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Carpet & Rug Fibers


How a rug is made is only part of the story; if you want to be fully informed when buying a rug, it’s important to know what it is made from as well.

Carpet and area rugs are made from various synthetic and natural fibers. Each has different characteristics, and depending on where and how your carpet will be used, some materials will be more suitable than others. Some fibers have very low resiliency and only should be manufactured in high-density loop pile constructions to limit crushing (pile flattening). Other fibers have the tendency to absorb oily soils and other oil-based compounds (including body oils) and should be carefully considered before installing in areas subject to these contaminants.

It's important to remember that there is no perfect fiber, and carpet is a fabric that is subjected to incredible abuse through foot traffic, accidental spills, environmental contaminants, and other abuses.

Common Carpet Fiber Types

The majority of the carpet produced in the United States contains one of six pile fibers: nylon, polypropylene (olefin), acrylic, polyester, wool, or cotton. Synthetic fibers make up more than 96% of the fiber used by the U.S. carpet industry. Each fiber has strengths and weaknesses that must be recognized and should influence how it is to be used and constructed.


Wool is the most traditional material used in making rugs. It’s easy to see why; wool is soft, strong, dyes beautifully, and is naturally stain resistant. Top benefits of wool include:

  • Retains its Shape: A wool fiber has natural elasticity that allows it to stretch up to 40% beyond its original length and then bounce back, again and again. So a wool carpet retains its shape, even under heavy traffic. This fiber elasticity also helps wool carpet resist furniture crush.
  • Repels water & stains: Wool naturally repels water and stains, thanks to a membrane that covers the fiber core. Consider that over 80% of all stains are water-based. Stains won't soak into wool. Rather, stains remain on a wool carpet’s surfaces allowing you to wipe them up.
  • Easy to Clean: Wool fibers are composed of a natural membrane. Dirt does not have the opportunity to sink in, so regular vacuuming keeps wool carpets looking clean and new.
  • Flame Resistant: Wool is naturally flame resistant. Drop a lit match on a piece of wool, carpet. You will see the flame go out. And the lack of damage to the wool fibers will amaze you. Simply brush away the slight charring and there is no sign of burned fibers.
  • Resist Static, Mildew: Wool naturally resist static and mildew. Static is reduced by wool’s ability to retain up to 30% moisture. And because wools have a naturally low pH, wool resists mildew, mold and fungal attack in almost every climate.
  • Fade-Resistant: Wool resists fading, because dyes penetrate to the fibers cores. Dyes are actually “locked in” by a molecular bonding process that occurs inside the fiber. Color can’t get out. So a wool carpet retains its original color for years.

Of course, quality always comes at a cost, and wool rugs on average will be more expensive than those made with other materials. You should especially keep this in mind when buying a rug for a high-traffic area of your home. While wool is very durable, you may not want to choose wool for an area where it is likely to contact muddy shoes regularly.

Learn More About Wool
  • Nylon is very soft, durable, and resistant to stains and abrasion. It is the most popular of carpet fibers by far; it's estimated that about 90% of all residential carpets are made of nylon. It has good resistance to wear, mold, mildew, and rot, and it is easy to dye and holds its color well.
  • It is usually affordably priced; less expensive than wool but more expensive than other synthetics. These carpets, if cared for well, can last 12 to 15 years, making it the most durable of the synthetic fibers.
Polypropylene (olefin)
  • Polypropylene is the next best-selling carpet fiber, used in almost 80% of commercial applications and in growing numbers of residential settings, since it wears very well and is almost as soft as nylon. Also known as olefin, polypropylene fibers are similar to natural wool and are often used as a synthetic wool substitute. This fiber is highly stain-resistant but is prone to soiling and holding onto oils which in turn, collect dirt. It is, however, relatively easy to clean. Polypropylene is not as resilient as nylon, so is therefore commonly used for loop-style carpets. The cost of polypropylene is slightly less than most nylon carpets, but more than polyester and acrylic.
  • Polyester is great for its ability to hold vibrant, fade-resistant colors and for it's non-allergenic properties. It's highly stain-resistant; as it's a "closed-cell fiber" which means there are no dye sites for stains to adhere. It's significantly less expensive than nylon; up to 1/3 of the price. One type of polyester carpet, known as polyester/PET, is made from recycled plastic bottles, making it eco-friendly.
  • Polyester's biggest drawback is that it's prone to flattening under weight, making it a bad choice for high-traffic areas. It can also be prone to oil stains, which are very hard to remove from polyester fiber.
  • Polysilk is a modified, polyester designed to be soft and shinny like silk
  • Has a more lustrous appearance
  • Has a high level of stain resistance
  • Is a "closed-cell" fiber with no dye sites for stains to adhere to
  • Eco-Friendly - Often manufactured from PET (plastic water bottles)
  • Enhanced fiber content has improved durability nearly rivaling nylon
  • "Family-friendly" fiber
  • Only the most dense constructions for stairs or light-medium commercial use
  • Sometimes advertised as "synthetic wool" because it offers the feel and appearance of wool at a fraction of the price; acrylic has good resistance to static electricity, moisture, mildew, fading, and staining.
  • However it is not a very durable material, and it doesn't hold up well in high-traffic areas. It is sometimes blended with wool. Acrylics can sometimes turn brown if stained with certain chemicals found in some cleaning products.
Natural Fibers
  • Rugs made from natural plant fibers like sisal, seagrass and jute have grown in popularity over the years as the perfect neutral backdrop for any style, especially for a casual, earthy, coastal, and bohemian style. Natural fibers tend to be very strong and relatively low-cost.
  • While the earthy texture of natural fibers makes them seem like an obvious choice for a deck or patio, you should be careful when displaying a natural rug outdoors. Natural fibers, especially jute, are extremely absorbent. If it rains, your rug is liable to develop mold, mildew, or harmful bacteria that could lead to discoloration, foul odors, and dry rot.
  • Woven vinyl is designed with long wearing performance qualities, suited for both indoor and outdoor spaces. Vinyl carpeting provides an excellent option for patios, boats, and other outdoor spaces prone to getting wet while still offering a softer feel underfoot. You can even consider it for mudrooms, laundry rooms, and bathrooms. Look for UV-resistant and antimicrobial products to avoid fading and mold/mildew growth.

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