How to Buy Rugs Online - The Right Way to Get the Exact Rug You Want, Online

How to Buy Rugs Online - The Right Way to Get the Exact Rug You Want, Online

A guide to buying rugs online

Let's be honest. Buying a rug online is kinda scary.

You can’t feel the rug.

You can’t see the rug’s true colors.

So you have to rely on the images and description to get it right.

I know it’s intimidating, but don’t fret.

I've put together this guide to help you buy the rug of your dreams without fear.

Now fair warning. The guide is maybe a bit too honest.

Most of this guide actually originated as a long email to answer my friend’s rug questions.

So I’m pretty sure a lot of rug shops won’t like what I’ve shared.

But this guide is helpful, to-the-point, and probably littered with typos and grammatical errors (hey - I never claimed to be an Pulitzer prize author).

My only goal here is to help you find THAT perfect rug and help you feel confident about buying  it online.

So let’s get to it.


Table of Contents

What should I consider when buying a rug online?
Why are rugs so expensive?
How to find affordable rugs?
What’s a high quality rug?
What the heck is the difference between hand-tufted or hand-knotted?
What makes hand-knotted rugs better?
When to buy a machine-made rug or a hand-knotted rug?
Buy a machine-made, synthetic rug when you want…
Buy a hand-knotted rug when you want…
Are all hand-knotted rugs made of natural fibers like wool, silk, and/or cotton?
How can I tell the real color of the rug online?
I'm still skeptical about buying a rug online - what do I do?
What are some things I should ask before I buy?
Is the rug already professionally cleaned?
What you shouldn’t look for?
Now for a quick-fire FAQ…
So what’s the bottom line?



What should I consider when buying a rug online?

  1. Where the rug will be located in your home

For instance, is your rug going to be in a bathroom, hallway, or entryway where a door needs to open over it? Then you need a low pile rug like a Kilim or other flatwoven rug.

Does the rug need to be in a place that gets wet - like a bathroom or kitchen? If so, you don’t want a real or synthetic silk rug. You need a cotton rug.

  1. The size rug you need for you space
  2. Your rug budget
  3. The style rug you’re looking for
  4. The color rug you want

Once you have these things in order - it’s time to do the fun part - search for the rug online.

Why are rugs so expensive?


Rugs are expensive for a few reasons:

The rug cost itself - Kinda self-explanatory.

The shipping - A wool 8x5 rug weighs about 35lbs. A 10x13 rug weighs about 100lbs. Properly shipping these rugs is not cheap.

The marketing - It takes a lot of 16 hour days and wheat grass shots just to get you to my shop. And that doesn’t mean you’ll like one of my rugs enough to take it home with you.  

I’m sure the same is true for every other online rug shop.

The cleaning - Good vintage and antique rug shops clean their rugs first. It costs serious money to get it done correctly.

The repairs - Before I put rugs in my shop, I have to make a decision if they need repairs. Some look better “distressed” and other repairs are just necessary. Once I decide a rug needs repairs, I send it out to a reputable weaver to be fixed. They are quality, which means they aren’t cheap. All other high quality rug shops do the same.

The hunting - I’ll speak for myself here. The time, gas, and sometimes plane tickets and tariffs (yea - there’s a story) it takes to find one-of-a-kind rugs that look good enough to share with my customers adds up. I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But this is a cost built into most vintage and antique rugs you buy.

The customer support - Again, I’ll speak for my shop only. But my customers chat with me about 4 times before buying their rug.

Not everyone, but the average person.

They can text me, email me, chat online, and call me at anytime and I’ll always answer. That takes time and I want it to always be that way.

All of these costs are in the price of your rug.

It’s not broken down that way. No rug shop will show this on your receipt, lol.

But this is why rugs are “so expensive”.

How to find affordable rugs?

small vintage rug in bathroom

I’ll try to keep it simple.

Cheap rugs are cheap. Affordable rugs are affordable (we even have an affordable section of vintage and antique rugs under $500 in our shop).

There’s a difference.

If you really want an affordable quality rug, typically the rule is…

Don’t buy a new rug. Don’t buy an antique rug. Buy a vintage rug.


According to,, and plain ‘ole experience…

Average prices for quality rugs start at...

  • $8 per sq. ft. = New synthetic material rug
  • $10 per sq. ft. = New natural material rug
  • $15 per sq. ft.  = Antique rug
  • $6 per sq. ft = Vintage rug

That means a 100 sq.ft rug is….

  • $800 new synthetic material rug
  • $1000 new natural material rug
  • $1500 antique
  • $600 vintage

That’s not including shipping.

Clearly all these prices can range, based on materials, craftsmanship, style, store, color, and more... but these are AVERAGE starting prices.

And honestly if you find a $600, 100 sq.ft rug - buy it, run away, and don’t tell anyone. Kiss it and hug it every night before you go to bed. Because you got a steal.

Now that you know those numbers, forget them.

You will go to 20 different online rug shops and the prices WILL vary.

Even the same store will have different prices for the same size rugs.

I do that in my own shop (feel free to check).

To be honest - some rugs are just more in demand than others.

Some look better, are better quality, are made of better material, or are simply in style right now.


My pink, blue, and grey rugs fly off the shelf. There’s huge demand for them right now (more on that later).

I also always have a decent demand for red rugs, especially if they aren’t traditional in style.

And I price my rugs accordingly.

This is especially true since in my experience, one-of-a-kind pink, blue, and grey vintage and antique rugs are much harder (read - takes more gas, begging, and fence hopping) to find in the style my customers expect.

Sorry to make a very short answer long.

But if you’re looking for a deal - go vintage, then new, then antique, respectively.

Since prices vary wildly, even in the same store, just get the rug you want and can afford ;)

Not the answer you wanted, but it’s true.

What’s a high quality rug?

 vintage silk rug

Warning - I’m going to abbreviate the vast amount of knowledge I’ve accumulated to make this point very clear.

There are books (yes books) dedicated to rug quality alone, so I won’t make this long.

A quality rug is USUALLY 3 things:

  • Hand-knotted or hand woven
  • Made of natural fibers like silk, wool, and cotton - because they last longer
  • The design YOU LIKE

That’s it.

That’s not to say there aren’t decent quality machine-made rugs, like the ones made by Karastan.

Or very good looking hand-tufted rugs.

And there are those “rug people” that like to mention the high knot count, origin country of rug, blah blah blah…

But I’ve never had a customer email to ask about the knot count of a rug.

Don’t worry about anything else but the above 3 factors (how it was made, natural material, if you like it).

What are rugs made of?

Rugs are typically made of natural and synthetic materials.

Natural materials are typically…

  • Wool - great natural noise insulator and stain resistant
  • Cotton - highly durable, perfect for kitchens and bathroom where moisture exists
  • Silk - great sheen, super soft, luxurious feeling
  • Jute, Sisal, and Seagrass - a bit rough, very strong, great layering piece

Synthetic materials are typically…

  • Nylon
  • Polyester
  • Polypropylene (olefin) - water resistant, great for a truly outdoor rug or in wet conditions
  • Acrylic
  • Viscose

What the heck is the difference between hand-tufted or hand knotted/hand woven?

vintage rug in bedroom

I’m only addressing something this “technical” because it really boils my stew when I see unscrupulous online vendors try to confuse their customers with this language.

Machine made = Is machine made. They look perfect and streamlined in a mechanical way, unlike hand-knotted and handwoven rugs.

Hand tufted = Not hand woven. Much quicker to finish a rug. Much cheaper. These usually have a canvas backing that doesn’t allow you to fully see the rug pattern on the back.

Hand woven, hand knotted = Is just that. Woven by experienced weavers for months or years at a time.

This is important, because it usually dictates price and resale value. (I HIGHLY encourage my customers to not concern themselves with resale value - I’ll tell you why later).

Hand tufted means someone used a special gun to punch the rug material into a canvas backing to make your rug.

These are not hand woven by experienced weavers over months or years at a time. These rugs have a backing and don't last the decades or centuries hand-knotted and handwoven rugs do.

As long as you understand this, you’re fine.

It’s fine to buy to them if you want, I’m not here to tell you what to choose.

Just don’t pay the hand-knotted premium for a hand-tufted rug.

What makes hand-knotted and hand woven rugs “better”?

vintage rug on patio

  • When made of natural materials, they last longer - like decades to centuries longer.
  • They look better over time. HELLO distressed vintage rugs!
  • They are sometimes worth the same if not more than the price you bought them for. (Again - don’t focus on rug resale values).
  • When made of natural materials, they’re typically cheaper to get professionally cleaned (which is highly recommended to do once a year) than rugs made of synthetic fibers (most new rugs are made of synthetic materials).

You may not care about any of the above. If you don’t, don’t “waste” your money on a hand woven rug.

I didn’t include the “story” or “workmanship” because a lot of people don’t care. I get that.

Make the best rug decision for you.

When to buy a machine-made rug or a hand-knotted hand woven rug?

Buy a machine-made, synthetic rug when you want…

  1. An outdoor rug to weather the elements - especially moisture (rain/snow). There’s no need to buy a high quality hand-woven wool or silk rug when it can mold and be eaten by bugs because of it’s natural fibers.
  2. A vegan rug. Most hand-knotted rugs are made of natural fibers (wool, silk, and/or cotton). If you’re an ethical vegan - a wool or silk rug won’t cut it. Your options are to find cotton only rugs or go machine-made, synthetic material rug.
  3. If wool allergies are a problem. I want everyone to love their rug enough to roll around on it. You can’t do that sneezing, itching, and coughing everywhere.
  4. A rug for a low foot traffic area. Think dining room.

Buy a hand woven, natural fiber rug when you want…

  1. To keep the rug for more than 3 years.
  2. The potential of value in the rug years from now.
  3. The rug to look as good as it did when you bought it (if not better) after a few years.
  4. You care about the end of life of your home decor. Wool, silk, and cotton can be recycled and/or reused easily. This is not true for all synthetic materials.
  5. A rug for a high foot traffic area. Think entryway or living room.
  6. A unique rug. Especially true for vintage and antique, one-of-a-kind rugs. These aren’t mass produced (even new hand woven rugs are made in low volume or one-off orders). So you won’t find these sold by the thousands in stores, you won’t see your exact rug when you visit a friend, and your favorite lifestyle blogger won’t have your rug in their home. Your rug will be just that, YOUR rug.

Are all hand-knotted and hand woven rugs made of natural fibers like wool, silk, and/or cotton?

A big fat NO.

Most do use natural materials, but hand woven, artificial-silk rugs exist.

A reputable dealer will tell you the material of your rug before you buy.

How can I tell the real color of the rug online?

I get the most questions about rug color from my customers.

If you're buying from a reputable rug shop like SF Rugs the rug photos are…

  • Of the entire rug
  • Taken in natural light (preferably with a light that matches the one in your home setting) or...
  • Have been color corrected to make sure you're seeing the exact color it is in person.

Please remember, my computer screen can look different than yours.

My eyes may see color differently.

Your home may be darker, so the rug color will look different in the space.

You’re looking for “an accurate as possible” color photo.

You want the light blue of the rug to look very close, if not identical to the photo of the rug you see online.

Full, naturally-lit rug photos will give you the best idea of a rug’s true color.

I'm still skeptical about buying a rug online - what do I do?

vintage rugs in san francisco park

There are a few things you can do before buying your rug online

  • Contact the shop with your questions first
  • Make sure the rug shop’s website is secure
  • Read and ask about their return policy (VERY IMPORTANT)

Once you feel more comfortable, buy a small rug from the rug shop first if you can.

This works best if you planned to purchase multiple rugs for your space.

A smaller rug is easier to return, easier to make work in different spaces around your home, and much easier to clean if cleanliness/smell is the issue.

What are some things I should ask before I buy?

small antique rug

In my shop, I try to do a good job of providing the rug details you need to know (size, color, material). Most online rug shops I’ve seen do the same. That’s the good news.

But if you’re still a little wary...

If buying vintage ask...

Is the rug already professionally cleaned?

This is only an “issue” with vintage and antique rugs, but…

You'd be surprised at how many people find a steal of a rug deal online, just to find out that their amazing, new-to-them, vintage or antique rug has not been professionally cleaned.

Professionally cleaned rugs…

  • look better
  • don’t come with all the dirt, grit, and grime EVERY rug accumulates over time
  • are slightly lighter weight (which makes them a little cheaper to ship)
  • smell good/neutral

Professional cleanings can get expensive, especially with larger rugs.

And it's hard to find a trustworthy professional rug cleaner that won't destroy your investment. So make sure you buy from a vendor that has already taken care of this for you.

Besides - you just want to unwrap the rug and use it.

You don’t want to deal with a 1-2 week rug cleaning that costs almost as much as the rug.

Is there any damage?

I take photos of every bit of “damage” on my rugs. I’ve seen many other reputable shops do the same.

I always say...

It’s your decision to buy a beautiful distressed rug with a bit of wear, it’s up to me (and other reputable rug dealers) to make sure you know about it before you buy.

What I shouldn’t look for?

vintage kilim runner rug

There are a few things that just DON’T matter when buying a rug.

The number one thing to ignore is...“rug appraisals”.

Especially the “appraisals” provided by the sellers.

In fact, I’d be a bit wary of the shops that provide these “appraisals” (count how many times I use the word appraisals - HA!)

“Rug appraisals” are just that, a certificate that shows the “value” of the rug.

Some are done by third parties for insurance purposes.

Some are done for rug shops just to help them realize the full value of a rug before they sell them and are kept internally.

And others can I put this gently....created to make you feel better about your purchase.

Was that gentle?!

I know this may come as a shock to you, but every rug I’ve seen for sale that comes with a “rug appraisal” has been priced about 5-10x LESS than its “appraised” value.

I wonder why ;)

Think about it for a second.

Why would this amazing online rug shop give you such a deal? Why would they take 5-10x less when they could get sooooo much more?

Because they can’t get more.

The price the rug sells for at that time, is the value of the rug, period.

There is NO shop I know of selling rugs 5-10x below TRUE value. Sorry.

The best thing to do with “rug appraisals” is to ignore them.

Just buy the rug you like. Buy it at a price that makes you feel comfortable.

And don’t worry about it’s “value”.

Besides, rug values ALWAYS change. Even in perfect condition, the rug you buy today for $2,000 could be worth $100 in 2 years or $20,000 in 10 years.

No one knows. It’s all based on trends.

Now for a quick-fire FAQ…

vintage rug in bathroom

  1. Do I need a rug pad? There is debate amongst rug aficionados. Some experts think they’re pointless, some think they’re required. My answer, buy a QUALITY rug pad for hardwood or smooth surfaces just to make sure your rug doesn’t slide everywhere. We want an amazing one-of-a-kind rug, not a beautiful tripping hazard.
  2. How do I take care of my rug? Most rugs, even machine-made rugs made of synthetic material need an annual professional cleaning. Proper frequent vacuuming in between cleanings and rug rotation are more than enough.
  3. I want to store my rug, what do I do? Get it professionally cleaned, wrapped in brown kraft paper (not plastic), and store in a high, dry area. AND NO MOTH BALLS, just NO. Like DON’T.
  4. Does a thick rug mean better quality? Nope. This just means you have a medium or high pile rug!
  5. What’s the difference between vintage and vintage style? Vintage-style rugs are designed to look like vintage rugs. They are new rugs, usually machine-made or hand-tufted rugs that mimic the look (not the quality) of hand woven vintage rugs. Make sure you clear up the difference with your online rug vendor before buying.

So what’s the bottom line?

  1. Look at the rug pictures to see if they were taken in daylight or natural light. Good lighting or color correction will show the true color of the rug. If you can’t tell, ask.
  2. Contact your rug dealer with questions beforehand.
  3. Only buy from dealers with a secure website (use SSL on their website)
  4. If buying vintage or antique rugs - make sure they’re professionally cleaned first.
  5. Make sure you clarify the difference between hand-knotted/hand woven and hand-tufted. Don’t pay hand-knotted or hand woven prices for a hand-tufted rug.
  6. Ignore all rug appraisals provided by rug shops that are selling you a rug, period.
  7. Don’t buy a rug for an investment or expectation of future value. There’s no guarantee value will ever exist. Just buy the rug you like.
  8. If shopping for multiple rugs, buy your small rug first. They’re much easier to return, fit in other spaces around your home, and cheaper to buy.
  9. Read the website’s return policy BEFORE buying. Even studying the online pictures and chatting with the rug dealer does not guarantee you’ll like the rug in your space, so make sure you can return it. Trust me, this happens even in traditional, on-the-ground rug shops.

What now?

Go rug hunting.

Seriously - don’t be afraid.

If you buy from a rug shop with no reviews and good return policy, try it out.

If you buy from a highly reviewed rug shop, with an all sales final policy, try it (at your own risk)?! You still could end up with EXACTLY what you’re looking for or a good housewarming gift for a friend.

I just prefer the assurance of a good return policy.

If you’re looking for vintage or antique rugs, feel free to check out my shop.

I’m at and (less selection here).

If you have questions - just email, call, text, or online chat with me.

I’m here for ya’

Ash, Founder at SF Rugs

1 (800) 919-4351

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