Sustainable rugs are a hot topic in the eco friendly living world — perhaps because until recent years, it has been notoriously tricky for conscious consumers to find well-designed, ethically produced rugs. To complicate it further, the demand for cheap, low maintenance rugs has led manufacturers to opt for synthetic materials rather than natural materials — a little unsettling for anyone concerned about the environment. Whether you want to up the cozy factor of a large room or make the most of small space living, there are more resources than ever to find the best sustainable rugs.
Below, we’ll cover the three most popular natural fibers for sustainable rugs — cotton, wool, and jute — and what to expect from each, along with our favorite designer picks from Made Trade.
What Makes a Rug Sustainable
Before we dive in, let’s consider the main characteristics that differentiate sustainable rugs from their less-conscious counterparts.
Natural Materials: Sustainable rugs are always crafted with natural materials rather than synthetic materials and are dyed with non-toxic, often plant-based dyes. But you’ll also want to consider the source and processes behind these natural materials: Cotton is only sustainable when grown organically, which is common practice for independent farmers cultivating crops for their heritage craft. Similarly, with wool, it’s crucial to ensure sustainable and humane practices throughout the entire process. Natural materials have the lowest environmental impact when they do not have to be sourced far from their origin to the rug weavers.
Lastly, rugs made of natural materials can be recycled and even biodegrade over time — not stick around for hundreds of years after being discarded. Made Trade takes all of these factors and more into account to make their rugs not only natural, but sustainable as well.
Artisan Technique: Artisan rug makers like Kiliim and Leah Singh rely on different traditional techniques to bring their designs to life. Purchasing rugs made with time-tested techniques like kilim, dhurrie, knotting/tufting, etc. not only helps preserve the cultures in which they originated but actually leads to a superior product. The craftspeople are experts at what they do. Their technique, combined with strong natural materials, is why rugs are known to last for many years! When rugs aren’t made using these processes, they wear out a lot more quickly.
Social Responsibility: Ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions are vital to crafting a sustainable rug. It provides consistent income, strengthens community, and preserves heritage crafts, all which contribute to a sustainable lifestyle for the artisans and the regions they live in. In turn, this contributes to a healthier world for all.
Handwoven Cotton Rugs
Cotton is commonly used to make casual, flat-weave rug styles, like Indian dhurrie rugs and Turkish kilims (though these can be made of wool as well). Artisans weave the cotton by hand after it is rolled, spun, and dyed. They are sometimes even reversible!
Perfect for: Individuals or couples without children and pets with less wear-and-tear to worry about, and those looking for sustainable rugs on a budget, as they are generally less expensive than wool rugs.
Durability: Any handwoven rug from natural materials has the potential to last for many years, including cotton rugs. However, flat-weave rugs don’t always last as long as their pile counterparts. These lightweight rugs have a simple cotton base (a rug pad is recommended to prevent slippage), so over time furniture and heavy traffic can cause noticeable wear.
Care: Extend the life of your cotton rug by spot cleaning or handwashing when necessary. Dry cleaning is also an option. One last consideration is placement — a cotton rug in direct sunlight may fade more quickly.
Kiliim’s rugs (pictured on the right) are handcrafted with Egyptian cotton sourced from local markets in Cairo. They are handwoven on a cotton base for extra durability. Weavers in Fowwa, Egypt, come from a long line of kilim artisans who have passed these time-honored techniques down for generations.
Natural Wool Rugs
Wool is a versatile natural fiber that can be woven into many distinct rug styles of varying thickness. Flatweave wool rugs are found in Archive New York’s Oaxaca rugs, while their high pile shag rugs are handwoven in Guatemala — both completely different end results from the same natural material.
Durability: Handmade wool rugs, while generally more expensive than cotton, are some of the most durable rugs, made to last several years — even decades. They can usually withstand being placed under heavy furniture as well as consistent foot traffic.
Care: Wool rugs can be spot cleaned, hand-washed, or dry cleaned. A plush, high pile wool rug (such as Archive’s shag rugs) can hide dirt and wear more easily, so family and pet households may prefer it over the flatweave. That said, wool rugs tend to shed, primarily in the first couple of months of use, so be prepared for regular vacuuming.
Wool/Cotton blends: If you like the look and lightweight feel of cotton but want something as durable as wool, opt for a wool/cotton blend. Minna’s wool rugs contain a 30% cotton weft, making it lightweight yet durable. Keep in mind these rugs should be spot cleaned only.
Perfect for: Wool rugs are perfect for placement in busy areas of the home, such as your living room. Consider them if you want to find your perfect rug and keep it long term. Obsessed with having a cozy texture under your feet? You’ve gotta go shag!
Archive New York partners with artisans in Mexico, Guatemala, and India, to preserve heritage crafts. Their fibers and dyes are locally sourced within the regions they are made in. Each of Archive New York’s designs are inspired by traditional motifs and symbols.
Leah Singh offers GoodWeave certified handwoven wool rugs in modern geometric designs.
Natural Jute Rugs
You know how spinach is considered a super food? Jute is a super fiber. It is one of the most sustainable materials to use for textiles in the world, as it grows incredibly fast, requires very little resources (no chemicals necessary!), and it is even biodegradable! Jute is also super durable, yet it’s surprisingly soft underfoot and can be woven into the most beautiful and intricate patterns.
Durability: Jute is a pet-friendly material, since it’s natural, has minimal shedding, and is resilient against scratches. Jute rugs can often be used both indoors and out.
Care: Low-maintenance decorators, jute is the rug fiber for you. You can spot clean jute rugs yourself or take them to the dry cleaner. They’re beautiful even without the use of dyes, so don’t worry about color fading.
Perfect for: Households with small children and pets, where durability and ease is a top priority. If you love the look of natural materials, jute’s wheat-colored hue will fit right in.
Will & Atlas proves just how versatile this super fiber is by crafting not just rugs but baskets, bags, and bowls from jute. Each of their jute rugs, woven by female artisans in Bangladesh, offers a natural take on classic geometric patterns.
Leah Singh combines jute’s natural shade with other earthy colorways like indigo and tan to make their patterns pop.
Which sustainable rug would complete your living space?