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by Sandy Wong August 24, 2019 6 min read
Wool has been used in rug making for centuries and remains the most popular choice in the rug industry today. Using cotton in rug making is only a 20th century thing and has been gaining traction in recent years due to its easy-to-clean properties. So which one should you choose for your home? They are both natural materials, so you honestly can't go wrong with either. However, depending on your lifestyle and the amount of traffic the rug will be getting, you might prefer one over the other.
In this article, we will be doing a side by side comparison of the two materials and honing in on these five areas that we think are important when shopping for an area rug:
Let's get started!
Cotton is a natural fibre derived from the cotton plant. Wool is a natural fibre derived from sheep. Both are renewable, biodegradable and contains no harmful off-gassing chemicals.
When it comes down to the fibre content, cotton is a more light weight fibre than wool. You can easily pick up a cotton rug and give it a good shake over the balcony but try doing this with a wool rug and you'll find yourself breaking a sweat.
Since cotton fibres are less dense than wool, it also makes it more absorbent to liquids. When you spill liquid onto a cotton rug, the liquid gets absorbed right away whereas liquid on a wool rug might pool on top of the rug but won't penetrate.
The dense quality in wool also makes it a great sound barrier to keep noise out, making it a popular choice for baby nurseries and kid's rooms.
The best part about cotton rugs is how easy it is to clean and maintain. It is a light weight material and therefore, often times as mentioned, you just need to bring it outside and give it a good shake. You don't even need a vacuum cleaner! And most of the cotton rugs we carry in our store are also machine washable in a domestic washer. For heavier spills, simply throw the whole thing into the wash on a gentle cycle and it comes out new again. There is no need to bring it to a professional rug cleaner that easily charges a couple hundred dollars to clean a wool rug.
So what is wool's saving grace when it comes to maintenance and cleaning? A substance called lanolin that is a natural stain resistant found in wool. This coating helps stop dirt and stains from penetrating the wool. Regular vacuuming to avoid build up of dust and debris that can get trapped in its pile is usually enough to keep the rug looking new for many many years.
The challenge with wool rugs only arise when you get a heavy spill. Should your dog decide to take a pee on your wool rug, which we have experienced, by the way, more than once, it requires a considerable amount of time and labour (and baking soda!) to get it back to a comfortably acceptable state. That is why dogs and cotton rugs are hands down the perfect match, in our opinion.
In its raw form, wool is more expensive than cotton. Wool averages around $13 per kilogram while cotton averages around $1.50 per kilogram.
The prices on wool and cotton can vary depending on the country of origin and the current market condition. As both wool and cotton are a widely traded commodity especially in the textile sector, the prices are impacted by worldwide factors and bidding wars between countries such as Australia, North America and China, which is where most of the wool and cotton supply comes from. Wool, being the more expensive commodity, receives more of a hit when worldwide market conditions fluctuate.
Asides from the raw material, the design of a rug also plays a major role in the pricing of the rug. While cotton fibres are thinner than wool fibres making it more time consuming to weave by hand, wool rugs are often regarded as the more "high end" material. One-of-a-kind heirloom wool rugs are often prized for their craftsmanship, intricacy in design and can go for in upwards of five figures.
You will also find large rug manufacturers partnering with well-known interior designers to come out with a branded collection to draw a larger audience. These collaborations usually use wool as the material of choice due to its popularity and luxurious appeal.
Overall, for an equally sized 8'x10' rug, a wool one would be priced in upwards of $700 while a cotton one would be priced in upwards of $400.
When you step onto a wool rug, you can feel your feet gradually sink into the depths of a lush and dense pile of softness. When you step onto a cotton rug, you still feel the softness beneath your feet but without the gradual sinking feeling.
Due to its thickness, wool fibres stand up straight and forms a tight and dense pile. Each thread appears as a pixel sort of like in a van Gogh painting. Often times, some really intricate designs and masterpieces can be achieved with wool.
Cotton, on the other hand, is a softer fibre that doesn't quite stand up on its own. When weaved together, it forms a loose pile that gives your feet the feeling like its wrapped in a large, cozy sweater. As its pile is less dense than wool, it is more difficult to achieve detailed elements in its design.
Wool rugs have superior strength and durability compared to cotton. For this reason, it is extremely versatile and pretty much works in any space around the house including high traffic areas such as foyers and hallways.
Cotton rugs, on the other hand, cannot take the pounding that wool rugs can and therefore, heavy traffic areas and areas where furniture will be resting atop it should be avoided. However, it does offer an unparalleled feeling of softness, comfort and warmth making it a much favoured piece in bedrooms, family rooms and kid's play areas. And due to its washable nature, cotton rugs can also be used outdoors, in kitchens and bathrooms, places that wool rugs can never go!
If you have a household filled with young kids and pets, you will appreciate the ease of use of a cotton rug over a wool rug. A cotton rug feels more casual and is something you can easily pick-up and move around the house depending on where the family happens to be gathering at the time. Wool rugs are more of a formal piece that stays put because it is heavier to move.
And lastly, if you are an animal lover, there is also a humanitarian aspect that should be considered. There is a lot of controversy over whether or not sheep shearing is painful for the animals. Some argue that shearing is required to maintain the health of the sheep as they do not naturally shed. A lot of the wool rugs we do carry are sourced from countries such as New Zealand where there are certifications in place (e.g. Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)) to protect the sheep and their surroundings. However, this is not enforced in all countries where wool is sourced.
As you can tell, your choice between a wool rug or a cotton rug is dependent on your lifestyle and the makeup of your household. Do you want something more or less formal? Do you have young kids or pets? Also, you want to think about the room where the rug is going. Does it get a lot of traffic? Are we talking cereal and spilled milk or the occasional crumbs from scones at grandma's tea parties? Once you start running these scenarios through your head, then your choice will become quite clear.
In our household, we favour cotton rugs because we have two young kids plus a beagle that sheds and has the occasional accidents. Wool and pee simply doesn't jive in my mind no matter how much vinegar and baking soda is dosed on it. Our home is also a small space where we have many casual gatherings with family and friends. We like the versatility of bringing the rug into different rooms depending on the occasion instead of owning several different rugs. On one occasion, we even folded up our rug and brought it camping with us!
Wool rugs will eventually find a place in our home when we move to a larger space that actually has rooms for separate occasions. I do appreciate the beauty and quality of a wool rug that is hard to find in a cotton rug. And having an heirloom piece that I can pass down to my kids is still a wish I hope to fulfil on one day.
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