When choosing a rug to complete a room, we feel it’s important to go beyond the aesthetics and consider the material it is made of. While rugs made from synthetic fabrics may look similar to wool versions, when you scratch beneath the surface, it’s clear that they don’t have the same advantages. Everyone knows that wool is soft underfoot, and keeps a room insulated from heat and sound, but there are a number of other practical, health, environmental, and ethical benefits, that may make you consider choosing a wool rug for your home.
Due to its high protein and moisture content wool doesn’t carry a flame, so it more likely to just smolder and extinguish itself when it comes into contact with fire. Its naturally fire retardant properties are the reason it’s chosen by casinos, airlines, and even firefighters. Not only this, but it also produces lower smoke emissions so that it won’t emit such dangerous levels of toxic fumes such as carbon monoxide.
It’s also much easier to clean a wool rug, compared to a synthetic alternative, because the natural coating of light wax on each fibre makes it much more stain resistant than the best synthetic fibers. And they hide dirt well. In fact wool rugs can contain a pound of dry soil per square yard before they begin to look dirty. Yet wool also has the ability to release dry soil easily so wool rugs are easy to keep clean through regular brushing or vacuuming.
Wool is also highly water resistant. Untreated wool still contains naturally fatty lanolin that makes wool almost waterproof. Wool fibers are also very absorbent meaning that they can soak up about 20% of their own weight before water starts to leak through. This means that spillages onto wool rugs can easily be wiped off.
Dust mites are tiny creatures that can live in soft furnishings. Dust mite allergy is a common condition, and is associated with asthma, eczema and perennial allergic rhinitis. But they don’t like wool. Research performed by the German Applied and Experimental Allergy Research Association (GAF) showed that wool carpets performed best in resisting dust mite infestation. Wool rugs also act as a natural air filter, trapping allergens such as dust and pollen. Even if you don’t suffer from dust mite allergy or asthma, there is a health incentive to choosing a wool rug for your home. Hand-woven wool rugs do not emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds) unlike rugs made of synthetic fibers or tufted rugs with synthetic backings.
The carbon footprint of the textile industry is alarmingly large. Mass production of synthetic products results in millions of metric tons of coal being burned and trillions of liters of water being used. In the US, textiles are the 5th largest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions and in the rest of the world it is even worse. Yet the processing of wool has a much smaller environmental impact even when compared to other natural or man-made fibers. In fact the amount of energy used to produce wool is about an eighth of that used to produce nylon. It is also the one the few carpet fibers that is made without petroleum—a limited, non-biodegradable resource.
Not only that but wool is considered to be a ‘long life fibre’ meaning that it retains its properties for many years. When it reaches the end of its long life, it biodegrades in soil without causing any damage to the environment. Because it is made from amino acids, when it biodegrades, it actually releases essential plant nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous back into the soil. Old carpets can also be recycled, for example in our over-dyed and patchwork carpets that breathe a new life into tired rugs, or by unravelling the carpets and re-using the wool for new products.
Wool carpets and rugs are also energy efficient. Wool fibers have a unique breathable ability which keeps your home warmer and drier in winter, while keeping it cooler and drier in summer. A few well placed rugs can, therefore, help to reduce energy bills.
By buying a wool rug or carpet you are also helping to support local farmers throughout the world, and encouraging them to rear animals for wool rather than meat. Wool regrows naturally every year, making it a wholly sustainable resource.