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Area Rug Fibers and Fiber Dyes

Area Rugs in at a retailer

Both synthetic (man–made) and natural fibers have their pros and cons. For example, area rugs made with synthetic fibers are usually more affordable than some natural fiber area rugs such as wool and silk. However, the quality of wool and silk area rugs is very hard to mimic and they can often be made by hand. Some real hand knotted wool rugs can last well over 100 years Read on to learn more about the different types of carpet fibers to decide which one best suits you.

Area Rug Options

Natural Fibers

Raw wool yarns

Wool – Wool fibers, made from the fleece of sheep and lambs, are the most common natural fibers used for rugs today. Area rugs made from wool are soft and resilient at the same time. Depending on where the wool is taken from the animal's body as well as the animal's geological location, the appearance as well as durability of a wool area rug is affected. As an example, wool cut from under the chin of the sheep (called cork) is very shiny and of very high quality. Wool cut from animals that live in cooler climates is usually longer than normal and makes a very durable rug.

Silk worm cocoons

Silk – Area rugs made of silk fibers from silk worms have a very luxurious look and feel. They are very soft to the touch and can be used on the floor though they are often used as decorative wall pieces because they are very expensive. Real silk rugs should not be confused with art silk rugs.

Note on Art Silk: Art silk stands for artificial silk which can be made of cotton, polyester, or rayon. Art silk rugs are often passed off as real silk though they are much lower quality. Art silk can yellow over time and has no resale value. Real silk usually costs at least $50 per square foot and anything that costs less you should be suspicious of. If you are suspicious about the authenticity of a silk rug, ask to have a small fiber from the fringe of the rug if possible. If you burn the fiber and it smells like burning hair, it is probably a real silk rug. If it smells like paper or anything else, it is probably an art silk rug.

Unharvested cotton balls, sisal,
sea grass and coir fibers


Cotton – Cotton is another popular natural fiber plants that is used to make rugs of a variety of colors and patterns. It is soft to the touch but wears quicker than wool.


Other Natural Fibers – Jute, bamboo, sisal, coir, and sea grass are all natural fibers that can be used in the making of area rugs. These are often used to create flat woven area rugs that are rough to the touch when compared to other types of area rugs therefore they are often blended with cotton for added softness.

Note: Blends of different natural and synthetic fibers are also available.

Synthetic Fibers

Synthetic fibers; nylon,
acrylic and rayon under a

Nylon – One of the most favorable synthetic fibers available, nylon is very strong and durable. Nylon area rugs resist fading and staining and are not prone to mold or mildew growth like some natural fibers.

Polypropylene/Olefin – Polypropylene and olefin fibers are often made to resemble wool at lower price point and are exceptionally stain and fade resistant though they are sometimes prone to crushing of the fibers.

Acrylic – Like nylon and polypropylene, acrylic area rugs are fade and stain resistant, and are not prone to mold or mildew growth. Acrylic is also meant to resemble wool at a fraction of the price, though it may have a tendency to shed or fuzz.

Polyester – Polyester area rugs have a wide color selection and are resistant to staining and fading. They are often made from recycled soda bottles making polyester area rugs a potentially "green" choice.

Viscose/Rayon – These are synthetic fibers that give the look and feel of silk at a lower price. They may matt easily but are often used in a blend of other fibers or as an accent in which they perform well.

Area Rug Dyeing

Stack of area rugs

Natural dyes are those that are derived from plants, minerals, and animals. Synthetic dyes are man–made and include aniline, acid, and chrome dyes with chrome being the most used synthetic dye today with over 600 colors to choose from. The use of either natural or synthetic dyes often is the result of availability. Natural dyes are often used in more rural areas whereas synthetic dyes are more readily available in commercial areas.

The difference in appearance between natural dyes and synthetic is quite noticeable. If you were to take a two pieces of wool, one dyed with a synthetic dye and the other with a natural dye and look at them under a microscope, you would see a difference between the two. The natural dyed fiber will have a speckled appearance which often results in softer, muted colors whereas synthetic dyed fiber will be solid in color resulting in bold and brilliant colors. Also, depending on the number of times a dye batch is re–used, lighter colors result can result.

For more on Area Rugs be sure to check out FindAnyFloor's section on Buying Area Rugs.