As I browsed a popular chain-store not long ago, I noticed that area rugs have made a dramatic shift in composition compared to a few short years ago. Since my livelihood is based on having an intimate knowledge of the flooring products that I suggest to my clients, I always read labels… especially on deals that seem to good to be true. And as I browsed through the offering of area rugs in the chain-store, I noticed that almost all the rugs were made of polypropylene or it’s very close cousin, olefin. I am a firm believer in consumers being well informed and getting a good value for their money. So I seek here to give a fair comparison of this fiber against what is clearly a better fiber for your interior home decor needs.
Let me start out with the good qualities of polypropylene and olefin. This fiber is a fairly strong man-made fiber that is well suited to mats and runners that may be used at entrances or patios or even outdoors, if properly treated for UV protection. In the past you would almost always find this type of fiber in a low profile, very tight loop style rug, and that is what it is best suited for. Many light to medium duty commercial carpets are made of this fiber (always in loop form). This fiber is usually extruded to the color that it will be (not dyed after extrusion), so it tends to hold it’s color well and can be used in intricate designs. This fiber is also resistant to most types of stains, and cleans up well (in tight loop form). Many manufacturers of area rugs choose this fiber because it is cheaper than other fibers and they can pass the savings on to the consumer.
Now let me point out the not so good qualities of this fiber. This fiber is a man-made synthetic fiber that is petroleum based (not very “green” or environmentally friendly. Although it is a good indoor-outdoor type of fiber in tight looped form, it is basically useless in any other form. In a cut-pile or plush rug it has a bad reputation of matting and crushing very quickly, so even though the fiber is not wearing out, it begins to look very ugly pretty fast. Although it holds color well and resists many types of stains, it tends to hang on to stains that are oily or greasy (even the body oils from the bottom of your feet and your pet’s feet). In other words, it does not clean that well in a cut pile or plush style. So basically, if manufactured in anything other than tightly looped form, you end up with a brightly colored, greasy, oily, matted and crushed rug that looks like it has been there for years instead of months. Lastly, since it is the cheapest fiber that manufacturers use, it is not the greatest value. I have also noticed a shift in the major brand name rug and carpet manufacturers, they are also using polypropylene and olefin in their latest generation of area rugs, so just because it may have a good brand name it does not mean you will get a good quality area rug. If you want a cheap, disposable mat or runner that will end up in a landfill sooner than later, then this is the rug to buy. If you are going to buy a synthetic fiber area rug, at least make certain it is nylon or man-made silk. It will wear better and last longer.
If you need a Fine Quality Area Rug for interior design or home decor, the absolute best fibers are silk and wool. Silk costs more and requires professional maintenance, so that leaves us with wool. Wool is a natural fiber that has better resistance to matting, crushing, fading and is a natural for built in stain protection (you can spray a fine mist of stain-protector straight from the can for even greater protection). It does not soil as easily as other fibers, and will not mat and crush for many, many years. Some wool rugs are even passed down from one generation to another; if well maintained. Wool area rugs are not that much more money than a nylon rug (as a machine made product. Hand-made will cost you more). Value per dollar is greatly increased by choosing a timeless pattern with wool fiber.