Shiny Rugs!

September 14, 2018

Posted by D. A. Burns

Shiny Rugs!

This just in: Shiny rugs! Recently, many of our customers have opted for shiny area rugs. While shiny rugs can be a fun addition to a room, that shiny style may come with some care sensitivity. D. A. Burns would like to help.

The yarn fibers used to make shiny rugs are chosen for their light reflectivity. They all have different strengths and weaknesses and different abilities to stand up to wear and spills. In this article, we’ll discuss the 5 most popular shiny fibers that are used to make area rugs, and educate you on their strengths and weaknesses.

The 5 most popular shiny fibers are:

  • Polyester
  • Chemically Altered Wool
  • Silk
  • Mercerized Cotton
  • Rayon


This synthetic fiber is naturally shiny. While it's sometimes left to look shiny, it is typically delustered to look and feel like cotton when used to make carpet. Polyester is highly versatile, it can be unshiny and soft like cotton, or so shiny it almost looks like metal. 

Strength:  Resists water-based stains and is less expensive than many other carpet fibers.

Weakness:  It absorbs oily stains but doesn’t ‘spring back’ as well as a wool or nylon rug yarn.

Overall: Polyester one of the most forgiving, shiny fibers. Choose a polyester rug if you want something that will be durable with kids, pets and everyday use.

Chemically Altered Wool

Wool is soaked with an alkaline chemical that makes the cuticle (protective coating) stand up. This is followed by an acid soak, then alkaline again… back and forth until the cuticle breaks off entirely.  The result is a “stripped” wool yarn with a silky look and feel.  This process has been applied to hand-knotted rugs for decades.

Strength:  Retains the durability and resilience of wool.

Weakness:  Without the protective cuticle, spills that are easily removed from normal wool (like coffee) can instantly become a permanent stain on stripped wool.

Overall: Chemically Altered Wool is best when sprayed with Scotchgard Protector ™. We highly recommend this product to add some stain resistance to the fiber.


Pure silk is expensive, so it is typically only used in the finest hand-knotted rugs.  In the silk family, there are lower grades of silk that are less durable but still qualify as real silk.  Many of the lower quality silk rugs will shed fibers, and since silk is slippery, individual tufts may slide up and make the rug look like the neighborhood cats used it to have a claw-stretching party.  (These “pulls” can usually be trimmed without harm to the rug.)

Strength:  Nothing else feels like silk.

Weakness:  Expensive, can be prone to dye bleeding from any spill.

Overall: Silk is a luxury fiber that requires care to avoid damage.

Mercerized Cotton

Mercerizing swells and straightens the cotton fiber so it reflects more light. Cotton gets shiny when it goes through this treatment. With use and changes in humidity, it will gradually lose shine and revert to the original look of cotton.

Strength:  Fairly durable and an inexpensive way to get a shiny look.

Weakness:  Cotton is very absorbent so it soils and stains easily.  Cotton also fades with light, use, and cleaning. Cotton is flammable unless treated with a fire retardant.  

Overall: Mercerized Cotton rugs are an inexpensive, durable choice... for a short time. Consider a cotton rug semi-disposable. 


This fiber is synthesized from many plant materials, from sawdust to bamboo. Rayon / viscose fiber is often sold as green/sustainable/natural; however, the process of extracting cellulose from the base material can be anything but environmentally friendly.

Strength:  Very inexpensive way to get the look of silk.

Weakness:  Like cotton, it loses color easily and stains easily.  Unlike cotton, it weakens when wet. It is prone to damage from home spot removal efforts.  It breaks easily and flattens out when subjected to foot traffic. Since it is slippery like silk, it will also be prone to pulls and dye bleeding. Spills can quickly become permanent stains, spotting attempts can turn the fiber yellow, and attempts to undo both the stain and the stain removal damage can make the fiber more yellow.



Overall: Avoid this fiber unless the rug will not be subject to much use, or if you’re OK throwing it out if something spills on it.


Photo is from Restoration Hardware Catalog.

How do I tell what fiber the rug is made from?


The Federal Trade Commission requires content labeling, and although major corporations have been fined millions of dollars for mislabeling, labeling rules are often ignored.  Some rug makers will try to hide lower quality content by using unlisted brand names or “made-up” fiber names.  “Cello wool” was a name one manufacturer used to disguise the rayon/wool blend in the rug yarn.

Using the list of shiny fibers listed above, this is what you might see on a label:

  • Polyester: May be listed as polyester, or under listed trade names like Dacron or Trevira.  These are real brand names for polyester and are easy to look up and cross-reference.
  • Chemically Stripped Wool: The label will correctly say wool, but may also contain terms like “Luster-Washed” or “Antique Washed”. If the wool feels silky and has a highly reflective shine, it’s been chemically altered.
  • Silk: The label should say silk, with no qualifiers other than pure silk. Poor qualities of silk or blends of silk and other fibers may still be listed as silk with a qualifier such as noil or raw.  Sometimes the rug's price tag is your best indicator; a deal on a silk rug may be no deal at all.  If you’re purchasing a silk rug, it's best to work with a reputable retailer.
  • Mercerized Cotton: Should be labeled as cotton.  Watch out for terms like American Silk or Art Silk; art being short for artificial. One creative label listed Faux Soie as the content, which sounds elegant in French but translates to the much less elegant Fake Silk.
  • Rayon: Viscose is one process used to make rayon, and can legally be used as a name for rayon fiber.  Often, a natural sounding name is coined using the plant fiber the cellulose was extracted from.  Look out for plant silk names such as Banana Silk, Bamboo Silk, Agave Silk or any other plant-based name. 

If a rug doesn’t have a label, ask the retailer for face fiber content.  Use the internet to find out more about any fiber that doesn't sound familiar.  Reliable retailers are usually good about letting you know rug content, as well as the proper care of a particular rug.

Hopefully, this information helps you choose the right shiny area rug to keep your glam on!

Another note about rayon:

While rayon has appropriate uses, you can tell we’re not big fans of using it in rugs.  Rayon doesn’t have to be shiny, so it can be used to emulate cotton or wool.  If blended with other fibers, the label becomes the only simple way to know a rug contains rayon.  Thankfully, good rug retailers are also good about letting you know what to expect from the products they sell.

This is an example from Annie Selke:


WHERE TO USE:  Suitable for low-traffic, gently used rooms only, such as the guest bedroom. Not suitable for homes with children or pets.


•  Vacuum regularly on low/gentle setting, or shake gently to remove dirt.

•  Do not expose to moisture of any kind; water can create permanent staining.

•  For bigger messes, we recommend professional cleaning only.


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