Rugs 101, Part 1: Begin your rug buying journey: what are the different types of rugs?

When you step into The Rug Merchant, one of the first things we ask you isn’t “what can we help you with?” but “what can we help you find?” With all the different types of rugs we offer in our 10,000 feet of showroom, we know the choices can be dizzying! Thankfully most of the time our customers have a good idea of the size they need and what they don’t like.

This is a great start, but it’s really helpful (and far more challenging) to describe what you DO like! If you’re just beginning your rug-buying journey you probably haven’t been exposed to enough options to truly understand what your choices are.

In this article, we’re going to cover some key ideas you’ll use to define exactly what type of rug you’re looking for. So read on and prepare to become a rug-buying expert!

  • What the heck is an Oriental rug anyway?
  • How is it different from a machine-made rug?
  • And what does “hand-tufted” mean?
  • Why are they so different in quality and cost?
  • How can I tell what I’m really paying for?

Oriental Rug

When you think of an Oriental rug, chances are this is what you’re picturing:

But did you know that these are also Oriental rugs?

What?! How so?

In the rug world “Oriental” does not describe a style of rug (the way it looks) but how, and where, it is created. An Oriental rug is any rug that has been entirely hand-knotted in any of these rug-weaving countries:

  • India
  • Turkey
  • Afghanistan
  • China
  • Romania

(In later Rug 101: Rug Buying Guides we’ll cover different styles of rugs: “contemporary”, “traditional”, colors, patterns, borders, etc. to help you determine what look you’re after. But for now, know that any type of rug: Oriental, machine-made, or hand-tufted, can have any style the designers want!)

Machine-Made Rug

A machine-made rug is any rug that has been woven in whole or in part on any type of machine, whether its been made on the best Axminster Loom (here’s a great video describing the Axminster Loom) or is a piece of carpet that’s been serged (bound around the edges.)

Machine-made area rugs can be made almost anywhere, from the good ol’ US of A to any of the same countries where Oriental rugs are made. But remember, Oriental rugs are hand-made, so no matter what they look like, a machine-made rug is never a real Oriental rug!

Here are a few examples of machine-made area rugs:

Surprised? Machine made rugs, like true Oriental rugs, can have completely different styles. It’s just the way they’re made that determines what type of rug it is.

Hand-Tufted Rug

A hand-tufted rug is not a real Oriental rug, either. A hand-tufted rug is made by the weaver holding a tufting gun (link or pic?) and shooting the yarn into a canvas, then putting latex onto the back of the rug to keep the yarn in place and covering the back with a piece of fabric, because as the latex dries it becomes hard and bumpy and can damage your floor. What makes a difference in the price in tufted rugs?

  • material
  • amount of material, and
  • quality of the latex or glue used to hold the material together

When you look on the internet and see two very similar tufted rugs with VERY different price tags, it’s probably because the construction and quality of materials is different.

So what kind of a rug is it, anyway?

If you’re looking at a photo of the front side of a rug in a magazine or on the internet, it’s next to impossible to tell how a rug is made is unless you already know what you’re looking at. Looking at the back of the rug in person will tell you everything you need to know about its construction and what type of rug it is:


  1. Oriental rug: you can actually see the individual knots on the back.
  2. The machine-made rug (better) is a little harder to tell except that the knots are really uniform (something that’s impossible to accomplish when you’re tying thousands of knots by hand!)
  3. With the (good) machine-made rug it’s a bit easier; you can barely see an actual knot at all.
  4. The hand-tufted rug is the easiest to see; fabric back=hand-tufted.

Okay, so how can I tell the quality of a rug by a picture on the internet?

The short answer is, you can’t. The only way to tell the quality of a rug is to see and feel it in person. But the oldest Oriental rug and area rug cleaning company in Evansville can tell! Some brands make their rugs with quality materials 99.9% of the time. These brands will clean their rugs without you signing a release. Some brands are less consistent with quality control and the chance of the glue disintegrating and the wool shedding with cleaning is greater, a risk they want you to know about before they clean.

The answer? You need to buy a trusted brand name from a trusted source so if there is any problem with your rug, the problem will be theirs, not yours!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this first Rug Buying 101 Guide. We believe that that the more informed you are, the more fun you will have on your rug buying journey. Stay tuned for our next installments of Rugs 101 where we will cover determining your perfect style, and how to choose the right size rug for pulling a room together in just the right way.