Natural versus synthetic rugs What’s best?
Natural versus synthetic rugs. What’s best?
Trying to decide between a rug made with natural materials versus synthetic fibres?
As there are significant differences between the two, there are a few things to consider.
What is the intended purpose of the rug?
Is it to be used out of doors on the deck or balcony as a way to extend your living area during the summer months?
Perhaps you wish to display a beautiful, luxurious rug in your living room or a thick, cozy rug in the bedroom.
Maybe the next rug you purchase is not intended for the floor at all but to hang on the wall.
The purpose and function of the rug will dictate what type of fabric will be most suitable.
I hope the information below is helpful.
A tale of two fibres, natural and synthetic.
Rugs made from wool, fur, silk, cotton, and other types of plant material are, of course, natural. As there are many different types of area rugs made with natural materials, for the purpose of this article we’ll choose wool and compare it to synthetic materials.
Click the item in the table below to your most pressing question, or continue to read the entire article.
As a side note, there is also a third type of fibre that is somewhat artificial and natural at the same time. Fibres such as rayon and acetate fall into a classification known as regenerated fibres. These are made artificially using the building components provided by nature such as cellulose and protein.
Are there any differences between the synthetics?
There are subtle differences in feel that many people would find difficult to detect. It seems any significant differences would show up in the form of how well the differing materials wear or how crisp and clean colours and patterns appear. Because of their construction and material, synthetic rugs are typically only good for a few years at best, whereas a high-quality wool rug can last generations if properly cared for.
Nylon makes up the bulk of the carpet sold in the United States. It is very durable and resilient in high traffic locations. The next time you’re in an office building, it’s quite likely you’re walking on nylon.
Since most synthetics are treated with stain resistant, it cleans well and easily, hides soil reasonably well and is mould and mildew resistant.
It can be prone to static build, so much so, that it can affect electronic equipment. This shouldn’t be a concern as these types of materials are treated with an antic-static coating.
It’s less expensive than natural fibres, but a little pricier when compared to other synthetics. Nylon is the most durable of the synthetics.
All these benefits make it very suitable for similar applications as an area rug.
Even though nylon represents the bulk of the fibre used in the carpet industry, olefin is catching on. Nylon is more durable than olefin and in high traffic areas may be prone to crushing. Olefin used in most household applications will perform almost as well as nylon, but at a lower cost.
Olefin is stain resistant, although grease-based stains can be a problem. Olefin is solution dyed and extremely colourfast. Olefin is resistant to fading from sunlight and is easy to clean even with harsh chemical cleaners or bleach.
Olefin has a low melt point. So low in fact, that even heat generated from dragging furniture may cause the fibres to fuse.
Olefin works well in outdoor applications or basements as it dries quickly preventing mould and mildew from taking hold.
Polyester fibre is the least expensive of the synthetics, and it is often the first to show wear and tear. At best, it is similar to olefin and not as resilient as nylon and can be prone to crushing if placed in high traffic locations. For most households, it’s durable enough and will resist wear satisfactory, but, as mentioned earlier, it’s likely to show it’s wear first.
Polyester comes in some of the most vivid colourations and textures possible. It is, generally, non-allergenic and dries quickly, which prevents mould and mildew from occurring. Polyester, like olefin, is stain resistant, but an oil or grease-based stain should be cleaned promptly for best results, which is good practice with any rug material. Other than that it can be cleaned fairly easily compared to other rug fibres, especially since most are treated with stain resistant.
Polyester is typically the cheapest of the synthetics and may even be considered disposable in a sense.
Acrylic is the closest to the feel of wool of all the synthetics. It has a pleasant springy texture. It is soil resistant and easy to clean. It isn’t prone to static electricity and is resistant to mould and mildew. It isn’t susceptible to fading in bright sunlight and comes in a vast array of colours.
It is about the same or a little more expensive than nylon.
What are wool rugs?
Nothing beats the feel of a wool rug despite manufacturers’ attempts to replicate the feel of wool with synthetic fibres.Wool has been used in the construction of rugs for hundreds of years.
As a natural fibre, wool is incredibly durable and is impressively resilient because each fibre maintains its flexibility and naturally wants to spring back to its original form whenever the fibre is compressed from foot-traffic or from having furniture on it. A wool rug will maintain its look for many years, and it’s not uncommon for, well maintained, prized family rugs to be passed down the generations.
A fatty substance called, lanolin, gives wool its ability to resist soiling and staining and can have a higher rate of stain resistance than some synthetic fibres. Lanolin is found in many cosmetics. Wool rugs are naturally fire resistant and unless you’re allergic to wool, it is hypo-allergenic. A wool rug is a good insulator and will keep your home warm and will dampen noise levels.
I would be inclined to use beautiful 100% wool rugs in locations like the living room or bedrooms, where foot traffic will be somewhat minimal, and a blend of wool and polypropylene for those areas of the home where heavier foot traffic will be anticipated, like hallways, landings or stairs. Not that 100% wool can’t handle the traffic it just seems a shame to place such a high-quality, expensive rug in a location where it will get excessive wear.
In comparison, cheaper synthetic rugs are suitable where the abuse will be greater like landings, hallways, stairs and family or kids rooms where children and pets can do what they do best without you losing your mind whenever a child spills juice, or your four-legged family member does a number on your rug.
When it comes to synthetic rugs, you’re doing pretty well if you can get three to five years before it becomes necessary to throw out a tortured battered rug. It is easier to toss out the cheap synthetic rather than your prized wool rug.
As wool responds well to professional cleaning, it can certainly be suitable for dining rooms or consider a polypropylene wool blend in this location.
As for tapestries, the same principles apply. Hanging rugs can and are made with synthetic materials but are generally of lower quality and inexpensive. The better quality and more expensive ones are of wool or cotton or a blend of both.
The most beautiful tapestries are of silk, and I believe silk is the material most people think of when one thinks of these types of rugs. Weavers may also incorporate gold, silver and other materials to make the most extraordinary works of art.
In doing the research for this article, I get the sense that if you can afford a rug made with natural materials and for the purpose of this post, wool in particular, seems to be the way to go in many applications.
I may be biased towards natural materials rather than a rug made with plastic.
If money is tight, place the more expensive wool rugs for locations like the living room and bedrooms where a soft, luxurious rug would be ideal.
Entryways, the stairs, or hallways where there’s is likely to be more foot traffic and abuse, purchase a synthetic rug.
I do believe one location in particular where a synthetic rug is nearly a must, and that would be outdoors.
I hope this article is helpful in providing you with the information to help you purchase the best area rug for a particular location in your home.