How to choose the perfect rug


I recently bought a new rug for my living room. While the process is fresh in my mind, I wanted to share some of what I learned along the way.

Choosing the perfect rug for your room is a daunting task, but armed with a little knowledge the process can be quite fun. A rug really sets the room’s style and defines the space. If you are decorating a room from scratch, start with the rug. Find a rug you love and choose wall colors, furniture, and curtains based on your choice. If you are buying a new rug for an already-furnished space, plan to do lots of measuring and contemplating about exactly what style you’d like the room to have. Do you want to introduce some new colors, or base your choice on colors you already have? Keep your current style, or take your room in a new direction?

The first step in rug shopping is to determine the size you want before you even bother looking at options. My best advice: go big. Purchase the biggest rug your space and budget can handle. I believe a slightly lesser quality rug in the correct size trumps a more expensive but too small choice. Obviously we’d all like a 9×12 hand-knotted wool rug, but many of us don’t have $5,000+ to splurge. Therefore, we need to make compromises. Don’t let size be your compromise. In a living room, you need at least an 8×10. I know the 5x7s are so much cheaper but they will not fully define the seating area and will likely make your room feel smaller. Here is an example of a rug that is too small.


(That is my living room right after we moved in. Admittedly the only thing this decor has going for it is the dear, sweet miniature schnauzer. I miss that guy!)

Try to get all the furniture legs on the rug, or at least the front two legs. Tape off the perfect size on your floor with painter’s tape and measure. When you begin your search, you’ll see variations on the approximate sizes of 8×10 and 9×12. I ended up with an 8.6′ x 11.6′. I knew I needed at least 8.6′ for the width and anything from 10′-12′ for length. Be very picky about size! I ruled many rugs out because they were just six inches too small in either the width or length.

Wool is the classic choice. Wool is naturally water repellent, flame retardant, warm, and holds up well to busy life. The cons are that wool sheds, can fade in direct sunlight, and can’t be steam-cleaned the way synthetics can. Wool is also the more expensive choice. Additionally, some people are allergic to wool.

There are some beautiful synthetic rugs on the market. Synthetic rug materials include polyester, nylon, polypropylene, and olefin.  The pros are that synthetics do not usually shed, do not fade in sunlight, and can usually be steam cleaned or even hosed off. The cons are that they are petroleum products (plastics), are shinier, might smell bad, and likely do not hold up as well. I believe synthetics can get fuzzy and matted much easier than wool and begin to look worn quickly. Admittedly I have never owned a synthetic rug, so I do not have first-hand experience.

Tufted wool rug from Rugs USA

Another option is cotton. I really like some of the loom-hooked cotton rugs sold by Hook & Loom, and I am considering one for my boys’ room.

I find it helpful to know generally what style I am looking for before I shop. Patterned or solid? Contemporary or traditional? Do you want a border and/or a center medallion? If you want a pattern, do you want a floral or a geometric? Do you want to introduce a new color, or go for a more tonal and subtle look based on the colors of your other furnishings? Consider that the rug really sets the mood for the rest of the room because it takes up so much visual space. In my living room, I knew I wanted to change the style of my space from casual-modern to more glam and traditional. The rug was the key player!

Look at pictures online to narrow down what look you are going for. The same furnishings could potentially look fabulous with a cream colored modern shag or a traditional Persian carpet, but the choice will define your style and set the tone for the space.

Looped pile rug from Overstock

Hand-knotted is the longest lasting and highest quality choice. If your budget is unlimited, go with a hand-knotted wool rug. It will outlast you, and doesn’t contain any latex glue or backing to degrade over time.

When I was looking I saw some really nice machine-loomed wool rugs. These rugs had many of the benefits of the hand-knotted ones (latex-free, long lasting), but were a more affordable choice.

Tufted rugs are less expensive and use a latex glue to hold the pile in place. The backing is generally a cotton canvas.

I ended up with a tufted rug because I got an exceptional deal, and I wanted a really plush surface for the kids to sit and play on. I also liked that the tufted rugs do not really need a rug pad as all the other types do. A tufted wool rug is more affordable than the other styles of wool rugs, but more expensive than a synthetic rug. They are sort of the middle of the road choice. I am OK with the possibility that this rug may only last 5-10 years.

Flatwoven rugs may also work for you. In some cases they are reversible which potentially doubles the life of the rug. They definitely require a rug pad and may not provide a plush enough surface for your needs.

Flatwoven rug with pad from Ikea

The pile is either flatwoven, looped, or cut. Some rugs are a mix of cut and looped pile. I noticed that a looped pile allows for some more intricate designs and harder-edged patterns. I really loved some of the looped pile options I looked at, but ultimately I chose cut pile because it is less likely to snag or come undone, and it is easier to clean. Loops can get matted down and snag on pet toenails or from busy children’s play. Also, I noticed many of the looped pile rugs were more casual and often had a more country or rustic feel to them. Just something to keep in mind.

A high, thick pile will be hard to keep clean. Take it from me; only go with the long shags or huge felted wool piles if you are a pet-free, child-free household with a strict no shoes policy and a love affair with your vacuum. Deep shags and sweater rugs are lovely to sit on and feel great on bare feet, but are a pain to keep clean. If you have dust or pollen allergies, forget the dense piles altogether.

Finally, be open to surprises. The rug I decided on is not what I would have initially pictured, but once I found it I knew it was “the one.” It was the size, material, construction, and style I was looking for, but the color and pattern were surprises! I say let yourself slip on one of your criteria (not size though!); don’t be too rigid. Maybe you have your heart set on a borderless country looped pile, but you fall in love with a more traditional cut pile rug with a center medallion and border. If the size and material are right, take a risk and go for it.


4 thoughts on “How to choose the perfect rug

  1. Lots of good info in this post, thanks for sharing! Do you have a picture of your living room with the one you picked? I’d love to see what you decided on after all that research!

    1. Thank you. I will be posting pictures soon with the new rug. I’ve been waiting for the light to be right for good photos and we’ve just had too much rain and gloom here in Portland. Stay tuned for the big “reveal!” Thanks for reading.

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