Tuesday, 06 July 2010 22:36

Natural vs. Synthetic Rugs, What are the PROs and CONs

Written by Angela S Colley
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Selecting carpet is one of those decisions that you should take seriously. It is an item that could potentially be around in your home for a long period of time. Carpets and area rugs generate visual interest and there are wide choices of designs, textures, and price points to choose from. Don’t make this decision lightly. The information provided here will help you narrow your choice. So let’s compare natural and synthetic man-made fibers.

What You should know about Natural Fibers – they require more drying time since they are very absorbent. They damaged easily by chemicals, they shrink, stain easily, water spot, fade, and attract mold and insects. Natural fibers are biodegradable and can be recycled, and plant fibers are rapidly renewable resources.

Wool carpets are soft and luxurious. They are naturally stain-resistant and flame-retardant (their fibers will not ignite if exposed to flame and self-extinguish quickly without the need for additional chemical treatments). Though wool carpets are expensive, they are a better value. When cared for properly they can last up to 50 years or more! Wool is soft and resilient; wool carpets hold their shape. Their fibers can be stretched up to 30 percent without breaking and will bounce back. If wool is not Certified Organic, it may contain pesticides. Wool fibers can hold dust particles which help reduce the number of dust particles floating in the air. This is great for people who suffer from allergies. Wool carpet also helps purify the air by absorbing indoor air contaminants, like formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

Silk is the only natural filament fiber that makes very soft to the touch area rugs or decorative wall pieces. Silk rugs have a very luxurious look and feel and are relatively expensive. Silk has a very high sheen, but will yellow when exposed to alkaline detergents. Exposure to sunlight will result in fading. Cleaning silk can be tricky because water spots and watermarks can result from wet cleaning. Silk fibers will lose approximately 20% of its strength if exposed to moisture. “Washable silk” is treated with a modified dye or a resin to prevent fiber degradation. Dry cleaning is best for cleaning. Real silk costs at least $50 per square foot, beware if it costs less.

What You should know about Plant-fiber carpets (cotton, seagrass, jute, coir, sisal) have a natural organic appearance. These carpets have a rough feel to the touch and are great because they do not generate static electricity. They are significantly less expensive than wool and silk, but their price will vary due to the weave and fiber combinations.


Cotton is soft to the touch but wears quicker than wool. It is commonly used in bath, throw, and handmade rugs, but rarely used to manufacture large area rugs and carpets. Cotton stains and soils easily, it can gray and does not wear well in heavy traffic areas. Cotton is 15% stronger when wet! Cotton is not naturally flame retardant. To make cotton rugs flame retardant they are treated with a phosphorous compound solution during finishing or by blending the cotton with flame retardant synthetic fibers or wool. To whiten cotton before dying, the cotton goes through a chlorine bleaching process that releases carcinogenic dioxins. Organic cotton is grown and processed without dioxin-producing bleach, defoliants, pesticides, or artificial fertilizers.

Seagrass naturally repels stains and cannot be dyed. It is the cheapest of natural fibers. Seagrass textured weaves and dark color helps to hide stains. Seagrass is tough, has a more casual look and isn’t scratchy like sisal.

Jute is the softest of all the plant fibers, but less durable. Jute works well in low to medium traffic areas and is often used as carpet backing. It is resistant to mold and mildew, but consistent exposure to moisture and sunlight will cause jute to deteriorate.

Coir is really scratchy and rough to the tough. Its fiber is durable, rot resistant, repels insects, and is difficult to ignite. It is great for casual areas with some exposure to moisture.

Sisal tight weaves create very durable carpets and rugs that are great for high-traffic areas

What You should know about Synthetic Man-made Fibers – they are made of petroleum-based synthetic fiber which is from a non-renewable resource. Some manufacturers create floor tiles that can be swapped out easily to replace damaged tiles.


Nylon is one of the more popular synthetic fibers. It is resilient, its abrasion resistance is excellent, and it can resist mildew, aging and sunlight fading with very good color retention. One con is that it is poor in resisting stains.

Polypropylene (olefin) is significantly less expensive than nylon.  Resists mold and fading from sunlight. It is the fiber of choice for outdoor use. One major drawback for olefin is that it attracts oil based stains. Abrasion, like friction caused by moving furniture can permanently damage the fibers.

Polyester (PET - Polyethylene Terephthalate) like olefin, has poor resilience if used in high traffic areas. It also attracts oily soils. Polyester is also known as Dacron®, Diolen®, Terylene® and Trevira®. It has an excellence resistance to mildew and aging but high exposure to sun will cause degradation. Polyester fiber is recovered from type 1 plastic soda bottles which is great because it helps reduce waste in landfills.

I hope this information helps you make an informed decision when it comes to selecting your area rug or carpet. Good luck!

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Angela S Colley, ASID|CAPS

D# 5487 • IB# 26001097

A C Styles Designs, LLC

621 SW 178th Way
Pembroke Pines, FL 33029