We spent more than 40 hours researching hundreds of budget area rugs, interviewing experts, and testing rugs with panelists, then put our feet on our favorites at home (and let a cat do his best to destroy them) for many more hours. Of the 28 rugs we tested, we highly recommend 15 that come in multiple sizes, colors, and patterns. We have picks for flat-woven, low-pile, and high-pile rugs that will suit a range of functional purposes and decorating styles.
Sometimes you just need an area rug to cover ugly floors, to keep downstairs neighbors from hearing you walk around, or to make your place feel homey without spending a lot of money. That’s why we focus on rugs available in an 8-by-10-foot size for around $300 or less (most of the rugs we tested come in many smaller sizes, too). Our picks are mostly made of nylon, cotton, polypropylene, polyester, and blends thereof. These are softer, more durable, or easier to clean than other inexpensive materials.
Even if you don’t fall in love with any of the specific rugs in this guide, we have plenty here to point you in the right direction. We share the advice of design pros regarding which types of rugs function best in high- and low-traffic areas; what size rug to buy; and how to choose a rug pattern or color that will shine in your living space.
My first place out of college was a two-bedroom in South Philadelphia, with all linoleum floors. My roommate and I, an editorial assistant and a freelance fact checker, respectively, scrambled to make the place look okay with as little money as possible. I spent those two years putting my feet on a lot of cheap rugs. Some were better than others, to put it kindly.
With my past rug purchases in mind, for this guide I set out to find what makes a great rug—even an inexpensive one. I interviewed four experts on rugs and home design: Lisa Wagner, a second-generation rug cleaner and blogger at Rug Chick; Elana Frankel, a design consultant who was formerly the vice president of creative at One Kings Lane and an editor at Martha Stewart Living; Rebecca Atwood, a Brooklyn-based designer and author of the book Living With Pattern; and Jessica Probus, an interior designer at Homepolish and author of the book Home Decor Cheat Sheets: Need-to-Know Stuff for Stylish Living. We also consulted the design book Domino: Your Guide to a Stylish Home to learn tricks from pros Jessica Romm Perez and Shani Silver.
I sifted through editorial reviews and the websites of big-box stores and discount rug sellers, comparing the finer details of nearly a hundred rugs. I made a trip to IKEA, and ordered samples of more than two dozen rugs from a variety of retailers to put to a panel of nine people.
Our recommended rugs were the ones our nine testers thought felt nicest underfoot. While we each had particular style preferences, we could agree that some rugs had patterns and designs that were well-executed—and that others looked like bad print jobs. A few of our picks held up better in stain and cat-claw tests (we put only our favorites through the wringer). In this guide we note how each fared in our tests, which rooms they will hold up in best, and how much shipping will cost when you purchase the rug online.
Flatweave rugs have no “pile”—that is, no fibers that stick up. They’re a good option if you’re looking for a budget rug to cover a large space or for a high-traffic area. Generally, a decent flatweave won’t cost as much as a quality rug with pile, and will be easier to keep looking nice year in and year out. Flatweaves won’t trap as much dirt as rugs with pile, and they’re easy to vacuum or wipe down with a damp cloth. You can even machine wash some of them, such as cotton rag rugs. When they do get stained, most are reversible.
Flat-woven rugs work best in kitchens or dining rooms (they’re easy to scoot chairs around on), or playrooms (they provide a solid foundation for a tower of blocks). The softer ones can work in bedrooms, too. Consider starting with a flatweave as a base and adding a few smaller high-pile or shag rugs to make the room feel cozier.
Using a thick rug pad can make a big difference with these rugs, transforming them from something that feels most appropriate in a kitchen to a rug that is cushioned enough to put in a bedroom. With a thick rug pad, a flat-woven rug will feel springy underfoot and soften the effect of a rough surface. (Plus, it will provide a gentler landing pad for kids to fall down on.) On bare floor or over a thin antislip lining, your feet will feel every bump in the rug’s construction.
Best for: Kitchen, dining room
Why it’s great: Rag rugs rank among the best choices for a kitchen, because they’re machine washable and they look okay with a bit of wear and tear. We like Safavieh’s handwoven rag rugs, which cost less than most other rag rugs we’ve seen, feel comfortable to walk on, and come in a wide range of colors and sizes. The design, consisting of variegated yarns (or rags), means that most small stains will simply blend in. This rug is easy to flip over or toss in the wash—and if you really ruin it, it’s inexpensive to replace (it’s the least expensive of the kitchen options we looked at). Editor Christine Cyr Clisset has had the multicolor version of this rug for a year, and it’s holding up well—just a few of the yarns have pulled out slightly. And the white one has held up well in a kitchen through four months of testing; I toss it in the wash every couple of weeks to keep the color nice. You can sometimes find Safavieh’s area rugs for better prices on Amazon, though the selection is a bit scattershot.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: While soft, the rug is a little thinner and bumpier underfoot than many flatweaves—get a thick rug pad to go with it. It also may shrink slightly after washing. Our editor found that hers shrank a few inches in length (even with air-drying), so keep shrinkage in mind when ordering the size to fit your space.
Sizes: 2′ by 3′, 2′6″ by 4′, 2’3″ by 5′, 3′ by 5′, 4′ by 4′, 4′ by 6′, 6′ by 6′, 5′ by 8′, 6′ by 9′, 8′ by 10′, 9′ by 12′
Colors: Blue, ivory, white, purple, ink, yellow, multi, gray, turquoise
Shipping: Free to $5
Best for: Dining, living, bedroom, kitchen, kids, bedroom
Why they’re great: Our testers named these flatweave rugs as a favorite for their interesting designs. They come in 82 colors and patterns (solid, striped, and geometric), offering the most variety we’ve seen in a single line. Though their feel is far from the plush texture of a rug with pile, these rugs are softer than most flatweaves we’ve tested. The weave is tighter and feels less bumpy underfoot than that of the multicolored rag rug we tried.
We think these flatweaves will resist signs of wear and tear. After four months of testing, they’ve held up well in a kitchen and a bedroom, and they show dirt less than the polyester competition (as Wagner writes on Rug Chick, polyester rugs love grabbing grime and pet hair). The small geometric patterns found in these rugs do a good job of masking marks and stains, as Jessica Probus, author of Home Decor Cheat Sheets: Need-to-Know Stuff for Stylish Living, told us. You can machine-wash them, so they’re great for a place (think kitchen or dining room) where they are likely to get spilled on, though you’ll need to take larger sizes to a laundromat. They’ll also work as hallway or bathroom rugs. With a thick rug pad, they can even be a good option for your bedroom.
The Hook & Loom cotton rugs all feel slightly bumpy—but still cushy if you use a thick rug pad underneath—and there is some variation of feel within the line. Savannah and Wild Diamonds feel the smoothest underfoot and would be the best choice for a comfy rug for a bedroom. Solids and stripes have a little more texture. The Ashley, Deerfield, and Shelbourne rugs feel the bumpiest underfoot, and would work best in a dining room, kitchen, or living room. The braided rugs may look a little too country for some, but we think they’d look quirky and homey in some modern spaces. Out of all the rugs we tested for the kitchen, the Chester Eco Cotton Rug in denim/white was a standout: “It’s at the same time casual and chic,” one tester said.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: While these would work in any room of the house, they feel rougher than something like the Land of Nod Indoor+Outdoor Rug we tested. Sweethome science editor Leigh Krietsch Boerner has one of these rugs and reported that it pilled at first. She complained to the company, and representatives offered her a refund and let her keep the rug. The problem then disappeared after she moved it from the living room to her bedroom—a lower-traffic area—and washed it a couple of times. Keep in mind that pilling could be an issue.
Sizes: 2′ by 3′, 3′ by 5′, 5′ by 8′, 8′6″ by 11′, 2′6″ by 9′, 3′ and 6′ round (for braided rugs)
Colors: Wide variety of patterns and colors
Shipping costs: Free shipping
Best for: Kitchen, dining room
Why it’s great: Many kitchen rugs were either made of cotton—and therefore stain-prone—or felt rough underfoot, but not the Koen Grid Indoor-Outdoor Rug. The polypropylene weave feels sturdy and is stain-resistant, and though this wasn’t the softest indoor-outdoor rug we tried, it was pleasant against bare feet. Some of the kitchen rugs we tested that are made of rougher natural fibers, like jute and sisal, were just too scratchy for most of our testers. The Koen Grid rug is easy to wipe down with a wet cloth, and we found that even a red wine stain addressed immediately came out with minimal discoloration. We like this rug’s simple textured beige with stripes, which is more interesting than a solid neutral and will distract from small stains, too. If you’re not sold, buy a rug swatch for $15 to see the design in person first.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: There are more economical options if you’re looking for a rug for your kitchen. This is a little on the pricey side for a rug made of polypropylene, which over the years may not hold up as well as its natural-material counterparts.
Sizes: 2′ by 3′, 2′6″ by 8′, 5′ by 8′, 6′ by 9′, 8′ by 10′
Colors: Blue, green
Works in: Bedroom, living room, kid’s room
Why they’re great: Any stripes will make a room feel more open, but the variation in stripe size makes the Barcode Rug one of the more interesting designs of its kind we’ve seen. The cotton weave is the softest flatweave we put our feet on in testing; it will make a room feel comfy and cozy in a way most flatweaves won’t. The neutral color options of gray and blue will go with almost anything. Or choose red if you want something a little more whimsical.
We also like Land of Nod’s polyester Indoor + Outdoor Rug. It’s one of the only predominantly dark rugs we tried that wouldn’t overwhelm a space in a large size, thanks to the white plus signs that break up the color. We did find that this rug attracted more pet hair and dirt, and required more frequent vacuuming to look good. It handled cat barf better than the Hook & Loom rugs we tried, although we prefer the feel of those rugs more.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Neither of these rugs will stand a lot of wear and tear; if you allow shoes in the house or have a lot of foot traffic, consider a sturdier weave like the ones from Hook & Loom. Like many cotton rugs, the Barcode Rug will shrink a little if you put it in the wash: We found that a sample square shrank by about half an inch in width and length. (As rug measurements online aren’t always exact, however, it was a little bigger than the advertised 12 by 12 inches to begin with.) Despite the Indoor + Outdoor Rug’s name, we don’t think it will wear well outside. Unless you have pristine weather, the threads seem too fragile to withstand the elements day in and day out. The rug is reversible, but we’d recommend using it white-side-up only in a no-shoes house.
Sizes: 4′ by 6′, 5′ by 8′, 8′ by 10′
Barcode colors: Red, blue, gray
Indoor + Outdoor colors: Black with white plus signs (reversible to white with black plus signs), red with white plus signs (reversible), navy with white plus signs (reversible), gray with white plus signs (reversible)
Shipping: $25 to $35
For more sizes and colors visit landofnod.com, $100 to $300
Best for: Living room, kid’s room, dining room
Why it’s great: If you’re looking for a geometric-patterned rug for a high-traffic area, we recommend the Fretwork Rug from Land of Nod. It comes in some nice, neutral colors, and the white trellis pattern adds visual interest without being overbearing. Buy it in mint or navy—two favorite neutral rug colors of the design experts we spoke to—for a color that’s a little unexpected but easy to build on with other decor. Though it’s not soft like Land of Nod’s Indoor+Outdoor Rug, it feels far less rough underfoot than natural fiber counterparts made of sisal or even wool. Plus, this rug is sturdy, thanks to a cotton-polyester blend and a tight weave. “Looks expensive,” reported one tester. One commenter on Land of Nod’s site mentions the navy version hides dirt well.
The Sequence rug, also from Land of Nod, has a similar construction but is a little busier. We like the pattern, though you’ll need to consider the other elements of your room more carefully before committing to it. (It’s also entirely cotton—though still rougher than other cotton rugs we tried.) You can purchase a Fretwork swatch or Sequence swatch for $10 each. We suspect that many of the other cotton-poly flatweave offerings from Land of Nod are similar to the ones we tested. So if you’re interested in another pattern that the company offers, it would be worth ordering a swatch.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Though they don’t look it, these rugs feel a little utilitarian underfoot: a little rough to the touch, without any real cushioning. Though adding a thick rug pad in this case would help soften a child’s fall, it wouldn’t change the fact that the texture is just a little bumpy. These rugs will make a room bright but not cozy.
Sizes: 4′ by 6′, 5′ by 8′, 8′ by 10′
Fretwork colors: Navy, gray, mint (light blue), pink, yellow, khaki
Sequence color: Multi
Shipping costs: $25 to $35
For more sizes and colors visit ikea.com, $200 to $300
Best for: Living room
Why it’s great: Of the budget rugs we looked at, the Stockholm was the only one we liked that consists largely of wool (it has cotton warp and weft, and a wool surface). We tried this rug in an IKEA showroom, and it was the only flatwoven rug there that we really liked in our under-$300 price category for a large rug. It has a great price for a wool rug, and it’s softer than the other budget wool rugs we put our hands on. Of the five patterns it comes in, we’ve most often seen the black-and-white striped Stockholm pop up on design blogs. This particular pattern suits a range of decorating styles, as noted on Apartment Therapy: “It gives formal antique-filled rooms some punch and brightness. It serves as a neutral backdrop for more modern rooms.” If you live close to an IKEA store, you’re better off picking this rug up in person, as the shipping is steep.
If the Stockholm is unavailable, Land of Nod now sells an Indoor/Outdoor Striped Rug with a nearly identical pattern. It has a couple of drawbacks, though: It’s made out of polyester, for starters, and the 8-by-10 size costs $450 (including shipping; Land of Nod doesn’t have too many brick-and-mortar stores), one and a half times the price of the Stockholm, if you’re able to pick it up in-store.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The wool will shed at first (which is normal), so you’ll need to vacuum it regularly. The striped version features a large amount of white space, which, in the IKEA showroom, looked slightly brown from wear. Though you can flip and rotate the rug to stretch the time between cleanings, we’d think twice before putting the black-and-white version in a home with lots of foot traffic from kids (or even one where you don’t have a no-shoes-inside policy). It also feels rougher than our other favorite flatweaves—a quality that stood out to us when we visited it in the IKEA showroom. However, when I spent a weekend in an Airbnb that had it in the living room, I didn’t find the rough texture too noticeable or unpleasant.
Sizes: 5′7″ by 7′10″, 8′2″ by 11′6″
Shipping: $55 to $140-plus
Low-pile rugs have yarns that extend up to a fourth of an inch from the rug’s backing. The surface is flat and supportive, while also providing more cushioning than a flatweave rug. They’re great for dining rooms since you can scoot chairs around on them, but bare feet will also have a nice surface to rest on. Low-pile rugs work well in kid’s rooms, since they’re soft enough for kids to roll around on and are generally easier to clean than a higher-pile rug. (Low-pile rugs are commonly found in schools.) These rugs will also benefit from a thick rug pad.
For more colors visit lowes.com
Best for: Kitchen, dining room, kid’s room
Why it’s great: If you need to cover ugly flooring—say, linoleum in your living room—on a bare-bones budget, these rug tiles are a great option. They cost less per square foot than any other rug we tested, and are similar to the popular Flor tiles (though not as design conscious, they are only a fifth of the price). They can be easily installed in any configuration, thanks to peel-and-stick backing. Though they are thinner than Flor’s indoor/outdoor offerings, the texture is comparable: rough, but also a little cushy underfoot. The tiles are great for an area that will be highly trafficked by accident-prone kids or pets: If you damage a tile, you can simply remove and replace it. The adhesive should be easy to wipe off the floor with a cleaning solution.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: These tiles look and feel industrial—like something you’d find in an office building or an elementary school. They won’t add the same unifying coziness to a room that other rugs will, and of everything we’re recommending, they’re the roughest. Because they are tiles, they don’t have the finished edge most rugs do, and will look best covering a space wall-to-wall. We’d hesitate to use these in a bedroom or living room.
Sizes: Square-foot-sized tiles (which you can cut smaller for fine-tuned adjustments) mean that this rug is any size you want it to be.
Colors: Black, oatmeal, chestnut, ocean blue, denim, taupe, ivory olive, mocha, sky gray
Works best in: Living room, bedrooms
Why it’s great: Out of all the rugs we tested, this Moroccan Trellis Rug was our favorite of the lower-budget options. At just a few cents more per square foot than the Lowe’s tiles, it’s the second-cheapest rug that we like—and it’s softer than other rugs at a similar price. It will make a living room or bedroom instantly look more homey and cozy without costing you a lot. It’s slightly cushy, but not pillow-comfy (unlike the small shag rug I tested in my bedroom). We’ve found that cat barf is easy to clean off the light-gray version. Amazon reviewers agree that it’s a good buy: “What an incredible rug for the price,” writes one. “It’s nice and fluffy and the color is exactly as advertised.”
Flaws but not dealbreakers: After using the light-gray version in a living room for five months, we found that it needed regular vacuuming to look nice, and that even small dark stains stood out. According to rug cleaner Lisa Wagner, this tends to be a problem with low-pile polypropylene rugs.
Sizes: 2′ by 3′, 5′ by 7′, 8′ by 11′
Colors: Yellow/gray, brown, gray/gold, turquoise, cream, navy, black
Shipping: Free to $12
Best for: Living room, bedrooms, kid’s room
Why they’re great: The pattern on IKEA’s Hovslund looks similar to the 3028 Moroccan Trellis Rug, but it’s easier to clean and not as prone to stains. It is, however, also not as soft. Gray is a great neutral color for a rug, according to design experts we spoke to: It hides dirt and is a little more interesting than a khaki or white. The white pattern on the Hovslund rug adds a little bit of dimension, too, without commanding too much attention. While the white lines will show a stain more easily than the gray, they are thin, so a stain or small color change from dirt won’t stand out as easily as it would on a rug with more white area. The super-low pile is made of nylon—which makes it easy to wipe down with a cloth.
We also like the Lappljung Ruta—the same rug as the Hovslund, but with a geometric pattern—though the significant amount of white space will show dirt easily. Overall, the feel of these rugs reminds us of flooring at an elementary school, though the designs make them look appropriate in a living room. As with all IKEA rugs, you’ll get a much better deal if you purchase in-store.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The white pattern will still show brightly colored stains, and the edges of these rugs in the IKEA showroom were a bit frayed.
Sizes: 6′7″ by 9′10″, 6′7″ by 6′7″ (Lappljung Ruta only)
Colors: Navy and white geometric pattern, gray and white net pattern
Shipping: $20 to $30-plus
Consider rugs with higher pile for areas of your home where you want a more comfortable surface, such as a bedroom, a living room, or an area where babies and kids might crawl around. Rugs with fibers longer than a quarter inch are considered medium pile, while those over a half inch are high pile; those taller than three-quarters of an inch are considered plush or shag. The higher the pile, the cushier and softer a rug will be—and the harder to clean.
Shag, in particular, can make a room feel cozy, interior designer and author Jessica Probus noted. But they’re also great at trapping dirt—out of all the budget rugs, they can hang onto crumbs, sand, and hair the best. According to rug cleaner Lisa Wagner, polypropylene tends to attract oil more than a material like wool. These rugs also require regular steam cleaning to keep them looking okay.
We like these rugs best in small doses: at the foot of a piece of furniture to support bare feet, or as an accent rug in a playroom to create a soft spot where kids can lie down with a book. Be prepared to replace them after a couple of years.
While high-pile and shag rugs are straightforward stylewise, we wouldn’t purchase one ourselves online unless we had seen and felt it in person, or had a good recommendation for one. The majority of these rugs that we put our hands and feet on had dry, scratchy polypropylene fibers, fibers that were spaced too thinly and made the rug feel flat rather than plush, or both.
Best for: Bedroom, kid’s room
Why it’s great: This rug feels amazing underfoot: “SO PLUSH!” wrote one of our testers. Out of the five shag rugs we tested, this one was the only one we’d purchase. Unlike on the other shag rugs we tried out, the fibers are both close together and soft, not dry. “Others felt too thin and too rough,” reported another tester.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The fibers are long—2 inches—and are going to be great at trapping dirt. Even after our vacuum test, this rug held onto a lot of quinoa from our “dirt” test.
Sizes: 2′ by 4′, 2′ by 6′, 2′ by 8′, 2′ by 10′, 3′ by 5′, 5′1″ square, 4′ by 6′, 5′1″ by 8′, 6′ by 9′, 8′ by 10′, 8′6″ by 12′, 10′ by 14′, 7′ round, 5′1″ round
Colors: Aqua, brown, dark beige, dark gray, gray, ivory, navy, purple, red
Shipping: Free to $15
For more sizes and colors visit ikea.com, $30 to $250
Best for: Living room, bedroom, kid’s room
Why it’s great: The Adum is soft, feels pleasant underfoot, and will significantly dampen the sound of your footfalls. In contrast, many of the high pile rugs we looked at were scratchy, dry, or had fibers that were sparse and became quickly flat and smushed. It comes in eight colors and rectangular and circular sizes. The darker colors will hide dirt well. The circular sizes work nicely for a kid’s room—they make the perfect spot to sit for story time.
For more sizes and colors visit ikea.com, $40 to $140
If you want a denser high-pile rug, get the Alhede. We suspect that the closely packed fibers will be less quick than the Adum’s to show wear, and they feel a little plusher and more supportive underfoot. The Alhede comes in a nice gray color, a good neutral for a rug according to design experts we spoke to: It won’t show dirt as easily as white, while still making a room feel open and not commanding attention to itself. (The Alhede comes in only two colors, however; the Adum provides more options.)
Flaws but not dealbreakers: We’ve had a small version of the Adum in a hallway for five months to cover up a creaky floorboard. While it serves its purpose, the high-pile polypropylene pile gets smushed and looks dirty without regular vacuuming. This rug would work best in a room that doesn’t see especially high traffic.
Sizes (Adum): 4′4″ by 6′5″, 5′7″ by 7′10″
Colors (Adum): Black, tan, green, red, brown, yellow, turquoise, red
Sizes (Alhede): 7′10″ by 5′, 4′11″ by 2″
Colors (Alhede): Black, gray
Shipping: $10 to $40
Rugs can cost a lot. At the extreme, a fine Persian rug could cost tens of thousands. But even at stores like Crate and Barrel and West Elm, you can easily pay more than a thousand dollars for a large rug. A hand-constructed rug made of wool, rug cleaner Lisa Wagner told us, could easily be $20 per square foot—and sometimes much more—with bargain prices in used wool rugs hovering around $10 per square foot. That’s the kind of rug that you’ll keep for decades, shelling out even more money in between for people like Wagner to work their magic and make it look like new again.
The rugs that we’re addressing in this guide aren’t that expensive and are all available for purchase online. We capped the price at about $4 per square foot (though we made a few exceptions). This means that most of the rugs we recommend can be had in an 8-by-10-foot size for not much more than $300 (plus shipping). “Cheap rugs have a purpose and use, just like cheap furniture does,” Wagner said. They can look great—sometimes really great—for a few years. Maybe more if you’re careful. But even the best rugs in this class are not going to last a decade-plus in a high-traffic area in your home, or if you have kids and pets and the inevitable messes that come with them. They’re good choices as long as you know that when you’re making the purchase, they can be useful and look great for the time that you have them. Remember, though, that rebuying an inexpensive rug every few years adds up. Cheap materials can require steam cleanings a couple of times a year to look good.
We sifted through hundreds of rugs on discount home decorating sites like Wayfair and Overstock, and on Amazon. We checked out the offerings from retailers like West Elm, Crate and Barrel, and Pier 1, too. Yet per the advice of Lisa Wagner, a second-generation rug cleaner, we were skeptical of the price of rugs from big-box stores, because they are often made of the same materials as much cheaper counterparts on discount sites.
We called in samples of 28 rugs, all of which had positive user reviews or came from a major retailer that we were interested in putting to the test. We were able to eliminate a couple immediately: one rug that felt more like a dish towel, and another that looked like a thin, faded ghost of a Persian rug. We set the rest up in The Sweethome’s office, and we had nine testers walk around on them and give us their thoughts on the feel and design of the rugs.
After that, we did a vacuum test. We made a mixture of dry quinoa, cinnamon, and crumbled toast, and then sprinkled it over a selection of the rugs in different pile heights. The primary thing we learned from this test was: Don’t spill dry quinoa on your floor. It was a huge pain to vacuum up off of every kind of surface.
We also stained swatches of several rugs with wine and chocolate ice cream to see how easy they were to clean off. Finally, we let a cat roll around on several samples of rugs. Egged on by catnip and treats, he pawed at the rugs; we observed which held up to his claws.
You can easily do these tests at home yourself. Many sites sell rug swatches for $1 to $25. If you’re buying from somewhere like Amazon or Wayfair, rugs often (though not always) are available in a small size, like 3-by-5-foot versions. We strongly recommend ordering swatches and samples of your top few choices, putting them to a foot test, and letting your pets hang out on them. (Ultimately, our vacuum and stain tests were less useful.) Rugs often look different in person than they do online and feel different than you might think—usually, in my experience, rougher. An 80-square-foot rug is a hassle to return if you’re not satisfied with it when it shows up. (Keep in mind: On the smaller version of rugs, we found that the pattern could sometimes be on a slightly different scale.)
A thick rug pad will help keep your rug firmly in place, protect it from excessive wear and tear, and also provide more cushion underfoot. We haven’t tested pads (yet), but we used a Mohawk Home Dual Surface Rug Pad in our area rug testing. Sweethome editor Christine Cyr Clisset ordered this pad for herself after a few hours of research. It has high Amazon customer reviews (4.6 stars out of five across 462 reviews at this writing) and is more affordable than many other double-sided pads. Christine has used it under a Turkish kilim for more than a year, and the pad is still going strong. The grippy texture of the bottom of the pad keeps the pad itself from slipping on the floor, while its felted top keeps the rug in place.
Generally, you want a pad that’s smaller than your rug, but just by an inch or two on each side. Err on the side of buying a slightly too-large rug pad, because rug sizes online can be off by several inches. Our community specialist, Erin Price, learned this firsthand at a previous job in customer service at One Kings Lane, where she commonly received customer complaints about slightly off rug sizes. You can easily cut the Mohawk pad with scissors. We plan to test pads in the upcoming year, and when we do we will update this guide accordingly.
If you want your rugs to function well and look great for as long as possible, make sure that you’re getting the right type of rug for each space. You’ll need sturdier rugs for a high-traffic entryway or kitchen, while you may want something plusher for a bedroom. Here’s a breakdown of the best types of rugs for each room.
Kitchen: Having a rug to stand on while you chop veggies or wash dishes can be more pleasant for your feet than cold tile. Plus, it can add unexpected color and texture to the floor. A kitchen rug should be easy to clean (or so cheap that you can toss it after a nasty spill) and nice to stand on for long periods of time. That means flatweave or low-pile, and made out of materials that you can wipe down (nylon or polypropylene) or even throw in the wash (cotton). Indoor/outdoor rugs are generally a good choice, since they can take some abuse. Small rugs or runners work well in this room—place a runner along the floor next to a counter. If you do a lot of standing in your kitchen and don’t care so much about having a brightly colored rug, you can also buy a standing mat. We use this one in our Sweethome test kitchen, and we recommend it in our guide to standing desk mats.
Dining room: A rug will make the dining space feel grounded and keep chairs from scraping the floor. If you have small kids (or are just spill-prone), invest in a dining-area rug that’s easy to clean. Your dining room rug should be a flatweave or low pile so that you can move chairs around easily. Pick something with a small pattern to help mask little stains.
Bedroom: If you’re going to spend more money on a rug, make it the one that goes here. A bedroom rug should make the space feel comfortable and feel great underfoot. It will get less wear and tear from high traffic than rugs in other rooms of your house. Buy smaller rugs to go around your bed so you don’t spend money on square feet of rug that you’re never going to see under your bed.
Living room: A rug in your living room can help define a space to hang out in. Living room rugs can be a little rougher than rugs for the bedroom, as you’re not likely to spend as much time here with bare feet. (Though if you have a no-shoes policy at your house, you can get away with spending more money on something soft, as it will be subjected to less dirt and therefore last longer.) Flatweaves, low-pile, and higher-pile rugs can work in living rooms. If you can’t afford to cover the space between all of your furniture, consider multiple rugs arranged to unite specific areas where conversation happens.
Kid’s room: A colorful rug is a quick way to make a kid’s room feel fun and magical—you can get away with colors and prints that would look too zany in any other room of the house. Consider a plush high-pile rug next to the bed or a reading chair to create a soft surface to curl up on, and a low-pile or flatweave next to a play area.
Before you start looking for a rug, figure out what size you need—that will help narrow down your options right off the bat. Mark the boundaries of where you’d like to put the rug with masking tape, as suggested on Apartment Therapy, and measure the distance between them.
Where should those edges be? Ideally, a rug should go under all of the furniture in a room, with a few feet to spare if it’s not against a wall, said Jessica Probus, author of Home Decor Cheat Sheets: Need-to-Know Stuff for Stylish Living. This makes the room look more unified and grounded. But if you can’t afford to cover that much space, Probus’s general advice is to buy a rug that’s big enough to fit partially under every piece of furniture. (if you buy an accent rug, make sure it’s wide enough to fit under the front legs of at least one piece of furniture.)
If you’re short on money, you can get away with smaller area rugs. In the bedroom, having a rug “wherever your feet are going to go is ideal,” Probus said. Plus, it can feel like a waste of money to have a rug that covers the area under the bed. Her solution is to put smaller rugs on either side of the bed (if the space is tight, a runner works well).
In a dining room, a rug should be big enough so that all the chairs can fit on it when they are pulled out, with at least a little room to spare so the legs don’t catch on the edge. Measure the length of one of your chairs; that’s the minimum distance from your table that your rug should extend. About 2 feet is a good minimum, though Probus said that ideally it should be more like 4 feet. If you’re buying a cotton rug, keep in mind that it might shrink in the wash: Buy it slightly bigger than it needs to be.
However, a rug shouldn’t be too big: Jessica Romm Perez and Shani Silver write in Domino that a large rug should still be at least a foot away from the wall—ideally 2 feet. Otherwise, the room will look a little sloppy.
In our research and testing, we’ve found there are trade-offs to rugs made of natural and synthetic fibers. Some are easier to clean, some may look better for longer, while others are much more affordable. Here’s a breakdown of the materials you’ll most often find in budget area rugs.
If you are looking for an inexpensive rug that you can buy online, cotton is the main natural material that you’ll be looking at, because it’s affordable and can work in a variety of rooms. Though we’ve seen rugs made of plant-based fibers in offices and living rooms in photos and showrooms—and we know at least one person who uses a jute rug in their bedroom—we’ve found that they generally don’t work as well in those rooms because they aren’t as soft underfoot. If you are considering a natural fiber rug for one of those rooms, try to feel it in person before you buy, if at all possible. If you buy one, Wagner suggests treating it with a fiber protector.
Cotton: Typically used for flatweaves, cotton is a nice material for rugs because it’s soft underfoot and it can go in the wash. (Beware of shrinkage, though, when you are choosing a size.)
Sisal: This natural fiber is made from the leaves of the agave plant. It’s coarse and durable, but can stain more easily than other natural fibers.
Seagrass: Like sisal, it’s durable. Unlike sisal, it doesn’t hold onto stains easily—or dye, which means that it comes only in its natural light green or khaki color.
Jute: This is made from the jute plant, primarily grown in Asia. The fibers aren’t that strong—so they fall apart relatively easily—and they’re often woven into a thick, bumpy rug. We skipped jute rugs in our testing, but if you like the rustic look, they can work in a kitchen.
Wool: High-end wool comes from sheep in New Zealand or the Himalayas, and is strong enough to last for years and years with occasional professional rug cleaning. Be careful, though, about buying an inexpensive wool rug that’s gone through a lot of chemical processing, Wagner told us—it can “shed horribly.” As a general rule of thumb, Wagner said, you should stay away from tufted wool rugs, often made in India. “These will be rugs that have material covering up the back because they are glued together,” she explained, and in addition to that shortcut, they are often composed of lower-quality wool.
Viscose/rayon (also called bamboo silk, banana silk, and manmade silk): These materials are made from waste fibers from cotton and wood pulp. They can look pretty when brand-new, but Wagner suggested that we stay away from them: “They are likely to shed, wear, yellow, and permanently stain with very light use.” Wagner told us that a customer of hers ordered a few swatches of viscose rugs to see how they held up around her pets. She spilled red wine on them, too. “The designer told her these viscose samples were ideal for her family room,” Wagner said. But “she is discovering that NONE are holding up.” We decided to skip testing these materials ourselves.
Synthetic fibers can be fairly stain-resistant, but will become more easily physically damaged with wear and tear than their natural counterparts. Wagner compared them to plastic Tupperware: Though they can be discolored, in general, “you can pour in strong-staining items and it does not discolor the plastic permanently,” she said. But just as Tupperware can be scratched and look cloudy, synthetic rugs can get smushed and trap dirt. That means they’ll need to be replaced every few years or so. As with wall-to-wall carpeting, you can steam-clean them to keep them looking nice in the meantime.
Nylon: Wagner recommends this kind of fiber for inexpensive rugs: It’s easy to clean, and it will hold up relatively well to wear and tear compared with other options, though it will cost a little more.
Polypropylene (also known as olefin): Not as durable as nylon, according to Wagner, but cheaper. “Most commercial office carpet is olefin, and so this is why in the areas with roller office chairs and in the entry you see shadowing and it wears down,” she said. It’s worth your money if you are okay with tossing a rug after a couple of years, though.
Polyester: Similar to polypropylene, this material is fairly stain-resistant but in higher-pile rugs smushes easily. We found that it can sometimes lend rugs a slick or silky feel.
The color and pattern of a large rug can significantly affect the mood of your living space. Designer Rebecca Atwood told us that dark ones make a room “feel warm, cozy, and grounded,” while light ones will make it feel airy, and tones in between “hide dirt, pet hair, and the like best, so that’s a good place to start.”
Whatever your personal style, you won’t go wrong with a neutral-colored rug as a solid base for the room. But you don’t have to stick to tan, said Atwood, who favors “soft versions of colors like blush, mint, gray-lilac, taupe.” Jessica Probus suggests gray, navy, or a darker beige. “Neutral” also doesn’t mean “solid.” Patterns created with a neutral palette can be “much more interesting than straightforward two-tone patterns,” Atwood said. A texture or small-scale pattern can also lessen the visual impact of small stains and marks, Probus said.
If you want to make your room feel open even with a darker-color rug, try stripes. Horizontal stripes “will make a space feel longer,” Atwood said. Plus, stripes “help draw you into a space,” she added.
If you spot a bolder design that appeals to you, take inspiration—but with caution. Design consultant Elana Frankel said many people purchase rugs they see in magazines, but the designs don’t end up looking quite right in their homes. Instead, Frankel suggested using those bolder styles as a starting point for rug shopping. If you love the way a pink and orange striped rug looks covering the entire living room floor in a magazine, find a similar pattern in a neutral palette, or buy a smaller version of the rug that won’t command so much space.
Think of bright colorful rugs like accent pillows, suggested Probus—there to add a little bit of texture and color, easy to swap out if you get tired of the design. An accent rug works best when it isn’t hanging out by itself in the middle of the room. “Have it peeking out under a chair, or under two legs,” Probus said.
If you really do think that that pink and orange striped rug would look great in your living room, Frankel suggests using construction paper to mock up how the rug will actually look on the floor. You can just put down enough to get an idea of how a section of the room will look.
Use your rug search as an opportunity to probe your personal style. “Think about the pieces you’ve owned that have stuck with you the most and create a mood board based on colors, textures, patterns, interiors and photographs that speak to you,” Atwood said. “Live with this a while and see how it resonates. Then use this as your guide for picking pieces for your home.”
Even without a mood board, it’s prudent to give yourself a couple of days to reflect before committing to a rug. As Atwood recommended: “Only get something that you can’t stop thinking about! It should pull at your heart.”
Although we looked at many more rugs online, the following are the other area rugs we tried in our tests.
Land of Nod Square Indoor/Outdoor Rug: We liked the look of this rug’s grid design online. In person, the weave looked loose, and the polyester yarns were thick and rough; our cat’s claws easily pulled them.
Society 6 Area Rug: With hundreds of designs ranging from floral prints to octopuses and cats, we were excited to try one of Society 6’s area rugs. However, the rug we ordered felt more like a dish towel than a rug—so much so that we didn’t even include it in testing.
Urban Outfitters Solid Shag Rug: While we like the range of neutral colors that this rug comes in, the fibers on this rug were dry and rough.
NuLoom Marlbella Lillian Moroccan Trellis Navy Area Rug: We liked the look of the navy color, and the simple design, when we saw this rug online. But in person, testers disliked that the white pattern was raised. It looked a little strange and made the rug feel bumpy underfoot.
Birch Lane Solana Fern & Parchment Indoor/Outdoor Rug: We liked the subtle geometric pattern, but this rug felt thin and flimsy in person.
Birch Lane Kids Lines Rule Yellow Reversible Rug: We liked this rug’s neutral beige color, which is accented with yellow stripes, and affordable price. But the design is being discontinued, and similar offerings from Birch Lane, like the Maren Butter and Stone Rug, are out of our price range for this guide.
Safavieh Adirondack Collection: The knock-off Persian print on this rug looked faint and faded in person. Plus, the pile felt thin.
Hook & Loom Loom-Hooked Eco Cotton Rugs: These rugs are super comfy to walk on, and come in 35 different patterns. Our testers unanimously loved them. However, at nearly $700 for an 8-by-11-foot, they were on the expensive side to include in this guide. And when we had a cat roll around on one, his claws snagged on several of the loops.
IKEA Osted: This rug is made of sisal. It’s sturdy but very rough—and, right out of the box, a little prickly. We like the slightly softer kitchen rugs better.
Pier 1 Dobby Flatweave: This rug was nondescript and a little rough—at $400, it just didn’t stand out enough to recommend.
Safavieh Hudson Shag Collection: This rug is thicker and fluffier than our favorite shag, the Safavieh Milan. But that makes it even better at hiding dirt. Our testers preferred the way the Milan shag felt underfoot anyway.
Flor Tiles: These are a gold standard among rug tiles. They are sturdy, and easy to swap out if you stain one—making them a great choice for a dining room rug. However, they start at $10 per square foot, so were out of our price range for this guide. We think the Lowe’s Pebble Path Tiles are similar to the industrial Flor options, and they’re only a fifth of the price.
Originally published: March 13, 2017