Love beautiful handmade area rugs, but get perplexed when it comes to the actual material and selection? Here is an insider’s guide to help you make that all-important decision of material when choosing a fine area rug. So next time you acquire a stunning handmade fine rug for yourself or a client, you know all there is to know about rug material options.

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The key materials used in area rugs are wool, silk, and cotton. Viscose is also used as a substitute for silk because it is a budget friendly option. However, the vast majority of rugs are made with a cotton foundation and a wool pile. Some very fine rugs are made with a silk foundation instead of cotton.

Below is a breakdown of the different types of rug materials with insider tips.

WOOL: There are many grades of wool. Usually wool from sheep that are raised in higher altitude areas is finer. The wool from younger healthy animals is better. Live wool, the only kind used in Alyshaan rugs, is sheared from a live animal, while dead wool is chemically removed from deceased animals or sheared from unhealthy animals. The dead wool has no oils and is rough to the touch.

Insider Tip: The principal misrepresentations of materials are acrylic sold as wool and mercerized cotton or rayon sold as silk. Any merchandise description can be written to sound like the product is wonderful. Look for explicit information and ask the right questions when purchasing your fine rug. If the material is omitted, or a synthetic material is used it will not have the durability or value of natural fibers.

SILK: A beautiful fiber that is acclaimed as the queen of textiles. Silk comes from the cocoon of the silk worm but requires quite a bit of handling and processing, which is also why it’s so expensive. Silk is usually used in very fine handmade area rugs as the foundation and/or accent yarn to highlight certain parts of the designs. Some of the extremely fine rugs are made entirely with silk in the foundation and pile. Silk has a look and feel that is unmatched by any other comparable material on Earth.

Insider Tip: Although silk rugs are more luxurious and not meant for very high traffic areas, but this may not be of greatest concern considering that if a good hand knotted wool rug lasts for an average of a 100 years, and in comparison a silk rug gives up on you in 70 years instead, then you may not be too upset over this.

COTTON: Cotton comes from the cotton plant (gossypium) and its color varies from white to a greyish yellow. Almost 80% of the handmade area rugs have cotton as the foundation the rugs are knotted on, especially because it is a strong and thin yarn that allows a lot of knots to be tied.

Insider Tip: Cotton as a fabric is ideal for textiles because after harvesting, it is spun into thread or yarn that is a light and breathable fabric. The combination of cotton and wool is very strong for fine area rugs.

BAMBOO SILK: Colorado State University did extensive research on this material and it shows that bamboo textiles protect against harmful ultraviolet radiation and have antibacterial properties. Already a common fabric in Asia, this material is soft, durable and elastic, resembling silk with an attractive sheen.

Insider Tip: The textiles of the future could be bamboo-made. As an environmentally friendly material, maturing in 3 to 4 years instead of the usual 25 to 70 years for tree species, it is fast becoming a very desirable material.

ARTIFICIAL SILK: Imitation silk may be made with rayon, mercerized cotton, polyester, a blend of these materials and sometimes with natural silk added. Artificial Silk was developed in the late 1800s using cellulose fiber and sold as “Art Silk” (Short for Artificial Silk) or “Viscose”. In the 1930’s artificial silk was made with soybean fibers, and then Nylon was developed in the United States in the late 1930s and used as a replacement silk during World War II.

Insider Tip: Always keep a close out for this rug material. It is common for some dealers to present Artificial Silk as real silk, but real silk has features that make it easily distinguishable from artificial silk. So it is a good idea to be aware of the distinguishing features.

Insider Tips Conclusion:
The most durable, easy to clean fiber for fine area rugs is wool. Cotton and wool is a strong combination as well.

Silk rugs are luxurious and beautiful but are not as ideal for high traffic areas. However, they serve as beautiful art pieces and additions to the home. Always be careful to not mistake imitation silk for the real deal. Keep a look out for bamboo silk in future textiles.

Sisal, Sea Grass, Polypropylene (Olefin), Polyester, Jute, and Acrylic, are materials used usually in lower end rugs and never found in fine hand knotted rugs

Saeed-image-150x150.jpgSaeed Aslam, 3rd generation in rug sales, has a Master of Business Administration and has been in the rug business for 33 years spanning over 3 continents and has travelled the world related to home furnishings décor and rug buying,  He is the Manager of Alyshaan Fine Rugs in Scottsdale and Sedona, Arizona.

Alyshaan has the largest and finest selection of fine rugs in Arizona with 3200 rugs in stock and offers a lifetime guarantee on every rug they sell .   Alyshaan is a strong supporter of the design community.  You can view their website at and call Saeed at 480-607-4955.