In the land of rugs, fiber is king—and wool rules them all.
Great fiber leads to top-notch quality and lasting durability. If you’re skeptical, imagine stumbling across a vintage rug made of a synthetic fiber. You won’t—and the reason is that they simply don’t last. Even if you laboriously hand-knotted a rug using nylon or polypropylene it wouldn’t stand the test of time. We can send a man to Mars, but we have yet to create a synthetic rug fiber that can rival wool’s ideal combination of form and function.
There are four major characteristics that crown wool king of the rug fibers: it’s durable, has a natural spring, is soft to the touch, and boasts inherent resistance to stains. In addition, it’s fire-retardant, water repellant, and mildew resistant. You really have to consider all of the characteristics of wool in the same breath to see how wool trumps the rug world.
My clients sometimes say, I don’t want a rug that will stain. So they look into a synthetic option. For example, polypropylene behaves like plastic and does not absorb anything. But polypropylene lacks (among other things) the spring of a wool fiber. What you get in a material impervious to spills is also 100% guaranteed to “ugly out.” And this can happen fast.
Let me explain. The face of a rug is made up of a forest of little fibers. After a period of time, when enough people, pets, furniture, etc. have traveled across the rug face, synthetic fibers will refuse to bounce back. Thus, they stay flat, or in the industry parlance, they “ugly out.”
Polypropylene can do this in a matter of months. But even a very springy synthetic fiber like nylon is going to eventually going to stop lifting back up. At that point, a few things happen. First, the pattern begins to distort. Second, the fiber yarns start to fray apart. Once the yarns are untwisted, individual fibers can start to matte together. Think early morning hair left uncombed...now multiply that by time. In a rug, that’s two words.
This brings me back to wool, and one of the many reasons it’s awesome. Wool is incredibly strong. The spring is undying—even after decades, or 100s years, it keeps right on springing back. That’s why you can find a semi-antique (50 years or older) or even antique (100 years or older) wool rug, and it will still be good looking enough to plop down in your living room. It’s that life span that makes wool rugs an incredibly green choice, rather than disposable products that end up—not in your living room—but in the closest landfill.
Pazyryk carpet, 5th century BC. Discovered in Pazyryk, Siberia.
It’s pretty amazing, really. If we just wanted a fiber that would keep it’s shape and lift back into place after years and years of wear, surely we could use something like a steel wire to construct rug faces. But springability and pattern retention are just one piece of the puzzle. We want rugs that are soft. Cotton is a natural, renewable fiber that is soft but it easily stains, lacks durability and doesn’t spring back into place. You really have to look at the whole picture: wool knocks those criteria out of the park.
Even though wool isn’t impervious to stains, it is naturally resistant to soiling—and quite quick and easy to clean up. (Think about sheep, built to survive multiple climates!) If your toddler, say, upends a cup of orange juice right onto your wool rug, you might notice (if you decided to stand idly by) that the fiber doesn’t drink it up right away. The key is to blot up the spill, more on that later.
If you lay a wool rug down next to a synthetic polypropylene rug, you are going to notice a huge difference in the way the two rugs handle even dust and things like pet fur. The polypropylene attracts dust and pet fur like a magnet. And it will start to collect on the face of the rug like a haze, which shows up especially well on darker rugs, turning it into a lighter rug, why, the color of your pet! White cat owners beware.
Wool doesn’t grab hold of lent or pet fur like polypropylene. Instead, it settles on the surface. If left unvacuumed, fur and lent will clump up into little balls, ready to be vacuumed away; that is, when you get around to it.
All in all, wool is the go-to rug fiber, forming a beautiful product made to perform and last. Ready to browse a few wool rug options? 90% of our rugs are made from wool. Check out our entire rug collection here.