How to Pick the Right Area Rug for Your Space

I love to learn and one of the benefits of being an interior designer is that I have access to all kinds of education on industry topics. Because of my connections in the industry, I receive all the latest information about trends, new products, production methods, etc.  Sometimes, brands go beyond touting their products by putting information in my hands that simply helps me give my clients sound, informed, and current advice about making the best design choices for their homes. 

I recently received just such a piece of information from one of my favorite go-to rug manufacturers, Jaipur Living Rugs. They sent me a copy of an 81-page booklet, Crafted: The Essential Guide to Rug Making. What a visually beautiful and thoroughly informative item! It provides the clearest and most comprehensive explanation I’ve ever seen on how area rugs are made, what the differences are between them all, and how to pick the right one for your home. 

They did this so well, in fact, that if I could send a copy to each and every one of my clients and my readers, I would! But in lieu of that, I thought I’d give you the abridged version with the pieces that matter most for learning how to pick the right area rug for your space. 

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Where and How You’ll Use Your Rug

Apart from style and cost, the two most important things you need to think about when choosing an area rug are: 

  1. What you’re trying to achieve with this rug in your space
  2. What kinds of conditions the rug will be subject to

Are you looking to add a strong style statement in the room or is the rug more meant to add comfort to a hard and/or cold floor? Are you trying to protect the floor in a certain area or is it a matter of muffling sound throughout the room? Your goal may be a combination of a few or all of these things, but thinking this through will help you prioritizing what you’re looking for in your search for the right rug.

From there, think about how heavy the traffic will be where you intend to use the rug. If you want your rug to last, you’ll need to opt for a more durable rug for a heavy traffic area, whereas you may be able to get away with something more delicate if you know it will be walked on only rarely. Clean-ability is a part of the equation, as well, particularly in areas where the rug will be exposed to food or to dirt, mud, and moisture tracked in from outside. 

“Slow” Rugs vs. “Fast” Rugs

The “slow fashion movement” is a recent effort by certain consumers to reduce waste by only purchasing a few better quality clothing items rather than a wardrobe full of inexpensive, trendy items that we’re likely to throw out in just a few seasons (at which point the cycle is repeated over again). But for some, more affordable and on-trend “fast fashion” items are preferable to higher priced, well-made enduring classics. 

Like “fast” vs. “slow” fashion, you should carefully consider how long you want to have, use, and love your rug in relation to its quality, style, and price. 

While everyone is different and every space has different needs, I make sure to point out to my clients that a cheap rug can actually be a waste of money. If it doesn’t hold up to daily wear and tear and/or if you soon tire of its trendy color and pattern (case in point, the mustard yellow chevron designs and turquoise trellis patterns that were wildly popular a few seasons ago) it isn’t worth even its relatively small price tag.

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Manufacturing Processes

Just like clothing, mass-produced, machine-made rugs are generally faster and cheaper to make, while handmade rugs take longer and cost more but are often superior in quality and tend to last longer.

Hand-knotted rugs are usually considered to be the highest quality and most expensive option. Using a 5’x8′ rug as an example, from spinning the wool to transporting the finished rug to the buyer takes 5-12 months (larger rugs can take much longer). These rugs can be expected to last 20+ years. 

In contrast, mass produced machine-made rugs take 2-4 months from concept to completion. They’re the lowest in price and can be expected to last 3-10 years. 

But there’s a whole spectrum of weave types (and quality) in between. Here’s a breakdown of them all:

  • Hand-knotted – The most labor-intensive and specialized process. Characterized by each individual knot being visible on the back of the rug
  • Hand-tufted – Tufts of yarn are punched through a backing fabric to make knots. Characterized by a canvas backing that’s glued to the rug to hold the knots in place and by cut or partially cut pile
  • Hand-hooked – Similar manufacturing process to hand-tufted, including a canvas backing, but end result is a looped pile rather than a cut pile
  • Hand-loomed – These rugs are handcrafted on looms. Characterized by a low or medium height pile. Often have a canvas backing
  • Flat-weave – These are flat with no pile and usually reversible.
  • Machine-made – These are mass-produced on power looms. Characterized by perfectly uniform knots/stitching on the back
  • Indoor/Outdoor – Can be produced by hand or by machine but are characterized by their durable materials and construction that can withstand outdoor conditions

Knots Per Square Inch

Not unlike the thread count on bed sheets, a high Knots Per Square Inch (KPSI) number is one indicator of a rug’s quality. KPSI numbers can vary from around 25 to 1,000 and higher. However, a rug’s KPSI is not the sole indicator of its quality. Other factors like the rug’s style, material, and manufacturing process determine the quality, as well.

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Materials

A rug’s softness (largely determined by the material it’s made from) is one of the most important factors to consider when you’re choosing a rug for your home. While a coarse rug might be fine for your laundry room, for example, you’ll surely  want a soft a rug for your child’s room, a cozy family room, etc. 

In addition to its softness, the fibers from which a rug is made also largely determine its durability, its tendency to shed, and its ability to resist moisture and stains. Furthermore, certain fibers are also better for the environment due to their sustainability. 

See below how common rug fibers stack up in these characteristics. 

Soft 

        • Silk – minimal shedding; average durability; sustainable
        • Cotton– minimal shedding; average durability; sustainable
        • Polyester – moisture and stain resistant; high durability; minimal shedding
        • Viscose/Rayon – stain resistant; low to average durability; minimal shedding

Medium 

        • Wool – moisture and stain resistant; high durability; sustainable
        • Polypropylene (can also be coarse) – moisture and stain resistant; high durability; minimal shedding

Coarse 

        • Hemp – average durability; sustainable
        • Jute – average durability; sustainable
        • Linen (can also be medium) – minimal shedding; high durability; sustainable
        • Sisal – average durability; sustainable
        • Seagrass – average durability; sustainable

Size

Deciding on the size of rug to buy is one of the toughest aspects of rug buying for most people. Should it go under all the furniture or just some of it? How far should it extend around a bed or a dining table? And most importantly, can you get away with the less expensive smaller size?

There are lots of wonderful resources available online to help you determine what size rug is ideal for the exact circumstances of your space. And if you shop for your rug at a flooring store or showroom, you can ask the experts there to help you. 

But to cover just a few general guidelines, for a living room or other sitting area, it’s best if all the sofa and chair legs sit on the rug. If that’s not possible, however, it’s fine to leave the back legs off the rug, but be sure the rug sits well under the piece – not just barely beyond its front legs.

If it’s going under a dining or kitchen table, make sure the rug extends at least 18-24 inches past the chairs all the way around the table. That way, the chairs won’t “fall” off the edge or the rug when pulled out for someone to sit.  

When placing a rug under a bed, the bed as well as any side tables should sit fully on the rug (with or without extending equal amounts on both sides from there). The rug should always extend beyond the foot of the bed, whether just a few inches or several feet). 

Most importantly, while it can be tempting to try to squeak by with a less expensive smaller size, it’s generally best to resist that urge. A generously sized rug makes a space look finished, while a too-small rug stands out as a design mistake. 

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Rug Pads

In short, yes, you really do need a rug pad. 

You already know a rug pad can offer added comfort (a good one can even make a thinner rug feel more luxurious). And you know some rugs won’t stay in place without a non-slip pad underneath.

But you may not know that rugs can actually damage the flooring beneath them without a rug pad. For example, if a rug has a synthetic latex backing, it’s likely to stick to hardwood flooring, ultimately harming the finish. That said, it’s also important to select a rug pad that’s compatible for your rug type and safe for your flooring. 

Care & Cleaning

Of course, some rugs require less maintenance than others, but knowing how to properly care for every rug in your home will help them stay in good shape for as long as possible. 

First and foremost, before you even bring your rug home, check into having it sealed especially if it’s a light color, is made from delicate fibers, and/or will be regularly exposed to dirt, spills, and foot traffic. Sealing rugs involves having them sprayed with a chemical protectant that forms a barrier between the rug’s fibers and dirt and moisture that come into contact with it. A good sealant will make it harder for dirt and stains to grab onto the fibers and easier for you to clean them up. 

While there are protectants you can buy in stores on online, be aware that many chemicals can react with rug fibers, causing irreparable damage or discoloration. This is especially true for rugs that have delicate fibers such as silk and rugs with viscose fibers. I always recommend hiring a reputable professional textile sealant company so they can select the best way to treat your rug. 

Some textile sealants also offer UV protection since sunlight can cause some rugs to fade over time. However, if your rug will be exposed to excessive sunlight you may also want to consider having windows and door glass covered with an invisible UV-filtering tint.

In terms of cleaning, you should only ever clean and spot clean your rugs exactly according to the manufacturer’s directions. However, if you have your rug sealed, the sealant company will provide you with instructions and cleaning products designed to preserve the sealant. 

As a general rule of thumb, clean spills and stains as soon as possible after they occur. The longer they sit, the harder they’ll be to remove. Never rub at stains as this can actually set the stain and/or remove the rug’s dyes. Always use a white or very light colored cloth to blot stains to avoid transferring the cloth’s dyes to the rug.

And finally, regular, gentle vacuuming prolongs the life of rugs, since dirt and debris can cause wear to the fibers. 

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I hope you find this helpful the next time you’re in the market for a new rug! Many thanks to Jaipur Living for providing their designer clients like me with such valuable information we can pass onto our wonderful clients and blog readers. If you’re in the Milwaukee area and you want help picking the perfect rug, give us a call.

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