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How To Choose The Right Type Of Area Rug Or Carpet

Take your pick from different kinds of rugs and give your home a more polished, finished look

Photography: discotire | Living Room Design and Decorations (Main Photo)

As early as the days of cavemen, when they hunted animals and used their skins for clothing and housing, they have also used rugs for shelter and warmth. Fast forward to today—we use rugs and carpets to give our home a more luxurious touch. 

How are these two different? The terms "rug" and "carpet" are often interchangeable, except that carpets normally refer to larger pieces, while rugs cover smaller areas. It brings into unity all the details in terms of furnishings and accessories. If a rug successfully harmonizes with the rest of the space, it provides a unique cohesiveness that ties all the elements of the room together. It's also a good way of delineating spaces without the need for walls or partitions. Learn more about the types of rugs below: 

1. Turf or Artificial Grass

Thousands of plastic or nylon fibers made to look like grass are what make up turf. Pile heights can be made to resemble grass found in gardens or shorter cuts for putting greens or sports fields. No watering required.

Best for: playrooms, playgrounds, kids' themed rooms, lawns and gardens

Care and maintenance: For indoor installations, clean with a stiff broom or a vacuum cleaner. Outdoor areas may be hosed down with water and brushed clean. 

2. Shag

May be made of wool, cotton, synthetic or a mix of materials. It's long cut pile, normally an inch or more, is luxurious, soft and can provide very good sound insulation.

Best for: bedrooms where bare feet are common, places needing good acoustics like entertainment areas or dens

Care and maintenance: Shaggier synthetic piles (extra-fine strands) require dry cleaning: other types are washable should heavy soiling occur. Piles tend to tangle so regular raking is required. 

3. Silk Hand-Knotted Persian

Handmade carpets are known for fine piles and intricate, traditional designs. Silk carpets have short piles, resulting in a thin carpet that is very soft and luxurious to the touch, but with a high tensile strength. It is not uncommon for the weaver to incorporate his signature into the weave pattern, making it one of a kind. 

Best for: public and semi-public spaces in a home such as bedrooms, living rooms, foyers and hallways

Care and maintenance: A soft broom will suffice for weekly or bi-weekly cleaning. Avoid using vacuums often. Do not wash; call a professional for cleaner for serious stains. 


4. Cowhide 

Animal hides have hairs occurring naturally; piles are not sewn on. Rarely regular, shapes follow the animal's body although square and rectangular ones are available. Patterns like spots or patches are innate to the hide, or can be slik-screened on. Color may be natural or from dye. 

Best for: modern and contemporary living rooms,, bedrooms, entertainment rooms; rustic and cabin-like interiors

Care and maintenance: Avoid excessive exposure to water. Vacuum periodically. Sponge heavier soiled areas with soap and water; wipe dry. Extremely flammable; keep away from fire hazards.


Before going shopping, you should know that there are different types of rug piles: cut, loop and cut and loop. Here are other variations you may come across: 

  • Standard short pile - Most common cut pile where pile height is below half an inch
  • Level loop pile - Made with loops of fiber. Those with loops of equal height create a flat and textured surface that makes it easier to maintain 
  • Cut and Looped (Sculptured pile) - Typical for patterned rugs (floral and geometric) or those with a textured effect to form designs
  • Velvet pile - A type of cut pile; extremely dense and smooth and can shade and track when walked on
  • Shag - One of the softest types of cut pile rugs; one caveat is that its long piles can easily collect dust

This article ("From Rugs To Riches") originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of Real Living Magazine. Main photo by discotire Living Room Design and Decorations.

More on

5 Rugs that are Worth Spending Money On

Different Types of Area Rugs

Building 101: Sizes of Rugs


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