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A tufted rug is a process of rug making in which yarn is looped through a mesh foundation by machine and then held in place by an adhesive which is usually latex. The face of the rug is then shaved leaving behind “tufts” or loops of yarn. So the pile is not actually knotted to the foundation as in a hand woven or machine knotted rug.

tufted_diagramThese types of rugs are prevalent because they are relatively inexpensive to produce due to the amount of time it takes to make them. This quick fabrication method also allows custom rugs to be made-to-order very quickly as opposed to what is usually four months to over a year for hand knotted rugs.

You can identify a tufted rug by looking at the back of the rug. The foundation is always backed with latex or covered up with cotton cloth or jute burlap to hide the latex. A hand knotted rug shows the design of the rug on the back since knots are exposed and no latex adhesive is needed.

Above: Tufted rug with exposed latex on back

Tufted rug with cloth backing

Above: Tufted rug with cloth backing

Hand knotted rug example

Hand knotted rug example

Tufted rugs are made all over the word but are most commonly from India, Nepal and China. Many new rugs are made in this manner but the process has been around for many years. Some older Chinese rugs made in this manner are sometimes referred to as Tientsin rugs.

Inexpensive fabrication and quick turnaround allows for beautiful designs to be brought to customers at a very economical price in comparison to hand knotted rugs. But there are things one should know before buying a tufted rug.

The latex used to secure the pile threads to the rug foundation will breakdown over time.  How long it lasts depends on the quality or pureness of the latex used. Some older Tientsin rugs have been known to have very high quality latex which can last decades. Latex however is expensive so most latex used nowadays is of poorer quality and only lasts about one to five years before showing signs of degradation.

If a rug is sitting in inventory at a store for a year or more, customers often purchase rugs that are already starting to degrade.

When the latex begins to dry out it gets hard and brittle and breaks up into powder. At this point the rug loses its foundation support and will fall apart as well as covering your floor with latex powder which can also become air born in your house.

Dried out and breaking latex on a tufted rug.

As the latex degrades it can also emit an unpleasant odour similar to that of burning rubber, dried urine or even smelly socks.

Cleaning tufted rugs also has its issues.

When latex gets wet in the cleaning process it can cause yellowness to leach to the surface of the rug. The cleaning and drying process can also accelerate the breakdown of the latex and amplify the smell.

The cloth backing used to cover the latex can also cause problems. Being that it is usually of a different type of material, it shrinks and stretches differently than the other materials in the rug which causes warping, bunching and curling. In the case of jute being used as a foundation or backing material, it almost always contributes to yellowing after the rug gets wet in the cleaning process.

Out of shape, degrading tufted rug

Out of shape, degrading tufted rug

Re-latexing, rebinding and re-backing are required at some point during the lifetime of a tufted rug. Repairs like these are common and fairly inexpensive but are hidden costs of tufted rugs nonetheless.

Another thing to note is the use of the description “hand tufted”. This is simply a tufted rug threaded with a hand held machine call a “tufting gun” so don’t be fooled. It’s still a tufted rug.

The rug maker sometimes draws out the rug design on the mesh canvas with marker as a guide for the hand tufting process. This marker can bleed to the face of the rug when it gets wet during cleaning. So a light earth toned rug can all of a sudden be colour damaged with bright blue, red or pink tones.

Tufted rugs have their place and are probably here to stay but make sure you know what you’re paying for. Too many times we’ve seen customers who have paid tens of thousands for a new rug only to have it show signs of degrade shortly after purchase and not stand up to a single cleaning.

Before buying a rug, do your homework. Tufted rugs may be an excellent economical choice but they do come with their own set of concerns. Be careful with buying a rug for looks alone and by no means should a tufted rug be purchased as an investment or intended to be a family heirloom passed down through generations.