. In the late 1800’s, Europe introduced rayon, the first manufactured fiber.
Manufactured fibers (or semi-synthetic) use naturally occurring cellulous to make the fiber. For example, Viscose is made using raw material: wood pulp – bamboo silk is made using raw material: bamboo. After being highly processed, both are considered Rayon, a semi-synthetic.
Synthetic Fibers are made from polymers through a chemical process. They can mimic natural fibers for a lesser price. In general, their life expectancy is shorter and they are unable to hold their luster for long periods of time. They are non-porous fibers that helps with stain resistance. Synthetic fibers tend to crush easier than natural fibers because they do not have the natural resiliency that many natural fibers do – most notably, wool.
Rayon is produced through a process using cellulose from wood or cotton. Because it uses raw materials that are natural resources, it is considered semi-synthetic. It is the oldest manufactured fiber in the world, dating back to the late 1800’s. It can be used to make a huge range of consumer products – in rugs you see it called – Viscose, Art Silk, Bamboo Silk - all types of Rayon. Rayon is breathable, cool and takes color easily.
One of the most commonly used faux silks, viscose is a type of Rayon (also known as “Art Silk”). It is considered semi-synthetic because of the use of natural cellulose - wood pulp – in its production process. Interestingly, the newly popular “bamboo silk” is a type of viscose made from bamboo instead of wood pulp – so bamboo silk is also known as bamboo viscose.
The silky, cool, breathable fiber is a natural replacement for real silk because of its affordability and performance. Regularly vacuum (always raise the beater bar) and blot spills quickly – do not rub – and you will enjoy the natural beauty of viscose for years to come.
A synthetic polymer, used regularly in rug production. It is a strong, colorfast and mildew/moth resistant fiber. Polypropylene has good stain resistance and is easily cleanable. It is durable and affordable. It has become one of the go to materials for Indoor/Outdoor rugs because of its color retention and resistance to moisture.
Leather & Hides
Used for centuries as floor coverings, cowhides and leather are used for their functionality and aesthetic purposes. They are a natural byproduct of the food industry. Today, the classic natural shaped cow hide is more popular than ever. You also see patchwork rugs made from cowhides as well as beautiful leather shags. If you love the look of a natural hide but need a larger rug, consider using a sisal or jute rug underneath for a layered look. These rugs are high sheen, naturally durable and will hold up to regular foot traffic. These rugs are generally smaller so they can easily be shaken out, otherwise, use a regular vacuum, suction only or the attachment. For Hair on hide rugs – the oil in the hair acts like a shield against spills. Quickly blot it up. It is ok to use a little soapy water and brush with the grain of the hair, not against.
Made from the left-over fabric and thread of saris, Sari Silk is an absolute gem. A sari is a four-to-nine yard length of cloth, traditionally made of silk, that women in India wrap around themselves as their garment. By re-spinning the pieces of brightly colored material, the final product is outstanding in its own right. It comes mainly from India & Nepal and holds its color and vibrancy. The variegated yarns hide traffic patterns and they are easy to maintain. Soft but sturdy with a high sheen with rich, bright colors. Like silk rugs, if made of pure sari silk, they are not meant to go in high traffic areas. However, when fortified with wool, they will wear very well.