How To Choose the Right Rug Material
So you compiled your moodboard, made a shopping list for your home restyling/ renovation, and decided to buy a rug. The next question to tackle: how do I choose a rug?
In this guide, you will have all the information you need to decide on what rug material to choose for your modern home. What you are about to read is completely based on our years of experience working with rug artisans, as well as interactions with our clients - interior designers and homeowners alike - at Living DNA. We aim not to create a generic online article (if you're reading this, chances are those articles only added to the confusion) but a very Singapore-specific guide, suited to the modern aesthetic we aspire to in our HDB, condo or landed home, nestled in our tropical humid urban jungle. Online references are for fact check purposes.
TLDR? View this infographic summary.
For your ease of reading, this guide focuses only on materials in the context of modern rugs. There are a bunch of other considerations when it comes to traditional Oriental carpets - please comment below if you'd like a blogpost on this topic too.
Cold feet?Wool is the most traditional material for rugs. No surprises there, considering that for most of human civilization, rugs and carpets were created to give warmth to floors or bare ground especially during winter season, and this naturally insulating material from sheep's fleece does the job best. In tropical Singapore though, you'd rarely need this level of insulation against cold. At most you would want to not feel the coldness of your tile while you step out of your bed or hang out on the sofa, and any fabric works well enough for this.
If longevity is your concern, then yes, wool is hands-down the strongest rug material there is. Carrying a natural springiness, wool recovers quickly from friction, footsteps and impact of furniture. It has a natural resilience to moisture - we're talking about spills - and is therefore less prone to staining. Admittedly, it does not have the smoothest feel underfoot. At Living DNA, we receive most wool rug orders for high traffic areas or public places where people wear shoes such as hotel lobbies, retail concept stores, offices or lounge spaces.
Best for high traffic public areas.
Regular vs New Zealand wool
There are two grades of wool typically used for rugmaking: regular wool blend and New Zealand wool. Regular wool blend combines fleece from several sheep breeds and from different countries such as India, Nepal and China. New Zealand wool is, as the name suggests, from sheep breeds in New Zealand. Think of it the way you do your single origin coffee. It costs more but if you compare side-by-side, it is consistently softer than regular wool. Known to be the whitest, cleanest wool in the world, we find that NZ wool absorbs dyes better so we use it when we want to achieve bright, vibrant, uniformly coloured rugs.
Wool sheds more.
Note that wool rugs shed more than other fibres. It requires more vacuum cleaning than usual. If you have lived in temperate climates and grown up with wool rugs, you would probably be comfortable with the feel of the material and the maintenance that goes with it.
How ethical is wool?
Sustainability-wise, wool rugs practically last a lifetime. At the end of its life, the material is renewable and biodegradable. Shearing sheep for its wool can be achieved in humane ways; sadly we learned that in some countries this is not always done. Fortunately New Zealand is the world leader in ethical raising and shearing of sheep, thanks to the country's Animal Welfare Act.
In a nutshell: Choose wool if you need a heavy duty rug and don't mind the slightly rough feel. If your budget allows, upgrade to New Zealand wool.
A viscose rug has a similar visual effect to velvet. One side of the fibre reflects more light and the other side is more matte, so the rug looks lighter when viewed in one angle and darker in another. This creates a stunning, two-toned effect in the simplest solid coloured rug. In patterned or multicoloured rugs, the sheen of viscose adds another dimension of interest. Our range of viscose rug designs increase by the day.
Viscose is easy to maintain. Over the years in our showroom, we notice that dust settles less in viscose rugs. When it does, you can vacuum it out quickly because the shiny surface offers some resistance from dust compared to matte wool. Liquid spills can be pat dry with a paper towel.
Viscose sheds much less than wool, but take note that all high pile rugs will definitely shed. As is viscose gentle to your skin, so should you be gentle when caring for it. Vacuum clean at a low setting, no more than once a week. The most common mistake people make is to vacuum clean their viscose rug aggressively, daily, in an attempt to remove the shedding. This actually aggravates the shedding as the rug fibres are pulled.
How sustainable is viscose?
Viscose is a semi-synthetic material derived from bamboo cellulose. Despite and because of its botanical origin, it requires a significant amount of chemical processing to become a durable textile, sparking an ongoing debate about its sustainability. Similar alternatives with more mindful production methods are on the rise, such as the next material we're discussing: Tencel. Do remember that a large part of sustainability lies in our consumption and disposal of the item. If you love the rug and invest in quality workmanship such as our handloom pieces, you are likely to use it for a much longer time without needing to replace or dispose of it. That's a sustainable choice too.
In a nutshell: Choose viscose if you're particular about softness and quality.
Tencel textiles are growing in popularity in fashion and homeware products. It lends long lasting softness, shine and vibrant colours to rugs. It is also gentle on the skin. Tencel™ is actually a brand name of a wood-based cellulose fibre lyocell. Sounds similar to viscose? That's because it is, but reputedly with more environmentally responsible processes. According to the Tencel™ website, "Lyocell fibers are extracted from sustainably grown wood using a unique closed loop system which recovers and reuses the solvents used, minimizing the environmental impact of production. Unique physical properties lead to their high tenacity profile, efficient moisture management and gentleness to skin."
Same look and feel.
The look and feel of Tencel and high quality viscose that we at Living DNA use are exactly the same: luxurious sheen, silky surface, naturally soft to the touch. A layman would not be able to tell these two materials apart by sight. Maintenance tips are the same - weekly gentle vacuuming.
The cost of Tencel is slightly higher than viscose due to the additional effort involved in sustainable processes, which we feel is worth it. Consider these additional benefits as well: unfavourable for bacteria and dust mite growth, more secure fibres, and better colour retention. Our clients also give feedback that Tencel sheds less.
In a nutshell: Upgrade from viscose to Tencel for a stronger, more eco-friendly rug.
Jute rugs come in a wide range of beautiful weaving textures, giving the home a down to earth, resort vibe. If you are going for a coastal or bohemian chic interior, at least one jute rug at your home is a must. In Scandi design, this material is key to achieving "hygge", a general level of well-being. The Japanese use natural fibre rugs and enjoy its aging, a "wabi-sabi" element in the home. Jute usually comes in a natural brown colour. It can be also dyed and the resulting colour is wonderfully earthy and organic, unlike wool or viscose, because of its brown, varying undertone. Did we mention they're also surprisingly cheap?
Not the softest.
Jute is one of the strongest plant fibres. You would feel the coarse texture underfoot, so it may not be your conventional idea of a rug i.e. soft and plush. The good news is most people get used to it, and it in fact becomes softer over time. In some rugs, we interweave jute with softer materials such as cotton or wool to improve its overall softness and give it a design twist.
Tight vs chunky
The utility of jute rugs varies with its weaving style. Opt for a tighter weaving pattern for dining table rugs, so that food crumbs do not get lodged, and you can vacuum clean or wipe them away easily. For the living room, bedroom or special corners, you can opt for chunkier or braided weaves which look more interesting and unique. Examine the jute rug up close to appreciate its weave.
The most sustainable rugs.
Jute is perhaps the most sustainable common rug material. The jute plant grows fairly easily without the need for pesticides or hugely consuming irrigation systems, only natural rainfall. It reaches maturity quickly (4-6 months) and absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen faster than trees. Preparing the material for rugs require minimal processing: fibres are stripped from its wood stalk, washed in water, and hung to dry under the sun. Except for dyed designs, there is no chemical treatment. The whole process is done by hand, in the same locality where the rugs are woven, resulting in a lower carbon footprint. Your beautiful, strong jute rug can last you a long time. At the end of its useful life, jute is fully biodegradable.
In a nutshell: Choose jute for an earthy chic look. Tight weaves are more practical for the dining area.
Cotton rugs are airy, comfortable, and one of the least expensive materials. In recent years there has been a trend of Moroccan-style white rugs with black patterns which are originally made of wool, a material too rough and warm for Singapore's endless summer sunshine. Our cotton version of these Moroccan-style rugs are the popular alternative for you to get the Instagram-worthy look for nearly half the price as a viscose rug. A cotton rug is a very reasonable buy for kids' spaces, considering that they will outgrow it after some years.
Most cotton rugs are machine washable. For this reason, cotton rugs make excellent low-cost, low-maintenance material, especially if you have kids or pets. Note that washing may not completely remove stains, so steer clear of cotton for the dining area. You may also experience some shedding but this can be remedied by gentle weekly vacuum cleaning - remember to read our care instructions that come with your rug delivery!
Cotton rugs in plush pile feels oh so soft, while in flatweave pile it holds up to higher traffic. This is not a problem at all in bedrooms and the study, but may be a concern in your living room if you entertain a lot. At Living DNA, we take extra care when selecting the quality of cotton in order to extend the lifespan of the rug.
In a nutshell: Choose cotton if you are on a budget or have short term needs.
PET stands for polyethylene terephtalate, the material used for plastic water bottles. Recycled PET simply means fibre produced from the recycling of used plastic water bottles. You can find this wildly popular material at every major apparel brand aiming to adopt more sustainable practices, from dresses to sneakers to bags to jackets. And it's easy to understand why. It feels pretty good on the skin; you won't guess you're wearing plastic.
Best outdoor rugs.
Because it is technically plastic, recycled PET rugs work well as outdoor rugs, rain or shine. Note that the material is in fibre form (not sheets like picnic mats) so it will absorb water, but you can simply hang your recycled PET out to dry. It will dry fairly quick without damaging the fibre.
Taking over the home makeover.
Initially we curated this collection for outdoors, but these cottony soft rugs are so practical that more and more people opt for recycled PET to style up their living room and bedroom. You can choose solid colours, patterned pieces or textural weaves. They are definitely stronger than cotton. Recycled PET rugs usually come in a flatweave, not high pile, form. This makes it an awesome dining area rug, easy enough to wipe and wash. Keep a lookout for more styles as we are actively growing this collection.
In a nutshell: Choose recycled PET for the dining area and patio, or any area you expect to get wet.
Comment below with your questions on anything about rugs. We'd love to hear from you!