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Wool Rugs VS Polypropylene Rugs: Which is Best?

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wool rugs vs polypropylene

Trying decide between purchasing a wool rug (hand-woven from natural wool) or a synthetic rug?

We've got you covered!

This blog post will help you decide which rug material suits you and your lifestyle best.


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Summary

  • Wool rugs are hand-woven with natural materials, while synthetic rugs are hand-tufted with the most durable but cost-effective materials.
  • A wool rug can last for 50 years or more. Synthetic rugs usually have a lifespan of 3-5 years.
  • Both wool area rugs and synthetic rugs are easy to clean.
  • Wool typically feels softer and more luxurious.
  • Wool rugs are flame resistant, while the chemicals in synthetic rugs might make them highly flammable.
  • Synthetic rugs are cheaper, but the quality is lower and they can be harmful to the environment.

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FAQ

Here are some of the most frequently-asked questions we receive about rug materials!    

1. What is a synthetic rug?

Synthetic rugs are made using man-made fibers, like polypropylene (also known as olefin), nylon, acrylic, or polyester.

These materials are made from petroleum in the lab and sent to factories to be machine woven into rugs.

2. “Are there any differences between polypropylene, acrylic, nylon, and polyester?”

Yes and no The materials are petroleum derivatives and treated with harsh chemicals during manufacturing.

So… Yes The synthetic materials have different chemical properties and compounds. They have small differences in texture and color, but for the most part, the average person cannot tell a difference between synthetic materials.

3. “What are wool rugs?”

Wool rugs are hand woven and use natural wool with hundreds of knots used to create intricate patterns and designs. 

Hand knotted rug: zeigler rug

Did you know that wool is a natural noise insulator? This prevents your home from echoing and shielding you from hearing outside traffic noise.

The most common type of wool used in wool rugs is known as woolens... which is a general term used to describe various fabrics woven from woolens yarn. This yarn fiber is spun from short wool fibers to create a soft and lavish fiber to later be handwoven into a rug.

The shorter fibers are not combed to lie flat as they are in worsted yarn. Worsted yarn most is most commonly used in wool trousers where a smooth, thin, satin-y finish is desire.

This results in a soft and buttery surface texture. With this technique, the weave of the individual yarn fibers does not show as clearly as it would in worsted fabrics.

Contemporary wool rugs typically take 3-4 months from when the artisan begin weaving to when it is on display in your home.

They also come in many different sizes, such as 8x10, 9x12, and 10x14

hand knotted rug

4.“How long do they last?”

Wool: Well maintained wool rugs will be in your home for at least 50 years and can be used as heirloom pieces for generations.
  • Wool is one of Mother Nature’s most durable fibers.
  • You will be able to pass your wool carpet down to your children and grandchildren for many generations.
Because of their durability and scarcity, wool rugs can make great investment pieces with antique wool rugs selling at high values.
  • Wool has a naturally crimped texture and spiral shape that make wool ideal for high traffic areas.
  • It will not become matted down over years of pitter patter and heavy furniture.
hand knotted wool rug: hand knotted rug
  • Just like fine leather, wool rugs patina with age making them look and feel even more luxurious than the day they were delivered to your home.
Synthetic: The usual life span of a polypropylene, nylon, acrylic or polyester rug is 3-5 years with professional cleaning.
  • Synthetic rugs are not as resilient to foot traffic as wool rugs.
  • All synthetic rugs lack wool's brilliant spiral structure created by Mother Nature. This means the fibers tend to become matted down and tear from foot traffic and heavy furniture.
  • Nylon tends to be the most durable of the synthetic fibers, however, a distant second to wool.
  • Nylon is a resilient fiber (meaning it is considered to be durable) and the strongest of the synthetic fibers.
  • It is the most expensive synthetic fiber.

***It is worth being noted that the higher the resiliency on the individual fiber, the more tough and brittle the rug or carpet tends to be.

how to buy a rug: polypropylene harmful

A synthetic rug

  • Acrylic tends to be as durable as nylon with a high resiliency.
  • Just like nylon, the stronger the individual fiber, the more rough the rug feels.
  • Polypropylene or olefin, is the most commonly used material for synthetic rugs and carpets.
  • Polypropylene is treated with chemicals to become stain resistant (except oil based stains) and is less expensive than nylon.
  • Also used to make artificial grass carpets, polypropylene is the second least resilient of the synthetic fibers.
  • The material has a low abrasion tolerance and low melting point.
A polypropylene rug will become matted very easily, become dull looking very quickly, and must kept away from heat sources including high sun windows.
  • Polyester is the least expensive rug material to manufacture.
  • That being said, it is also the first to show wear and tear.
  • Polyester has the lowest resiliency rating of the synthetic fibers and will show its age very quickly.
  • Polyester rug warranties will never include claims against crushing or matting simply because polyester cannot hold up to the foot traffic.
  • All synthetic fibers are given their color in their liquid state leaving the material unable to absorb and retain dye after processing.
  • They will never fade but may yellow with time and are prone to chemical and sun bleaching.
  • It is worth noting that synthetic rugs should be seen as “disposable.”
  • Just as anything else made with plastic, synthetic rugs have a lifetime and need to be thrown out when it is expired.

5. Q: “How do I clean them?”

Wool:  Despite the rumors, wool rugs are very easy and simple to clean.

  • Wool rugs contain tiny pockets that camouflage dust and pet hair.
  • Although they should be vacuumed every 1-3 weeks, wool rugs always appear fresh and new due to their design and structure.

Your guests never have to know you forgot to vacuum!

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How to Clean a Wool Rug

  • If a stain occurs, simply place a cloth dampened with a water and white vinegar solution on the stain within 15 minutes of the accident to make sure the stain does not set in.
  • Wool is naturally hydrophobic meaning it is a water repellent.
  • Wool will wick away water based stains making them ideal for dining rooms and other accident prone areas of you home.
blue patchwork rug: dining room rug

Blue over dyed patchwork rug

Synthetic: Because of the synthetic materials, polypropylene, polyester, and nylon rugs are also simple to clean.
  • Water based stains sit on top and can be wiped away with a damp cloth.
  • Just as stains sit on top, so does dirt. Polypropylene, nylon, and polyester rugs do not contain the tiny pockets found in the wool rugs construction. Synthetic rugs need to be vacuumed every day to avoid a dull and dingy looking room.
  • Synthetic rugs are however susceptible to oil based stains.

  • Oils from skin (and puppy paws!) press into the rug requiring synthetic rugs to be cleaned professionally at least once every year.
rug oil stain
  • A great upside is to synthetic rug fibers is that they are not porous and do not hold odor.

6. Q: “Is there a difference in design quality?”

Absolutely.

You will notice that even in the best synthetic rugs, the design may be slightly off center, bulky and less detailed In wool rugs.

The bottom of the rug is an exact mirror image of the decorative top pile In synthetic rugs. The top pile is bonded to a plastic bottom with glue.

wool vs synthetic rug: what is the best carpet type

  The back of wool rugs soft and will not damage hardwood or carpeted flooring.     The back of synthetic rugs are bonded with a hard plastic backing that will slip and scratch hardwood floors.  

 

As you can see in the image above, the polypropylene rugs design is less detailed than the wool carpet.

The eye for detail comes with hundreds of years of expertise and wool rug craftsmanship.

Interior design blogs: Contemporary Wool Rugs

One of the design draw backs to synthetic rugs is that they cannot be over-dyed, like this vintage blue over-dyed wool rug.

We are loving the modern and antique juxtaposition at the moment!

7. “So how do they feel?”

Wool:
  • Handwoven wool rugs are silky, luxurious, and soft to the touch.
  • Because hundreds of knots are tied creating the design and pattern, the rugs have a soft and sturdy pile.

Wool is a naturally staple fiber.

This means that the individual fibers have a natural spiral construction.

This helps the rug to maintain its shape and is duplicated in synthetic fibers used in rug making to help prevent matting

Synthetic:

  • Synthetic rugs will feel soft to the touch when you first bring them home but will become “plastic-y” and rough with time.
  • Nylon will have the softest feel but as we said earlier, the softer the nylon fiber, the less durable to rug.
  • As the synthetic pile wears down with foot traffic and heavy furniture, the rug will soon feel hard and brittle.

Quick tip!  When buying a rug Many clients will run their fingers through the rugs pile to “feel the quality.”

This is known as perceived quality. Do not do this!

When you are looking for a quality rug, you should not be able run your fingers through the pile very easily. This displays a high knot content resulting from a thicker, higher quality pile.

wool vs polypropylene carpet: is polypropylene safe

Wool rugs like this green shag wool rug are perfect to sooth your soles and for baby’s precious first steps.

wool vs polyester rugs

Wool rug…Look at that pile!

8. “Are they flammable?”

Wool: Wool is a natural flame retardant.
  • Rather than burning, wool chars and forms a self­-extinguishing layer that keeps fire from spreading.
  • Wool has been used in the gear of firefighters and in airplanes for its resiliency.
  • You will never have to worry about your wool rug causing a fire in your home.
Synthetic: Because petroleum is the base material, synthetic rugs tend to burn and melt.
  • Fixtures and appliances prone to overheating (lamps, scented wax burners etc.), smoking cigarettes, and other fire hazardous are not safe to place around a synthetic rug.
  • If the rug were to heat up and melt it may damage the hardwood or carpet underneath; especially if the carpet is made from polypropylene, the most common material for home wall to wall carpeting.
  • If a fire starts the only way to put out a synthetic rug fire is with a home fire extinguisher or with a call to the fire company.

is polypropylene safe

What a shame!

This polypropylene rug heated up and ruined these beautiful solid oak hardwood floors.

If you think back to the days of playing with Barbie and Ken, there was a reason your mom never let you curl or straighten your beloved dolls' hair!

9. “Are there any environmental impacts?”

Wool: Depending on breed, sheep are sheared one or two times a year making wool a renewable resource.
  • Wool is natural and it is safe for the environment and sheep.
  • Wool is hypo-allergenic and every year the wool grows back.
  • The sheep are not harmed in the process unlike leather and sheepskin rugs.

Simple as that!

wool rugs

Sheep are NOT hurt in the process.

In fact, they like being sheared!

They love the fresh feeling of a haircut or a nice shave.

Just like us!

Synthetic: Synthetic rugs release toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air when the materials are being produced in the factory and inside of your home as well.
  • During manufacturing, the same materials that are used on synthetic rug to prevent staining and moth holes, such as naphathalene, are known to cause dyspnea, epistaxis, and conjunctival irritation.
  • These chemicals including Styrene and 4-phynocyclohexane are found in PVC piping and are the culprit for the “new carpet smell.”

If you decide to go with an untreated synthetic rug, be aware that because synthetic fibers do not “breath” they are prone to mold, mildew, fire, and moth holes.

mold in carpet

Also...

The glue used to bond the synthetic pile with the plastic backing may contain latex. If you have anyone in your home with allergies or sensitivities, the potential for mold and mildew as well as the latex component is something for you to consider

10. “Synthetic rugs contain VOCs? Should I be concerned?”

It depends.

VOCs can be especially harmful to young children, pregnant women, and the elderly because their immune systems are vulnerable. The fact that VOCs are in synthetic rugs is something for you and your family to think about.

Which is best? It’s up to you

The debate between wool rugs and polypropylene rugs truly depends on one’s individual needs, concerns, and taste.

No matter your preference, feel free to reach out to us and ask us anything you may be wondering about wool rugs: wool, synthetic, or otherwise. Chances are we’ll have something to say about it.

[upgrade title=FREE Wool & Silk Buying Guide]Make an informed buying decision with this essential PDF resource.
Free Instant Access[/upgrade]

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9 comments


  • How do I know which wool rug will not shed (or less shed)? Or if wool comes from sheep from high altitudes?

    Dalma on

  • @Terri
    Very heartbreaking to read and watch. This is one of the many reason we use New Zealand wool which is inspected and assessed according the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS). They work to provide full assurance to consumers of the highest possible standards in animal husbandry and land management.

    Rugknots on

  • Sheep are harmed in the process of getting their wool. Please read the about other side of the issue. https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/wool-industry/

    Terri on

  • Excellent article – I was first sold on a polyurethane rug , but have now decided to wait until the perfect wool rug shows up. The possible health/environmental hazards of purchasing any synthetic rug is quite frightening with children and pets in the household, needless to say, what we as adults breath in each day. Again, excellent article !

    Ellie on

  • “If you decide to go with an untreated synthetic rug, be aware that because synthetic fibers do not “breath” they are prone to mold, mildew, fire, and moth holes.” MOTH HOLES? Since when do moth larvae eat plastic? Otherwise, very helpful & informative information.

    E. Culler on


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