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There is nothing better than a natural rug under your feet. Natural items contribute to a clean and comfortable space for you to relax.
The nature of anything synthetic is that it tries to mimic nature while affording additional benefits to the end user. Typically, the manufacturing of synthetic rugs is for the following reasons:
- To increase durability
- To increase its pick-up of dyes
- To add consumer-friendly functions such as stretching, waterproofing and stain resistance.
The health and environmental trade-offs for those benefits are immense. Toxic chemicals are used to provide what natural materials already provide – softness, anti-static properties and flame resistance.
There are many natural rug material options, and you need to know the benefits and drawbacks of each so you can make an informed decision. Is wool the best for you? What about cotton or jute? This article will teach you about the pros and cons of each type of natural area rug.
In this article we we talk about:
- Synthetic Rugs vs Natural Rugs
- Tips on Making the Healthiest Choice
- Natural Rug Materials – The pros and cons of each and where they work best in your home
- Our Favorite Sources for Natural Area Rugs
Synthetic versus Natural Area Rugs
- Resist Dirt
- Can be steam cleaned
- Cheaper than natural
- Made of plastic and petroleum products.
- Based on an unsustainable industry.
- Off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) into the air, contributing to indoor air pollution.
- Often treated with insect, stain and flame resistant chemicals.
- Backed with a latex mix containing styrene, a chemical that is a potential human carcinogen.
- They yellow over time.
- Need frequent cleaning.
- They can feel stiff and ruff.
- Made of natural materials including wool, silk, cotton, sisal, jute, bamboo, or seagrass.
- Made of renewable and biodegradable resources.
- Don’t emit large amounts of VOC’s and contribute to poor air quality.
- Many of them are naturally stain-resistant.
- Durable and long lasting.
- Contribute to a clean and comfortable space.
- Different materials offer different advantages.
- Can be expensive.
- May require professional cleaning (though not that often).
TIPS ON MAKING THE HEALTHIEST CHOICE
Just like wall-to-wall carpeting is toxic and contributes to bad air quality, so too do synthetic rugs. If we are going to go through the trouble of getting rid of our carpets, we shouldn’t replace it with a smaller version of the same thing.
- Synthetic fibers should be avoided, instead look for rugs made of natural materials (we will discuss these below).
- The best rugs are hand-woven, flat-weave, or hand-knotted. These will not have backings that off-gas chemicals.
- Avoid hand-tufted rugs. These will contain toxic glue.
- If your rug has a backing, look for natural latex. Avoid foam rubber, synthetic latex, or plastic.
- Vintage or antique rugs are free of VOC’s.
- Traditional handmade Persian rugs are a great non-toxic choice.
It is not easy to source truly organic rugs. Your best bet is to stick to hand-woven, flat-weave (also called Kilim), or hand-knotted rugs made of natural materials. Remember to avoid hand-tufted!
About Natural Rug Materials
Wool AREA RUGS
Wool is the epitome of natural rug materials. Wool is soft, resilient and durable, it takes dye beautifully, repels water and stains, and will last generations with proper care.
Wool rugs gain patina with age and use and they only need to be professionally cleaned every couple of years. Unlike synthetic rugs that will show dirt within a couple months, wool fibers have lots of “pockets” that hide dust and grit, allowing for less frequent cleaning.
Wool has a 30% higher rate of stain resistance than even the best synthetic fibers. If a spill does happen on a wool rug, it can easily be spot cleaned. Wool rugs should be seen as an investment, the cost is initially higher, but they will last you a very long time.
- Renewable resource
- Can be dyed in beautiful colors
- With proper care, they can last generations
- Only need to be professionally cleaned every couple of years
- Durable, elastic and resilient. It will spring back and doesn’t get compressed.
- Repels water and stains naturally
- Naturally flame resistant
- Insulates well
- Warm in winter and cool in summer
- Naturally regulates room humidity
- Can be used with high traffic
- Tends to shed
Wool Works Best In:
- Living room
- Office or study
- Dining room
Where to Buy Wool Area Rugs:
- If you want to shop on Amazon, stick to hand-knotted rugs from Safavieh.
- Hook & Loom has gorgeous, undyed, natural wool rugs.
SILK AREA RUGS
Silk is made from the cocoon threads of the silkworm. Turning these threads into fabric is very labor intensive and is therefor expensive.
Silk has a natural sheen and luster, it takes dye beautifully, allowing for an exquisite array of colors. Silk has a luxurious and soft feel, it is a strong natural fiber that is very durable and long-lasting, though it can get crushed under furniture and show feet prints. Silk does require professional cleaning.
- Very soft and luxurious
- Reflects natural light, giving it a shimmering appearance
- Exquisite colors
- Very expensive
- Not naturally stain resistant
- Not for high traffic areas
- Needs professional cleaning
Silk Works Best In:
- Dining Room
- Living Room
Where to Buy Silk Area Rugs:
- You can find hand-knotted silk area rugs on Amazon.
Sisal Area Rugs
Sisal rugs are very durable, they are made from the toughest of plant fibers, and are usually cream colored. Sisal rugs are naturally flame-retardant, long-lasting and great for high-traffic areas. They are very absorbent, so should not be used in humid areas.
It can stain easily and is not the softest material for bare feet, but it is static resistant and repels dust. Sisal rugs can be vacuumed but not steam cleaned. They can become slippery with wear, so should not be used on stairs.
- Naturally flame retardant
- Great for high traffic areas
- Static resistant and repels dust
- Biodegradable and renewable resource
- Stains easily
- Rough and coarse texture
- Water will leave a mark
- Becomes slippery with wear
Sisal Works Best In:
- Living Room
Where to Buy Sisal Area Rugs:
JUTE AREA RUGS
Jute rugs are the softest of the natural plant fibers, they have a soft silkiness and shine to them that is pleasing to the senses. It’s woven brown and tan colors fit most decors and hides dirt well.
They are meant for low to medium traffic areas, and are perfect for living rooms and dining halls. Jute rugs are inexpensive, non-toxic and are environmentally friendly because jute does not require pesticides or fertilizers to grow.
They are anti-static, naturally fire resistant and require minimal maintenance, regular vacuuming is enough to get rid of dirt. They cannot be steam cleaned but can be spot cleaned. They are quite absorbent so should not be used in humid areas.
- Fire resistant
- Minimal maintenance
- Good sound and heat insulation
- Cannot be steam cleaned
- May fade in sunlight
- Will wear out in high traffic areas
- Doesn’t react well to water
- Hangs on to odors
Jute Works Best In:
- Pet-Free Homes
- Living Room
- Dining Room
Where to Buy Jute Area Rugs:
Cotton Area Rugs
Cotton rugs are soft and easy to clean but they do not last as long as other rug materials. Cotton rugs are easy to produce and are very versatile. They are an affordable natural rug option.
They are not as resistant as wool rugs and they can stain easily, but they are easy to clean, with small ones being able to go in the washing machine and large ones coming clean with some elbow grease.
They are extremely comfortable and add softness and warmth to a room. They take colors on beautifully so they come in a variety of colors and patterns. Organic cotton would be the best choice, as conventional cotton is grown with a lot of pesticides.
- Machine washable
- Accepts dye well
- Soft and comfortable
- Does not insulate well
- Tends to attract dust and dirt
- No stain resistance
- Not very durable, they wear out quicker than other natural rugs
Cotton Works Best In:
- Living Room
Where to Buy Cotton Area Rugs:
- Hook & Loom is the best place to shop for eco-friendly cotton areas rugs.
Bamboo Area Rugs
Extremely durable and will outlast any synthetic rug. Bamboo rugs are water and dirt resistant, just shake off dirt and wipe spills clean.
Hypoallergenic, simple and elegant, goes with any decor. Bamboo is a sustainable material that comes in a variety of colors and sizes.
It has a similar appearance to hardwood, with an earthy and warm look. The smooth texture is easy to vacuum and spot clean. Bamboo rugs can withstand high traffic.
- Made from a rapidly growing, sustainable plant
- Water and dirt resistant
- Variety of colors
- Smooth texture
- Can withstand high traffic
- Best kept away from humid areas
Bamboo Works Best In:
- Living Room
- Dining Room
Where to Buy Bamboo Area Rugs:
- Bamboo area rugs are available on Amazon.
Seagrass Area Rugs
Made from a marsh plant, seagrass is environmentally friendly, affordable, non-porous and incredibly water resistant.
With a seagrass rug, there is no need to worry about water damage, excessive staining or mold or mildew build up. Dirt is easily swept away and pet accidents will not absorb and ruin your rug.
Seagrass rugs have a light sheen and come in a variety of textures. The color usually starts as a light green that over time, fades to khaki. They are allergen free, stain resistant, durable and wonderful for high-traffic areas.
Seagrass rugs feel great on bare feet. They do not take dye well, so do not come in a variety of colors, but their natural color goes with just about any decor. Wonderful in a kitchen or bathroom.
- Anti-static and does not attract dust or dirt
- Simple to maintain
- Water and stain resistant
- Feels good on bare feet
- Excellent for high-traffic areas
- Good insulation
- Should not be used outdoors
- Can be slippery
Seagrass Works Best In:
- Living room
- Dining room
Where to Buy Seagrass Area Rugs:
- Amazon is the best place to buy Seagrass area rugs. Look for the brands Safavieh, NuLoom, and Natural Area Rugs.
Our Favorite Sources for Natural Area Rugs
The best places to shop for natural area rugs depends on what you are looking for. Do you just want an area rug made of natural materials? Or do you also want to support a brand dedicated to being as ecologically responsible as possible?
Brands That Offer Natural Area Rugs:
- Safavieh – Over 100 years of experience. Offers cotton, wool, jute and seagrass area rugs.
- NuLoom – Beautiful patterns and colors, offering Jute and Wool area rugs
Brands Available on Amazon that Are Ecologically Responsible:
- Natural Area Rugs – Offers a variety of natural fiber rugs as well as non-slip rugs pads and stair rugs.
- Anji Mountain – Family owned business offering bamboo, seagrass, sisal, and jute area rugs.
The Best Non-Toxic Area Rug Companies:
- Hook & Loom – No dyes, no chemicals, no latex, safe and non-toxic wool and cotton area rugs.
Natural area rugs are a beautiful addition to your home. With the above information, you should be able to make an informed choice on the type of material that is best for you. Please leave any questions you have in the comments below, we always answer!
This post was originally published on February 12, 2015.