How to Buy an Area Rug

A guide to choosing the right size, material, and construction for your space.

A great rug adds more to a space than just color, pattern, or texture. Visually, it helps to ground furniture and define a space; functionally, it protects floors, absorbs noise, and provides plush padding underfoot. Want to get the most from your rug purchase? Consider both the style and the purpose of your space. Let this area-rug buying guide serve as your starting point.

1. Get the size right. 

The "right" size of your rug is determined by several factors: the overall dimensions of the room, the furniture you'll be placing in it, the function of the space, and the look you're trying to achieve. Here are some rules of thumb that will help you choose the right size.

Living Area

In a living space, a rug should be centered under your coffee table and chosen with the furniture arrangement in mind. Living room seating can be positioned in a number of ways: with four legs on the rug, with four legs off of the rug, or with only the front two legs on the rug. Good design dictates a uniform choice, so if only the front legs of your sofa rest on the area rug, the same should go for the armchair, too. Typically, living area rugs are 5x8, 8x10, or 9x12 feet.

A common mistake is buying a too-sm
all rug, so if you’re unsure, err on the larger side. One or two more feet of floor coverage can mean the difference between a room that feels haphazardly put together and a space that feels thoughtfully designed and tailored to the layout.

Dining Room

No matter what, choose a rug that’s larger than the size of your table. To prevent chairs from rocking on an uneven surface, the area rug under your dining table should be big enough to account for the distance that dining chairs get pushed back from the table when people sit or stand. To find the ideal size, add 36 inches to both the length and width of your table (or 36 inches to the diameter if it’s round).


Give your feet a soft surface to land on every morning by choosing an area rug that extends 18 to 24 inches beyond each side of the bed. If your bed is flanked by nightstands, measure the distance from outer edge to edge of both nightstands, and use this width as your guide. When determining the length of the rug, account for any furniture (like a bench or pair of ottomans) at the foot of the bed: All four legs of the piece should either fit on or off the rug.

2. Know your weaves. 

The weave of your rug will determine everything from how it feels underfoot to how it wears over time. Below is a roundup of the most common rug weaving techniques, and the pros and cons of each.


 This is a time-tested, time-intensive manufacturing technique in which rug fibers are tied by hand on a loom. The meticulous process results in heirloom quality and built-to-last construction, but expect a higher price point to match. Hand-knotted rugs make a great choice for any area of the home. 


Tufted rugs are created by cutting off the tops of loops of yarn to create a flat, plush surface; the tufted pile is attached to a latex backing. These rugs are a budget-friendly alternative to a hand-knotted rug and come in a wide variety of styles, but take note: tufted rugs are prone to shedding (especially when you first unroll them), and they may require regular vacuuming.  


Hooked rugs are made the same manner as tufted ones, but the yarn loops are left intact instead of being sheared off. This creates a nubby, textured quality. Hooked rugs are less prone to shedding than tufted styles.  

Flatwoven, a.k.a dhurrie

Both terms refer to a style of mat-like rugs without pile. Flatweaves come in a variety of materials (wool, cotton, and synthetics are common) and are very durable, but they don't come on any sort of backing, so a rug pad is highly recommended. Since flatweave rugs are reversible (the pattern is visible on both sides, so you can flip them if one side gets dingy), they work especially well in high-traffic areas like entryways, family rooms, and playrooms.  


Machine-made rugs, which can include everything from cut-pile styles to flokati rugs and faux hides, are woven on power looms. Since these looms are computer-driven, machine-made rugs can offer a low price point, elaborate patterns, and consistent quality. Because most are made with synthetic fibers, they typically offer great stain resistance.To prevent crushing the pile, use machine-made rugs under dining tables, in bedrooms, or in other areas of the home with low foot traffic.  

3. Know your materials. 

Rug materials offer different levels of softness, stain resistance, durability, and price. Consider these tips when making a purchase.


Wool is the most common fiber used in rug construction. It’s durable, affordable, soft, and naturally stain resistant. Wool rugs also have good heat retention and insulation properties. In tufted constructions, wool rugs are prone to shedding, and may require regular vacuuming. Not up for weekly vacuum sessions? A looped-fiber rug essentially hides the tops of the fibers, resulting in less wear and tear and far less shedding.


Cotton rugs are versatile, low-maintenance, and easy to clean. Cotton is far less likely to shed than wool, but tends to be less durable than wool, too. Since they’re usually machine-washable, cotton rugs make a great choice for the kitchen.


Silk rugs are a luxurious choice, offering natural sheen and softness that makes them perfect for the bedroom. Silk rugs are more delicate than wool and cotton versions, sensitive to moisture, and generally more expensive than other materials. More affordable alternatives to genuine silk include bamboo, banana silk, and viscose (sometimes called art silk), all of which offer a similar luster for a fraction of the price.

Natural Fibers

Natural-fiber rugs are created from materials like jute, sisal, bamboo and sea grass. They’re most often used for flatweave or braided rugs. Natural fibers are eco-friendly and among the most affordable for rug construction. Jute and sisal can possess a scratchy texture that can feel rough underfoot, while sea grass and bamboo are smoother. Natural fiber rugs work best in dry rooms where there is low likelihood they will be stained, as they can be difficult to clean.


Polypropylene and other synthetic fibers are often used to make indoor/outdoor rugs. The benefits of synthetic fibers are many, including superior stain blocking, easy care, and resistance to fading, making them an ideal choice for functional areas like entryways, hallways, or patios. In addition to polypropylene, polyester is one of the most common synthetic materials for these durable rugs.

4. Take care of your area rug.

Regardless of the type of rug you decide on, following a few important care guidelines will ensure your purchase lasts.

Rotate It

Once a year, turn your rug 180 degrees. This will help prevent certain spots from fading or wearing more than others.  

Vacuum with Care

Today’s powerful vacuums will easily remove dirt and dust from a rug, but they can just as easily loosen or tear rug fibers. To preserve your area rug, use vacuum attachments, which are gentler, especially around the binding or serging at the rug's outer edges. Alternately, try a carpet sweeper, which is manual and very gentle. Keep in mind that for the first few months after you set down a new rug, some shedding is normal and not a cause for concern.  

Read the Label

Some rugs are machine-washable, but many are not. Before tossing your rug in the wash or bringing it to a dry cleaner, refer to the care instructions on the label.  

Spot Clean the Right Way

A rug will warrant a professional cleaning once every one to two years. In between, spot cleaning is the best way to minimize stains. Though the exact cleaning process may vary depending on the type of rug and source of the stain, this method is safe and effective for most rugs: blot the stain (never rub it!) with a dry white cloth on both sides, spray or dab it with water, and repeat this process until the stain fades.  

Use a Rug Pad

Not only will a rug pad provide extra padding and prevent slips, it can also help extend the life of your rug. By keeping the rug in one place, the pad reduces friction between the bottom of the rug and the floor.  

Ready to ground your home in style?