What Materials to Avoid for Rugs

Learn what materials to avoid for rugs

There are so many beautiful rugs out there, at all kinds of price points. But just because a rug looks great and feels good underfoot doesn’t mean it’s a quality rug! Some rugs are made of materials that can’t handle spills and stains, and others look good to the eye but feel terrible underfoot. Here are what materials to avoid for rugs, and which materials I typically recommend instead.

Just Say No To…

  • Viscose
  • Sisal
  • Cotton

It’s a Heck Yes For…

  • Wool
  • Nylon
  • Jute

Avoid: Viscose

The first material to avoid is viscose. Unfortunately, viscose is found in a ton of rugs because it’s gorgeous! Viscose is a synthetic fiber that looks and feels like silk, and it has a sheen to it that looks incredibly luxe and high-end. But here’s the problem: viscose can’t handle any liquid spills. If a cup of water or other liquids (ahem, red wine) get spilled on it, it’s going to leave a ring that will not come out.

If you’ve found a rug that has a high percentage of viscose, run the other way. (Look on the back of the rug for the content information; often, rug manufacturers will show the percentage of each fiber used in the rug.) However, if the viscose content is low and you get the rug spray-treated by a professional and you use it in a low-traffic space (like a guest bedroom), it can work. As long as you know what to expect, a viscose rug can be a beautiful investment. Just don’t tempt fate and let your kids near it with a juice box.

Avoid: Sisal

Sisal rugs are those grassy-looking natural rugs that farmhouse decor lovers go bananas for. They’ve got a lovely natural texture and bring a really pretty organic element to a room, keeping it from feeling too cutesy or sterile. So why don’t I like it? Just ask my feet. Sisal is very scratchy, and hard on the toes. And since it’s a dried grass fiber, it’s quite porous and absorbs liquid so it’s hard to clean spills and stains.

A sisal rug is a great layering piece (use it under a cowhide rug or a smaller patterned area rug) but I don’t recommend it on its own.

Avoid: Cotton

Surprising, right? Cotton seems like such a safe choice, and flatwoven cotton rugs are so darn chic (and affordable!). But here’s the thing: cotton absorbs stain stains like a sponge, and its fibers are actually quite fragile. So when a spill inevitably occurs, you can’t be too aggressive or you’ll actually damage the rug. So you get to choose between a stained rug or a damaged rug. Lame.

Cotton is shockingly impractical as an area rug. Even though there are plenty of beautiful cotton rugs out there, they’re not what I would gravitate towards for a rug choice.

A vintage area rug is the focal point in this living room rendering by Lesley Myrick Interior Design in Atlanta, Georgia.

The materials to avoid for rugs are viscose, sisal, and cotton. So, as an interior designer in Atlanta, what materials do I recommend for area rugs?

Choose: Wool

My favorite material for rugs is good, old-fashioned wool. It is durable and it’s beautiful. Wool rugs are made to last. (I mean, you can get vintage wool rugs that are 100 years old and they still hold up!) The downfall is that they can shed, and especially with a new wool rug, you’re going to be vacuuming that thing for months and months to take get rid of all the fibers that come loose. That’s a side effect I can live with for the cleanability and the durability, though.

In my own home, we have mostly wool rugs (even one in our dining room), and even with a seven and four-year-old around, our rugs still look awesome.

Choose: Nylon

If you’ve ever shopped for broadloom carpeting, you’ll see that many of the options out there are nylon. It’s a durable, good-looking fiber underfoot. While it’s not as plush or luxurious as some other materials, nylon area rugs are a practical choice.

Choose: Jute

You may have heard the terms “jute” and “sisal” used interchangeably, but they’re actually different fibers. Jute’s my winner because it’s a little softer than sisal, and that’s why I prefer it for indoor applications. It feels better under your tootsies. But, just like a sisal rug, jute can stain. (It’s a natural fiber, which is porus.) I recommend jute rugs in low-traffic areas or layered under another rug. Just like sisal, a jute rug looks awesome with a cowhide or small vintage rug layered on top.

Now, of course, these are not hard and fast rules; I have definitely sourced rugs with viscose or cotton even for myself. It’s just a matter of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each rug fiber so that you can make the right decision for your budget and lifestyle. (And psst: if you’re shopping for a new rug, we have some awesome options at The Rug Shop x Lesley Myrick Interior Design.)

Learn what materials are best for rugs - and what to avoid! - in this guide from Lesley Myrick Interior Design.