How to Buy an Oriental Rug

Where to buy:

Find a reputable dealer who is an expert. They should specialize in hand-made rugs and have a large selection.

Unless it’s an established and a reputable dealer, avoid going to “out of business” sales and traveling rug dealers. Believe me, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!

What to look for:

Country of origins vs. Design

Persian* is known as the design of these rugs which originated in the country of Iran. Many rugs made in India, Pakistan, China, etc. are labeled as “Persian” because they’ve copied the Persian rug design. This does not indicate that they were made in Iran.
This isn’t to say that rugs made with Persian designs from other countries should be avoided. There are many nicely woven rugs from other regions of the world that you can buy and enjoy. My focus here, however, is about the splendor and beauty of rugs made in Iran  which are original (rather than copies) of Persian designs.

The majority of rugs have a 100% wool pile. Typically, the foundation is either wool or cotton. There are two ways of obtaining wool, one is from sheep that are raised for the sole purpose of sheering the wool for fabrics. This is called “live” wool and render the best type of wool for rug weaving.

The other is to obtain wool from sheep which were raised for their meat. Once the animal has been slaughtered, a  chemical processes is used to separate the wool from the hide. This is considered “dead” wool and is cheaper, but it’s less desirable in feel, wear, and aesthetics.

Some rugs are made from 100% silk. Beware of some  rugs sold as silk when they’re actually made of mercerized cotton. It has the same look and feel but not real silk. If you look at individual strands and they have a twisted yarn look to them, they are probably mercerized cotton.

If it’s made of synthetic materials such as nylon, it’s not hand-made!

It’s true that vegetarian dyes are preferred over synthetic/chemical dyes. This is especially true if you’re dealing with older rugs. The chemical dyes have come a long way and, if applied correctly, will last a long time. A majority of rugs being woven today globally use chemical dyes.

It’s true the denser a rug is, the more work was put into it. However, that only applies to rugs from the same region. To demonstrate, say you’re looking at two rugs made from the city of Kashan in Iran. Despite the two rugs being equal, the one which is denser and has more knot per square inch is typically the finer rug.

Typically, you shouldn’t use knot density as a measure of quality if you’re comparing rugs made in different regions.

Please remember that knot count is only one factor in judging a rug’s value. It should only be considered along with other factors such as color, quality of materials, design, condition, and more. The tightness of the weave has a bearing on the cost of a rug but not necessarily its artistic value.

Both hand-knotted and hand-woven rugs are made on looms. The major difference is found in a hand-knotted rug – each knot is hand-tied by the weaver on the loom. In a hand-woven or kilim rug, the rows of weft run across each row back-and-forth on the loom. By their nature, hand-knotted rugs take longer to weave and are capable of more detailed designs. They also have a pile and are non-reversible.
The hand-woven (kilims) rugs are flat, look identical on both sides, and reversible. Hand-knotted rugs will always be more expensive since they require more time and materials to complete. See the differences between how a hand-knotted rug is woven vs. hand-woven (kilim).

Click here to learn about how hand-tied knots are important in identifying authentic hand-made rugs:

Looking for Knots
A rug’s age is a difficult topic to explain. At times, it’s very subjective – even experts can disagree on an exact age. There are also varying definitions of what is considered to be an antique rug, some say 75 years and others say 100.

Here’s the catch: the “age” of a rug does not make it more superior than others. If a rug was of good quality originally, the age can/may add to its value. Of course, there are other factors such as wear-and-tear that also have to be considered. On the other hand, a low-quality rug will not age well over time, it is an older low-quality rug.

You should buy a rug because you love the way it looks, as you see it today. It is difficult for a novice to decipher how old a rug really is. Therefore, it is important that you deal with a reputable dealer who can guide you through your decision-making process. Another factor to consider is your lifestyle, if you are raising toddlers, having a 100-year-old antique may not be practical in a living room. Rugs are very resilient and can pass the test of time.

Depending on the age of a rug, some repairs are expected. In general, if it is done well, it should not discourage you from buying a rug. You must however use your discretion, as many factors and circumstances may/will affect your buying decision. A reputable dealer should provide you the information you need to make an informed decision.

Rugs will naturally fade by sunlight. It is gradual and difficult to detect as it continues to slowly change the color of a rug. If your rug is in direct sunlight, it’s best to minimize exposure to the sun. It’s recommended to rotate the rug every so often so that the fading occurs evenly over the life of a rug.
Vacuums are designed for wall-to-wall carpeting. The bristles on the brush dig deep into the carpet to remove dirt and dust. If not careful, this can actually do more damage to a hand-knotted rug than help. Also, the fringes will typically get caught on the rotating brush and do irreversible damage. You can avoid this by using the “flat surface” setting on your vacuum. On this setting the rotating brush is disabled and only the suction is available. This will be enough to remove any dirt which may be on the surface of the rug and it will also prevent any permanent damage to the fringes.
If you spill something, immediately treat it with an absorbent material like a paper towel. Do not scrub back and forth as you will push the liquid deeper into the rug. Instead, gently blot the stain. Work from the outside-in to prevent spreading the spill. Always work toward the nap and not against it. Going against the nap forces the spill deeper into the rug. It’s also worth mentioning that you should not leave a rug wet. Use a fan to air it out if possible. When in doubt, consult a professional cleaner in your area for any questions you may have.
Rugs are typically very resilient. For example, wool has natural lanolin which prevents any immediate penetration of liquids. Do not panic, use your common sense and, more often than not, it will be fine. You can always reach out to a reputable dealer or cleaner in your area if you have concerns. Remember, the typical treatments that are recommended for carpets made of synthetic materials may be too harsh for natural fibers such as wool, cotton or silk.

What about my décor?

To the extent possible, ignore décor and designs, and find something that you love to look at first. Any professional designer can help with decorating around a piece which you love. Sometimes that is not practical and I understand, the point here is to find a piece of art you’d love to look at each and everyday.

*Historically, Persia was the common name used by western countries for Iran (pronounced e-ron) until 1935 when the country was officially named Iran. The words Iranian and/or Persian represent the same proud nation and people. **Weave refers to the unique pattern of knot formations on the back of rugs. ***bofandeh means “weaver” in Farsi (Persian) which is the language of Iran.


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