Everything You Need To Know Before Buying An Area Rug

Last year I participated in the One Room Challenge.  It was great fun and I ended up with a wonderful space in our forgotten living room.  You can see the final reveal of the room HERE.  I knew from the beginning that I was going to put an area rug in the room and so I started looking online for one that would perfectly fit the bill.

I scrolled home decor sites for hours looking for the right color and pattern and size.  I never realized that there were so many different things to consider when picking out an area rug.  I searched and scrolled until my fingers were numb and my eyes burned.

Have you ever struggled when trying to pick out an area rug?  How is it made?  What material should you choose?  What the heck does pile mean?  If any of these things are a mystery to you and you are totally overwhelmed, then read on to find out everything you need to know before buying an area rug.

Expert tips for everything you need to know before buying an area rug

How Is An Area Rug Made…And Why You Should Care

Area rugs are made one of two ways.  They are either woven or tufted.  This can be done by hand, which can make purchasing one more expensive or it can be done using a machine which is the more affordable purchase choice.  Hand weaving can take as long as 12 months for one area rug….I know, crazy, right?!

A woven rug is most likely the type you will end up buying.  Weaving a rug, either by hand or machine, is the process of weaving together the warp yarns, which are stretched tightly to form the length of the rug, and weft yarns that are woven in the opposite direction through the warp yarns to create the foundation of a woven rug.  Pile yarns are then weaved through the warp and weft to create the finished area rug.  Remember those hand looms we had has little kids that we could make potholders with?  It is the same concept.

Making a handwoven rug

Machine made woven rug

A tufted rug can also be made by hand or by machine.  The pattern is drawn on the material to be used for the foundation and then individual pile yarns are stuck through the material from the back to form the rug.  A tufted rug will have a backing glued to it to keep the yarns in place.  This type of rug will have some shedding at first, but it will subside.  Have you ever run you hand over new carpet and gotten a pile of fibers?  That is shedding and means that most likely the carpet was made using the tufted method.

Hand tufted

Machine Tufted

A woven rug will be more durable and last longer than a tufted rug.  A machine made rug will be less expensive than a handmade rug.  Choosing which construction type you want should be based on where the rug will live and the wear and tear it will receive.

Materials Used To Make An Area Rug


Synthetic rugs are made of man made fiber.  Polyester, nylon, acrylic, or olefin are typically used to make a synthetic area rug.  Synthetic rugs are highly durable and treated to be stain resistant.  Synthetic material is used to make indoor/outdoor rugs.  You can get them in different pile heights and they will stand up well in high traffic areas.  They are the most affordable option out there when buying an area rug for your home.  This one is also grandkiddo approved.

A synthetic area rug is the most affordable made with man made fibers

Natural sustainable grasses used to make area rugs include jute, sisal, seagrass, or hemp.  Most grass fiber rugs can be dyed, with the exception of seagrass, and can be purchased in a variety of earthy colors.  Grass fiber rugs cannot be used outdoors because they absorb moisture and can mold easily.

a natural grass area rug, such as jute, adds texture and warmth to a space with earthy tones
Photo image: Amazon.com

Cotton is used for flat weave rugs.  They are soft and often reversible.  Cotton rugs are best suited for kitchens and entryways and most can be machine washed.  They are not very durable and will not hold up well to heavy traffic.

A cotton area rug is a flat weave style rug that is often reversible, great for low traffic areas.
Photo image: carpetworkroom.com

Wool is the most used material in the making of area rugs.  It is strong and durable and will hold up well to heavy traffic, most times outlasting even synthetic rugs.  Wool is the softest of all materials and takes dyes very well, so it is available in any color imaginable.  It is naturally water repellent and if a spill is blotted right away, it is also stain resistant.

A wool area rug is durable, sustainable, and will do great in hight traffic areas.
Photo image: West Elm

Silk is the most desirable of all materials.  It is extra soft and has a natural shine.  Other yarns are often mixed with silk to make it more durable. It is not uncommon to find a silk rug that is made with more wool than silk.  This makes the price more affordable.  True silk rugs are very expensive and best suited for low traffic areas.

A silk area rug is most often mixed with other yarns to make it more durable. A true silk rug will cost thousands of dollars. Best in low traffic areas.
Photo image: RugVista.com

Wool rugs are the softest and most durable and come in a wide range of price points.  Silk rugs are the most expensive and are best used in low traffic areas.  Synthetic area rugs are the least expensive and can be used inside or outside and in high traffic areas.  Cotton rugs are the least durable and the least expensive.  Grass fiber rugs are very strong, work great in high traffic areas, but are not suited for outdoor use.

What Does Pile Mean?

The pile of area rugs is the thickness of the yarns and the length of the yarns measured from the top down to the backing.

Pile thickness is the amount of yarns per square inch.  Although you may think the thicker the better, this may not be the case.  Thicker pile feels more luxurious, but will also show crush marks from furniture more easily and can be harder to keep clean.

Pile heights can be as short as under 1/4 of an inch all the way up to 3/4 of an inch.  Shorter pile will be easier to keep clean, while longer pile will feel oh so much softer.  The pile of your rug can also be looped or cut on the top side of the rug.  Looped pile can snag so beware when purchasing a looped pile area rug.

Pile height and thickness is key when shopping for area rugs.  You must consider where the rug will be used and how much wear and tear it will receive.  Shorter pile is easier to maintain and will last longer than longer pile, but longer pile will satisfy your need to take off your shoes and sink in your toes.

Armed with this knowledge on construction, material and pile, you will be able to make an informed choice for your next area rug.

An area is often the jumping off point for a room, the color inspiration, my post with Tips For Adding Color to Your Space  will help you to choose the rest of the color scheme.

Until next time,







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  1. A very timely post Suzanne I have been looking at rugs for a while now thinking to get a decent one for the living room. I want to go light in color but am afraid it will get dirty. But from what you say they are all stain repellent so that should ease my concerns. There are so many pretty options out there. And even the internet has so many that I am tempted to buy from there because of the prices. Have you ever bought from the internet without feeling it first?

    1. I bought both of our rugs from Wayfair, without feeling them first. They have a thick pile so they are super soft! And you are so right, the prices are hard to beat! Might be too much information, but our dog threw up on the rug and I cleaned it up right away and you couldn’t even tell, so if you get to whatever it is right away you should be safe. The only thing to keep in mind with buying online is that the colors may be a little different in person than they are on your screen. I can’t wait to see what you end up with!

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