Understanding how your rug was made

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“Is my rug an Oriental Rug?”

If you aren’t sure, this may help. “Oriental rug” and “Oriental Carpet” are used to refer to rugs that are hand knotted. Some hand woven rugs are also called “oriental” rugs.  Two other types of rugs are often referred to as oriental rugs. It’s more accurate to refer to them as rugs with an oriental design. They are machine woven (also called “machine loomed”) and hand tufted.

All four types are described below – along with the clues to help you identify your rug. I’ve also include a section on machine tufted rugs (rugs made from wall-to-wall carpet) and a section on hand hooked rugs.

We clean many other types of rugs including  braided rugs, embroidered rugs, flokatis, and rugs made from animal skins.

But rugs with an “oriental” design cause the most confusion.

So fold over a corner of your rug and take a look at the back. We walk on, and appreciate the face of the rug, but identify it by looking at the back.

And please note the cleaning warning associated with hand-tufted rugs.

Hand-knotted rugs:  1. the fringe is a continuation of the foundation strings. 2. The rows that run from side to side – the wefts – are not perfectly straight. The rug was made by a person – and people aren’t perfect.  3. The edge was wrapped by hand.
indicators of a hand knotted rugback of hand knotted rug with fringe




wool yarns knotted around cotton warps on hand knotted rug4. The yarns that make up the pile are wrapped around the warps – the foundation strings that run the length of the rug. The photo at the right shows this detail. You can see exposed warps running vertically and the way the pile yarns are wrapped around them. (The warps are exposed because moths ate the yarns on the underside of the rug.) For suggestions on maintenance procedures to avoid this type of damage to your rug, see the section on Maintenance Tips. If you have moth damage, the only way to address the problem is to have the rugs washed. Our washing process removes the eggs and larvae. (Eggs develop into larvae which develop into moths. Larvae use wool and silk as their food source and so chew on the yarns.)

Machine woven rugs:  1. The fringe, if there is one, has been added for decoration. 2. The pattern of the weave is very uniform, no irregularities – after all, it was made by a machine. The yarns are wrapped around the wefts – the strings that run from side to side- and you can often see the warps. 3. The yarn finishing the edge is wrapped by machine. Again it’s very uniform.

machine woven rug with sewn on to end machine woven, wool pile rug showing uniform back and warps machine woven rug with machine finished edge

Many machine woven rugs have an olefin pile and don’t need to be washed unless pet accidents have been absorbed by the cotton and jute foundation. Instead, they can be cleaned by a carpet cleaner because they can withstand very hot water and aggressive chemistry.  At the bottom of this page you’ll find an easy way to test the yarns in your rug to determine if they are synthetic or natural. Manufacturers like to label their goods, so a machine woven rug will often have a label on it that will identify the pile.

Hand woven rugs: The back and front often look alike; both sides may be usable as the face; there is no pile. The weft yarns that run from side to side are woven around the warp to form the face. Typically the warp is cotton and the weft is wool. The rug on the left is a dhurrie from India. The rug on the right is Romanian.

Romanian rugdhurrie






Hand tufted rugs: you can see a cotton backing, typically white, tan, gray or blue.  Most hand tufted rugs are made in China and India.  A piece of fabric with the outline or “cartoon” of the design is stretched on a frame. Working from the back and using a tufting gun, the worker fills in the design by pushing the wool or cotton yarn through the fabric to create the pile. The next step consists of gluing multiple layers of fabric onto the back using latex adhesive. The pile can be looped to resemble a hooked rug, or cut to resemble a hand knotted rug.

Hand tufting is used to create unique designer rugs and rugs that look like oriental rugs or hooked rugs. They’re sold to consumers as “handmade”, wool rugs. Since they’re often made in a factory-like setting in a small fraction of the time it takes to make a hand knotted or hand woven rug, they can be sold to consumers at a fraction of the price of the hand knotted or hand woven rug.  The rug on the left is made to look like a hand knotted Tibetan rug. The rug on the right is made to look like a hooked rug.


hand tufted rug made to look like a hand knotted Tibetan rug

hand tufted rug made to look like a hooked rug







The Cleaning Problem: Because the pile is wool, the dirty rug needs to be washed to be cleaned – particularly if pet accidents and odor are an issue. But because the adhesive holding the whole assembly together is latex, and quality control isn’t necessarily up to snuff, the adhesive can quickly dissolve in water and the rug come apart. This doesn’t always happen. But there is no way for us to tell by looking at the rug whether or not it will happen. It’s safe to say the structural integrity of the rug will be compromised if it is washed.

My advice to folks with very dirty and/or contaminated hand tufted rugs: throw it away and buy another one. Or if you have pets and kids in the house: buy a machine woven rug with an olefin pile.  They’re  relatively easy and inexpensive to clean, even if they have pet accidents. Or buy a hand knotted or hand woven rug that can be washed when it gets dirty. If you’re on a budget try an auction house.  I would caution against buying from the “One Day Only- Liquidation Sale” vendors that come through town on a regular basis. A lot of poor quality rugs are sold to unsuspecting consumers at these events.

the back of a rug made from wall-to-wall carpet

Machine tufted rugs:  These rugs are made from wall-to-wall carpeting. The rug is cut from carpeting and bound around the perimeter. You can see the plastic-y grid that indicates it’s a piece of wall to wall carpet.  Unless pet urine has penetrated the foundation of the machine tufted rug, this rug can easily be cleaned by a carpet cleaner.

jute foundation visible in the back of this hooked rugHooked rugs: You can see the foundation cloth, jute on old hooked rugs, cotton on new. The brown areas in the picture on the right show the jute foundation. Jute deteriorates over time (decades). So an older hooked rug with a jute foundation may not be able to be washed. Hooked rugs were often made in the farm houses of Northern New England and the Canadian Maritime. They were hooked using burlap grain bags as a foundation. If you own one, you have a piece of American folk art. We can clean the surface and you can use it as a wall hanging.

Here is a quick Rug Fiber ID test.

Using tweezers tease out some fibers or a yarn. In a safe place (over a kitchen sink or concrete floor for example) and still holding your sample with tweezers (so you don’t burn your fingers) – touch a flame to the fibers.

Synthetic fibers melt.

Wool or silk fibers smell like burning hair. This will be wool 99 % of the time.  But if you are still wondering – clean silk will appear almost iridescent.

Cotton fibers smell like wood smoke or burning paper.

Sometimes you’ll have a strange result; like melting and the smell of burning hair. Then the yarns are a blend of fibers.

The foundation of a hand knotted or hand woven rug is often cotton, and sometimes wool. A hand knotted, silk pile rug will occasionally have a silk foundation. The foundation of a machine woven rug is often cotton and jute.