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Rugs 101: Material Benefits

Natural Fibers

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 – Why Not?


The most common type of wool is that which comes from sheep – although, other animals have wool coats, including, goats and alpaca. When we use the term “wool” in the rug industry, we are referring to the wool of a sheep (which as you will learn below is an outstanding natural fiber). Mohair rugs, made from the ultra-fine wool coat of the Angora goat, are quite rare and expensive but should be celebrated.

Wool is a natural, renewable and biodegradable fiber. Some of the finest wool comes 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, many times, 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 resistant, static resistant and acts as an air filter to provide healthy air for your home. What more could you ask for?

Although wool can be a bit more expensive than the alternatives of synthetic fibers, its strength and durability are to be recognized and appreciated. The pile of a wool rug is usually 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

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. Today, most silk is being produced in China & India.

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 stand out. These two fibers make a winning combination both aesthetically and functionally.

Due to the outstanding look created by wool & silk rugs – during the past few years – 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 – their durability just may 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 of China. These rugs, usually flat wooden mats, create an organic look and fit easily with casual and coastal living. 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 with its growing popularity for its natural, clean look. Sisal is normally a neural 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 10 years. The sought after casual living look at an affordable price is hard to bet. Seagrass grows underwater in many parts of the world, most coming from Asia, and is a natural, renewable resource. The plants are native to the monsoon climates. 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, and 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 stem-fiber plants and comes mainly from India and China. It is used to make coarse durable threads. Jute is renewable & biodegradable and grows rapidly during the rainy seasons. It is used commonly used in shipping – burlap sacks and jute rope are very flexible, durable and strong. 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 maybe 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. Its 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 – hence has been used in textiles for thousands of years. The cotton industry was transformed in the late 1700’s with the invention of the mechanical cotton gin – which made the process of removing the seeds from the cotton – originally a painstaking task – efficient and cost effective. 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 will not be durable as wool – it is a more sensitive fiber. Regularly vacuuming and quickly blotting spills is key. Many cotton rugs are machine washable – a rarity in the rug business.


Chenille, originating in France, is a velvety material that can be made out of cotton, wool, silk or rayon through a twisting process. Long fibers are twisted at an angle around base fibers creating a very luxurious material. It is recognized world-wide for its super soft, textured appearance. Due to its construction, it tends to be a more sensitive material ideal for lower foot traffic areas.

Synthetic Fibers

The history of synthetic fibers dates back less than 150 years; which is really incredible to think about. In Europe, in the late 1800’s, Rayon became the first manufactured fiber (semi-synthetic).

Shortly after, brought on by the scarcity of Japanese silk due to the political tensions of the 1920’s – the United States made strong headway into the synthetic fiber arena. After much research and testing done at Dupont – in 1935 Nylon was born and in 1939, it was shown off to the world as the first synthetic fiber at the World’s Fair.

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 which 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.


Acrylic is a man-made, synthetic polymer. Developed in the mid – 1900’s in the US, the silky, high sheen of the fiber is very attractive. It is not as durable as some other synthetic fibers but does clean easily and is mildew and moth resistant. It takes color well and holds it for long periods of time and is generally very affordable. It is the synthetic fiber that can mimic wool aesthetically.


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 - 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.


Poly-acrylic material is a blend of synthetic fibers to create one of the most common materials used in rugs today. It has been a proven combination in indoor/outdoor rugs. Its colorfastness, durability and cost-effective price point is very attractive to many synthetic rug consumers.


A manmade, fiber made from synthetic polymers – polyester is also known as PET. Drink bottles commonly made out of PET can be recycled and brought into a new life as a polyester fiber. Polyester is used to make consumer goods ranging from soft silky sheets to strong safety belts. It was introduced to the market in the mid-1900’s and was all the rage in clothing during the 1970’s – because it was durable, inexpensive and easy to maintain. In rugs it tends to have soft, luxurious look with notable high luster & holds bright colors. It is naturally mold and mildew resistant and easy to clean. It is a more sensitive fiber that is best in a lower traffic areas.


First developed in 1961 by Glen Raven, a North Carolina textile manufacturer, for awnings – Sunbrella has transformed into the most trusted material for indoor/outdoor use. The cotton-like canvas is colorfast, incredibly durable, mildew resistant and cleanable. It is a branded material that is made from acrylic fibers though a specialized process that has gained consumer confidence. Sunbrella is an outstanding material for rug construction and amazingly easy to clean.


The synthetic polymer that has proven to be the best synthetic fiber in the rug manufacturing arena – especially in the United States. It was actually the first synthetic fiber created in the US in the 1930’s. Nylon is easy to clean and naturally moth and mildew resistant. It takes color easily and has a nice soft hand. It is considered the most resilient and durable of the synthetic rugs.


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.


A type of polypropylene, a synthetic polymer, used regularly in rug production. Olefin is a strong, colorfast and mildew/moth resistant fiber. Olefin has good stain resistance and is easily cleanable. It is durable and affordable. Olefin has become one of the go to materials for Indoor/Outdoor rugs because of its color retention and resistance to moisture.


Also known as semi-synthetic, rayon is produced through a process using cellulose from wood or cotton. Because it uses raw materials that are natural resources, 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.

Other Fibers


Light as a feather but strong as steel – silk is world renowned as the most luxurious and fine material on the plant. And it deserves the attention. It is a natural fiber made by the silkworm – coming mostly from China, Japan & India. Its heritage is based in China where in the early years (around 2500 BC) it was worn only by the Emperor – later used for bowstrings, showing off its strength. Silk was such a mystery that it was used in trade and boosted the Chinese economy to new heights. 100% silk rugs are a rarity this days and to be celebrated. If silk is the only fiber used in the rug, it is of course less durable and best used in low traffic areas such as formal living rooms.

Leather & Hides

Used for centuries as floor coverings, cowhides and leather used are 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 together 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.

Sari Silk

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 and normally 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.

Bamboo Silk

Bamboo Silk is a fabulous faux silk made with the raw material of the quickly renewable resource, bamboo. The bamboo is processed to form Rayon – a semi-synthetic fiber that is normally made from wood pulp – forming viscose. Bamboo silk, also known as art silk, has a super soft hand and high luster and sheen. It is not as durable as real silk but the price is considerably less.


  • 1. Vanessa Blanchard on

    I just bought an 8×10 Art Silk rug from Ethan Allen. Now reading many websites saying this type is a horrible choice for durability. Hope I can get some direction on caring for this and a recommendation for who to call for cleaning. I’m in Friendswood Texas area.

  • 2. Ashley on

    This is an interesting read. I have a wool rug myself and I am looking forward to buying another rug for my home. I am not scared of buying more as I have found a wool rug cleaning company that can help whenever I want my rugs cleaned and maintained.

  • 3. Kristen on


    Thank you for such thoughtful and detailed information.

    I am amazed by the properties of wool. I think it was the only fire-resistant material in the list, which I’m glad to know as our next rug will probably be near to a fireplace.

  • 4. Onsite Houston Rug Cleaners on

    Great post. This is the best information I have found so far, thank you for this. It’s really a nice and useful piece of information. Thanks for the share.

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