Don't buy a new rug without doing these things first

The most beautiful part of the room can be underfoot.

Credit: Getty Images / delihayat
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Next to choosing a wall color, adding a rug can make the biggest impact in the look of a room. In fact, some home designers even say that good design starts with the rug. There are literally millions of choices of patterns and colors, so there’s something for everyone. A rug is an entirely personal choice, but if you take some time to understand your budget and your personal aesthetic, you can choose one that will make you and your room happy for a long time.

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Here are some things to do before buying an area rug for your home:

Choose color carefully

Color is one of the first decisions you should make before purchasing an area rug. Add a seafoam-colored rug to a plain room and you've elevated the design.

Choosing a color for your rug is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Opt for color contrast or a monochromatic look, and know that you may not be able to find a rug that matches the exact color of your walls or upholstery because every material absorbs dye differently. It may be easier to find a neutral rug you like and bring in a pop of color elsewhere in the room. As for choosing the type of dye, understand that natural dyes tend to hold on better, especially when exposed to light, while chemical dyes can fade more easily and sometimes look harsh.

Measure the room

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Credit: Getty Images / yipengge

It's important to choose a rug that's the right size for the room. Measure the room and the rug before you buy. It's better to buy a larger rug than a smaller one, but always leave a foot of floor space around the carpet.


A rug defines space in a room. You can use it to frame the room or to create a smaller conversation area. Whatever size rug you buy, it should have at least a foot of floor space showing all around it. You don’t want your beautiful area rug to look like wall-to-wall carpeting.

A larger rug can actually make a small room look more expansive.

Depending on the size of the rug, there are two main ways to arrange your furniture on it: all legs on or all legs off. (We mean the furniture legs, not yours.) Sometimes, you might see a room that has the front legs of every chair and couch on the rug and the rear legs on the floor. It’s not the ideal setup, but you might have to try it if the rug’s size is crowding the furniture.

A rug that is too small to anchor the space can look like it’s floating in the center of the room, unrelated to anything else. If you have a choice, go bigger. A larger rug can actually make a small room look more expansive because it helps the eye travel smoothly around the area. It’s also fine to use more than one rug in a larger space to help divide the room into separate areas, something that works well for open concept designs. They don’t have to be identical, but they should coordinate.

Look at older rugs

antique-rug
Credit: Getty Images / SafakOguz

A vintage rug can be a better deal than a new one and the worn texture can be interesting.


Don’t discount vintage rugs in your search. Their natural dyes can remain bright and beautiful for many years, and some wear and tear can add to the beauty of the piece. Watch out for fraying along the edges, though. You don’t want to spend a lot of money only to have your rug unravel quickly. It’s OK to buy a frayed rug—just don’t expect it to last forever.

Choose a fiber

Each rug fiber has advantages and disadvantages, and your budget plays a large role in determining your choice of material. No fiber is ideal for every home, so consider the appearance, comfort, stain resistance, and durability based on your needs. These are the fibers you’re most likely to encounter in your search:

Wool

A wool rug like this one could be perfect for a baby's room. It's soft and resists stains. This simple, modern design is a collaboration between retailers West Elm and Pottery Barn Kids.

Soft, durable, and resilient, wool is naturally stain-resistant, so it works as well under the dining room table as it does beside your bed. Wool is also self-extinguishing. You will almost always spend more money on a wool rug than on a synthetic one of the same size, but wool’s longevity means that it will be worth the investment.

Silk

Wayfair-silk-rug
Credit: Wayfair

Silk rugs tend to be pricey but they have a sheen that gives them a high-end look.

Silk feels amazing underfoot, so it’s a great floor covering for a home where everyone walks barefoot. A silk rug has a high sheen to it, which gives it a premium look. Of course, silk also tends to show footprints and vacuum cleaner marks, but silk’s main disadvantage is its high price.

Cotton

chindi-cotton-rug
Credit: Rugs.com

Cotton rugs are usually inexpensive compared to other fibers. They absorb water, so you can use them in the kitchen or bathroom.

Cotton rugs are usually casual and affordable. Think of a rag rug or woven mat for your kitchen or bathroom. Cotton lacks resilience, but it’s absorbent and a lot less expensive than most other fibers.

Other natural fibers

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Credit: Getty Images / irina88w

A natural fiber rug made of sisal has an organic texture that adds interest to this dining room. Because it feels rough, you might not want to step on it with bare feet, but it could be ideally placed under your dining table.

Materials like sisal, jute, and seagrass are inexpensive, tough, and long-lasting, but their visually interesting textures can be uncomfortable on bare feet. You’ll do better choosing one of these rugs for the foyer or dining room rather than in the bedroom. Or you can layer a patterned wool rug over a fibrous rug, leaving a border around the edge for a shabby-chic look.

Viscose

RugsUSA-Nirvana-viscose-rug
Credit: RugsUSA

A viscose rug like this one from RugsUSA can resemble silk. These types of rugs may need frequent vacuuming since they shed a lot.

You’ll see a lot of inexpensive viscose (also known as rayon) rugs on the market, and they are tempting because this fiber can resemble silk. But the main problem with viscose is that water stains it yellow. If you live someplace with a lot of rain or snow, water may get tracked onto it, making staining inevitable. Viscose rugs can also shed a lot, so don’t buy one unless you have a good vacuum cleaner.

Polypropylene

Safavieh-polypropylene-rugs
Credit: Safavieh

This polypropylene rug works just as well outdoors as it does indoors. The blue stripes add a nautical vibe to your patio, while the neutral colorway can coordinate with almost any room in the house.

A synthetic fiber, polypropylene (olefin) can resemble wool, and it resists stains, but it won’t stand up to heavy foot traffic as well as a wool rug can. Polypropylene rugs can also carry a “plastic” smell. You might want to air out this kind of rug for a few days to reduce the odor before you lay it down in a room. Some polypropylene rugs are equally suited to indoor or outdoor use.

Nylon

Overstock-nylon-rug
Credit: Overstock

Nylon is a hard-working and durable fiber that can be dyed in bright colors. When it gets dirty, feel free to clean it with chlorine bleach.

Nylon is the strongest and most popular carpet fiber. Another synthetic, it is extremely durable, so it works for high-traffic spaces like kids’ rooms. Nylon takes dye well, so you can find nylon rugs in a wide variety of colors. And they’re so colorfast that you can clean them with chlorine bleach.

Pick a pad

A rug pad with a good grip makes a rug safer and more comfortable to walk on.

The pad is a separate layer that sits between the rug and the floor. Often, you buy it at the same time you buy the rug. It’s important to place a pad under every rug in your home to protect the rug, the floor, and the family. Padding makes the rug more slip-resistant and more comfortable to walk on, adding a plush, secure feeling. A rug without a pad can be a safety issue. The pad keeps the rug stable when you walk on it and helps it stick to the floor when you vacuum.

Here’s what you should consider when purchasing a rug pad:

Size

Your pad should match the size of your rug. If the rug is an unusual size or isn’t rectangular, you can use scissors to trim off any part of the pad that shows beyond the edge.

Thickness

Grip pads can work well with outdoor rugs because they don’t pull moisture in, and you may have to use them indoors where a thick pad will prevent a door from opening easily over the rug. In general, thicker pads are more comfortable to walk on and they help protect your rug from stretching and wear. As with the purchase of the rug, use your budget as a guideline for the thickness of the pad.

Memory-foam-cloud-comfort-rug-pad
Credit: Rugpadusa.com

A thicker rug pad is more comfortable to walk on. The Cloud Comfort memory foam rug pads come in 1/4-inch and 7/16-inch thicknesses.

Type of rug and floor

For natural fiber rugs like jute and sisal, make sure you choose a thick pad to protect the floor underneath. (Note that even a very soft rug can have jute backing.) If you plan to lay the rug over hardwood or another smooth flooring, a pad made from a combination of felt and rubber pad will keep the rug from sliding.

Think about the quality

When it comes to rugs and pads, you get what you pay for. Rugs that are hand-knotted take a long time to complete, and you pay plenty for that. More knots per inch means a better quality rug, so if you’re interested in top quality, ask before you buy. But a rug doesn’t have to be expensive to be attractive. Choose a rug based on how and where you’ll use it and buy a pad that protects the rug and the floor while minimizing the chance of slipping. Buy the right combination and you’ll enjoy the feeling underfoot every day.

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Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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