How to Choose an Area Rug
An area rug can transform a room in the time it takes to unroll it. Our guidelines will help you find the one that fits your space and avoid shopping snags.
When dressing up a room, don’t look to the furniture or the walls—look to the floor! Sometimes a rug is all you need. A rug can be the defining feature of a room or it can blend in and serve a function. No matter your reason for wanting a rug, there are a lot of questions to consider before buying an area rug. Read our all-encompassing guide below to make sure you’re buying the best rug for your space.
Types of Rugs
Knowing the lingo helps you shop smart. These terms refer to rug construction methods.
- Tufted: Pieces of yarn are punched through a backing then cut to create a smooth surface (called pile). Tufted rugs shed more than others.
- Hooked: Though similar to a tufted rug in that loops of yarn are pulled through a backing, the yarn isn’t cut, leaving a looped pile.
- Knotted: Pieces of yarn are tied, often by hand, to warp fibers on a loom. It’s the most labor-intensive way to make a rug.
- Braided: Lengths of fabric, yarn, or natural fibers are braided then sewn to one another.
- Flat-Woven: Often called kilims or dhurries, these are woven on a loom, either by hand or machine. There’s no backing, so they are lighter and reversible.
- Shag: Any tufted, woven, or knotted rug with a long, plush pile.
How Big Should My Rug Be?
Your furniture arrangement is as much a factor as room size. Let your room guide how to find the right rug size for your space.
- Living Room: You want either all the furniture to sit on top of the rug comfortably or all the front legs to be on the rug.
- Dining Room: Let the chairs guide you. The rug needs to be large enough that the chairs remain on it even when pushed back from the table.
- Bedroom: The rug should frame the bed. That means you need an 8×10 for a queen and 9×12 for a king. Front feet of bedside tables can sit on the edge.
What If I Love A Rug That's Too Small?
If a rug is too small, layer it. Because bigger often means more expensive, it can be tough to find the right rug in the right size (in your price range). So layer a small statement rug on top of a less-expensive one that covers more area. One popular combination is tight-weave jute or sisal (IKEA has them for less than $140) under a showpiece.
What If My Room Is Really Big?
A large, open space benefits from being broken up by two or more rugs. “A rug can make a declaration: The breakfast table is here. Come sit and socialize in this spot,” says Los Angeles-based designer Greg Roth of Home Front Build. If you choose to cover most of the floor, leave a bare border at the wall. A good rule is to stay 6 to 14 inches from the wall, sticking to the wider end of the range in a large room.
Rugs for High-Traffic Areas
In high-traffic areas and homes with kids or pets, area rugs can take a serious beating. Sound like your house? Consider these factors when buying a rug for a high-traffic area:
- Durability: Places like entries, staircases, and hallways call for a tight weave or high knot count (100 to 150 per square inch). Hand-tufted or hand-knotted rugs can handle the pressure. Or try nylon or micro-hooked wool. Avoid plant fibers (jute, hemp, sisal, bamboo) and silk because they break down easily.
- Cleanability: “Outdoor rugs look great, and you can take them outside and hose them off,” says L.A.-based interior designer Betsy Burnham. Look for one made from recycled polyester or polypropylene. If you prefer natural fibers, a wool rug with a busy pattern works, too. “I love using the Stark Antelope series. It’s totally neutral, and you can never find a stain,” says NYC designer Lilly Bunn.
Consider Area Rug Shapes
There's no ruling dictating that your area rug has to be a rectangle. Shop for area rugs in different shapes that complement your home's furniture and room.
- Furniture: A rug should echo the shape of the furniture that will sit on it. For example, a circular dining table pairs well with a round area rug. Use the same approach in the living room. If you have a rectangular furniture arrangement, “a rectangular rug that encompasses the entire grouping makes the most sense,” says designer Annie Sleek, founder of Dash & Albert.
- Room: Another strategy is to let the shape of your room dictate your pick. “If a room is narrow and long, avoid a circular (or square) rug. It will alienate the corners of a room,” says Bob Margies, director of installation for Merida Studio, maker of natural-fiber hand-finished rugs.
How to Clean an Area Rug
The work isn't over once you've decided on a rug shape and size. Area rugs can quickly become dirty, so it's important to learn how to keep them clean. Learn how to remove stains and clean an area rug.
- Remove rug stains: Melissa Maker, founder of the YouTube channel Clean My Space, suggests combining 2 parts hydrogen peroxide and 1-part liquid dish soap. Blot the stain with the mixture and allow it to penetrate. Pat with a paper towel to draw out the stain; flush with water. Repeat as needed. Make sure the rug is safe to spot-treat by testing a hidden area first.
- Eliminate rug odors: “A light sprinkling of baking soda—left for 30 minutes then vacuumed up—and elevating a rug outside on sawhorses or chairs on a sunny, breezy day work wonders,” says Jim French, director at Beauvais Carpets.
- Vacuum rugs: Rotate your rugs every so often to even out wear, and vacuum weekly without the brush bar.
- Refresh vintage rugs: Pro rug restorers like Detroit Rug Restoration will clean and disinfect your rug then ship it back to you.
You’ve heard the saying, It’s what’s on the inside that counts. When it comes to area rugs, what’s underneath them counts, too. We'll walk you through everything you need to know about rug pads, materials, and layering rugs.
Should I Buy a Natural Rug?
Synthetics are popular as affordable options, but designers say it’s hard to beat natural fibers. “Natural rugs last longer and wear better, so if they’re in your budget, they’re always a good idea,” says L.A.-based designer Melissa Warner Rothblum. Wool contains lanolin, a natural stain repellent that makes it one of the easiest fibers to clean.
What If I Have Carpet?
No worries! Area rugs work on top of wall-to-wall carpeting. London-based rug designer Luke Irwin says, “Carpeting needs rugs more than a wooden floor does. You have this ocean of beige that’s exhausting to look at.” Opt for tufted rugs—their weighty structure keeps them in place—or rugs with patterns that break up the monotony.
Do I Need a Rug Pad?
“You always need a rug pad. Rugs wear from the bottom up, so the pad is essential to protecting the fibers from constant abrasion,” Roth says. Rug pads also prevent slipping, add cushion, and stop the rug from rippling. Look for one that’s 1/4-inch-thick and 2 inches smaller than your rug on each side (so it won’t show).