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Carpet & rugs terminology

This sounds like a school class - but this is the one you don't want to miss. An educated buying decision translates into a buying success, and that is your goal. Certainly, understanding carpet and rug terminology is something you need for enjoyable, successful shopping.  And it is not as simple as it may seem at first.

Criteria for dividing rugs into certain groups are fairly arbitrary, and so is term interpretation. More often than not, area rug is a mixed bag of attributes relating to different color/pattern styles, construction types, materials, and so on. Going from one retailer to another, you can expect a bit of puzzle every now and then - where does the rug you're interested in actually belong to?

The very definition of a rug vs. carpet is fairly lose. In general, area rug is larger than a rug and neither, unlike carpet, covers the entire floor. Since carpets need to fit variable floor shapes, their pattern/theme content is much more limited. Good side of it is that it saves carpets from fairly confusing design-related terminology of area rugs. That leaves only construction method and materials to focus on.

Rug/carpet construction is a complex technique of putting it together, from securing the yarn, to dyeing and chemical treatments. Usually, it is a particular technic of structuring/securing the yarn that determines construction type. According to it, most rugs and carpets come as tufted or woven. Within each of these two basic construction types, there are more or less numerous variations in particular techniques used.

Things get more complicated when it comes to area rug design, which is based on its color/pattern attributes. Multiple interpretations possible are potentially confusing in trying to figure out what some of the basic rug properties are. For instance, rug attributes like "Oriental", "Persian" or "European" most often have nothing to do with where the rug comes from, or how it's been made. Rather, it is an attempt to classify it according to its dominant pattern characteristic. Or, plainly, according to what it looks like.

Likewise, "Traditional" area rugs should feature some traditional pattern form, although it may be - and most often will be - machine-made. And vice versa, "Contemporary", or "Modern" area rugs may be very traditionally hand-made.

 For instance, kilims were originally small hand-made flat-weave wool rugs with traditional tribal motifs. Nowadays, they can as well come as synthetic machine-tufted rugs of any size. There are many similar examples and, realistically, most of this kind of confusion with area rugs can't be avoided.

If the retailer can't figure out whether a rug is traditional or contemporary, it will likely be tossed into "Transitional" category.

In general, regardless of what a rug is called like, chances are, it is based primarily on rug's appearance, with other important aspects, such as construction type, or origin, varying widely. This gives one more reason to go beyond the formal rug attribute and focus on its actual physical properties: construction type - pile form, dyeing method, applied treatments - and materials it is made of.

Following rug and carpet glossary you may find helpful.


Abrash - small variations in color uniformity of handmade rugs; generally desirable

Acrylic - inexpensive synthetic fiber, inferior to nylon and olefin

Antimicrobial - chemically treated to reduce growth of bacteria and fungi

Antistatic - dissipating electrostatic charge bellow the level of human sensitivity

Appearance retention rating (APR) - wear resistance rating based on simulated foot traffic test; scales from 1 (most visible change) to 5 (no visible change), with rugs/carpets suitable for moderate traffic are rated 2-3, for heavy traffic 3-3.5 and for severe traffic 3.5-4.

Aubusson - originally flat-weave rugs from the 15th century France; nowadays often made as a pile rug

Axminster - machine-made rug or carpet with individually inserted pile tufts; this allows complex color patterns and designs, including Oriental

Backing - fabric or yarns serving as a foundation for the face fiber

Berber - naturally (undyed) looking  rug or carpet; originally made by North African Berber tribes from undyed wool

Bleeding - dissolving of fiber dyes in a liquid

Bonded - or "fusion bonded" carpet, with tufts planted into a vinyl backing; has impermeable backing with better tuft lock than any other construction type

Braided - usually circular/oval rugs made of braided yarns

Broadloom - carpet wider than 6 feet

Brocade - flat-weave rug variation, in which additional colored weft strands are added over existing warp and weft structure

Chenille - luxurious pile fabric

Color fastness - color retention ability, usually with reference to specific color threats (light fastness, wash fastness)

Construction - production method

Cotton - soft natural plant fiber, inferior to wool and sisal or hemp

Crocking - excessive dye rubbing-off, due to improper application

Curvilinear - with smooth curved patterns

Cushion - also "pad" or "underlay", shock-absorbing material placed underneath a rug, or carpet

Delamination - separation of the secondary and primary backing

Density - individual fiber count per unit of rug/carpet area indicator; obtained from the pile yarn weight, or "face weight" (in ounces per sq. yard) divided by pile height (in inches)

Dry rot - fiber deterioration caused by microorganisms; untreated natural fiber is especially susceptible

Dyeing - adding colors to rug/carpet fiber, yarn or fabric; face fiber dyeing can be done before yarn is spun (solution or stock dyeing), after it (skein, package or space dyeing) and after rug/carpet is put together (piece and continuous dyeing, printing)

Fading - loss of color due to the effects of light, gases (ozone, nitric oxide, hydrogen sulfide) or chemicals (cleaners, bleach, chlorine)

Faux silk - artificial silk

Flatwoven - rugs with the yarn woven through and along the warps

Flokati - traditional hand-woven Greek rugs

Frisι (free-zay) - carpet with very tightly twisted pile, giving to it a nubby/curled appearance

Gauge - separation between two neighboring tufting needles in inches; the smaller the gauge, the more dense the rug/carpet; quality units need to have 1/8 gauge of or smaller

Heat setting - strengthening of (usually carpet) yarn by exposure to heat

Hooked - made by pulling yarns through a backing

Jute - natural fiber often used for rug/carpet backing material

Kilim - originally small flat woven tribal or village rugs from east-central Asia

Knitted - machine woven hooked carpet

Knot count - number of knots per square inch

Knotted - usually high-quality handmade woven rug made by tying each individual yarn tuft to the warp strand

Latex - synthetic emulsion used in rug/carpet adhesives

Matting - apparent rug/carpet pile crush caused by foot traffic

Medallion - large central ornament often featured on traditional oriental and European rugs

Nylon -strong, resilient synthetic fiber; the two types used for most commercial carpets are 6 and 6.6; branded nylons have their properties specified by the manufacturer, unlike unbranded varieties

Olefin (polypropylene) - strong synthetic fiber with very good chemical properties and low resilience

Pad - also "cushion" or "underlay", shock-absorbing material placed underneath a rug, or carpet

Pile - also, "face"; top surface of a carpet or rug

Pilling - formation of small lumps of entangled fibers on the rug/carpet surface, as a result of use

Pitch - length between two neighboring stitches in woven rugs/carpets; expressed as a number of yarn ends in a 27-inch width

Plush - cut pile with yarn ends blending together

Polyester - synthetic fiber similar to olefin

Polypropylene - olefin

Resilience - the ability of the face fiber to regain the original thickness after being subjected to compression force

Runner - long narrow rug up to 3 feet wide

Saxony - cut pile rug/carpet with heat set pile yarn, forming vertical tufts with well defined tuft tip

Sculptured - with a pattern created by uneven pile height

Shag - long pile rugs with lose end pile tufts

Sisal - strong natural plant fiber used as rug face fiber

Soil resistant - chemically treated to minimize soiling of the face fiber

Soumak - flat weave rug variety with knot-free weaving technique

Sprouting - protrusion of individual tuft yarns above the pile surface

Stain resistant - fiber (usually nylon for residential purposes) chemically treated to minimize adhering of food colors

Static - build up of electrostatic charge in a rug/carpet exposed to traffic

Tapestry - flat weave rug with intricate color/pattern details

Tuft bind - force required to pull a tuft out of backing, with the minimum from 10 to 3 pounds of single pull force for loop and cut pile, respectively

Tufted - made on machine with needles inserting pile yarn into a backing; most economical serial rug/carpet production method

Twist - number of yarn twists per inch of pile yarn length; usually in the 3-5 range

Underlay - also "cushion" or "pad", shock-absorbing material placed underneath a rug, or carpet

Velvet carpet - woven on velvet loom, typically in solid colors

Warp - length-wise running yarn in woven rug/carpets, interlacing with weft yarns

Wool - strong natural fiber of animal origin; the oldest , most luxurious after silk rug face fiber material

Watermark - irreversible shading of large rug/carpet pile areas, due to different yarn fiber orientations; not a manufacturing defect

Weft - width-wise running yarn in woven rug/carpets, interlacing with warp yarns

Wilton - produced on Wilton loom, with limited color palette, but often with intricately textured or sculptured pile; complex color patterns are possible in Wilton cross-weave

Woven - rug or carpet created by interlacing wefts and warps into a unified backing/pile structure

Yarn - strand of fibers used for rug/carpet production



Construction - Simply put, rug or carpet construction is a particular way of putting it together. Whether produced by hand, or by machine, they are made in a certain way. This includes all that is done to come up with a finished product: from tufting or weaving the yarn to dyeing and applying chemical or other treatments...

Materials - Nearly all of materials used for rug and carpet construction are in their face-fiber and backing. It is usually the face-fiber material that gets most of attention and consideration. This is because the rug/carpet fiber forming its face is most exposed, both, visually and physically. Hence it is the main determinant of appearance quality and retention...

Environmental effect - Most materials, natural or synthetic, have some environmental impact, and those used for carpets and rugs are no exception. Health hazard comes mainly from rug and carpet being outgassing potentially toxic fumes, as well as from rug and carpet mold (mildew) infestation...

Label and warranty - Rug/carpet label and its warranty can give important information and indications in regard to its quality level. Getting familiar with their contents is time well spent. Here's what you should look for...

Area rug size and shape - In somewhat different ways, area rug size and shape have both, functional and aesthetic aspect. At first, one would say that area rug's size is pretty much determined by dimensions of the space it is intended to. In reality, the decision on how large area rug will be, and whether it is to be square, round or of some other shape, should come after careful consideration of not only room's size and geometry, but also typical traffic patterns, form and arrangement of other objects and decor elements present, as well as the intended use of the room, or space...

Colors and Patterns - Color of your rug, or carpet, creates certain visual effect, emotion, and an atmosphere. Individual perceptions vary, but most of us will be affected similarly. Here's a brief overview of what are out typical responses to colors and patterns. It may help you decide what rug color and pattern type is best for your room...

Design style - Possible variations in the visual characteristics of the rug/carpet face - its design - are literally countless. They come from visual rug/carpet attributes created by both, fiber coloration, and its dimensional appearance. Luckily, all this immense variety is being channeled, fairly efficiently, into a few main classifications...

Carpet and rug buying checklist - The two main aspects of every rug or carpet are (1) its aesthetics and (2) practicality. Once you find the one that has the right looks, the next step is to check out how appropriate are its materials and construction type to its intended use. In other words, what is its quality level. The following checklist will help you figure that out...

Rug and carpet care tips - From the moment a new rug or carpet enters your home, certain steps and procedures should be followed to ensure its functionality and appearance retention. They are related to placement and installation, as well as carpet or rug care and maintenance. Here are the main pointers.

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