Carpets vs. Rugs: What’s the Difference?

Baby foot on the carpet

Floor coverings—they’re always down there, but how much do you really know about the fabrics you step on every day? One easy distinction that everyone should know is between a rug and a carpet. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but when shopping, dressing a room, and laying down fabric on the floor, it’s important to know the difference.

According to Merriam-Webster, a rug is “a piece of thick heavy fabric that usually has a nap or pile and is used as a floor covering,” while a carpet is defined as “a heavy often tufted fabric used as a floor covering” and “a surface or layer resembling or suggesting a carpet.” Synonyms? Sure.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, both ‘rug’ and ‘carpet’ are used to indicate “any decorative textile normally made of a thick material and now usually intended as a floor covering. […] Both in Great Britain and in the United States the word rug is often used for a partial floor covering as distinguished from carpet, which frequently is tacked down to the floor and usually covers it wall-to-wall. In reference to handmade carpets, however, the names rug and carpet are used interchangeably.”

Colloquially, at least in the South, the difference between a rug and a carpet seems to be movability. What we call carpet is a floor covering that stretches from wall to wall and is affixed to the floor. Rugs, on the other hand, tend to be smaller than the square footage of the room (by a lot or a little) and are not affixed to the floor. They can be rolled up and moved from place to place.

Area Rugs

As a traditional way to cover a wood, tile or colored cement floor, rugs add artistic appeal and stylishness because of their many designs and colors when compared with carpeting. Rugs help to define a specific area in the room, allowing you to easily switch your decor scheme, the room’s arrangement or appearance simply by changing it. When used in a large open floor plan, a well-placed rug can bring together dissimilar furnishings to create a more cohesive look.

Wall-to-Wall Carpeting

Carpeting secured to the floor with glue and tacking strips doesn’t move or create slip, trips and falls for the home’s occupants as a rug can. When used in coordination with a design or decor scheme in the home, wall-to-wall carpeting unifies the different rooms in the home and can make a small home seem larger. Besides these benefits, carpets add a layer of insulation and warmth to the floor, especially helpful in homes with crawling children or the elderly.

Pros and Cons of Rugs

Since you can more easily wash and dry them, rugs may make a better choice for those with allergies. With a rug, you can have a hardwood or tile floor, but still retain some warmth by covering it with a rug where needed. But unsecured rugs can become a tripping hazard or be responsible for slips and trips when compared with wall-to-wall carpeting. In homes with the elderly, a trip on an area rug can become a life-threatening event.

Pros and Cons of Carpets

Wall-to-wall carpeting offers slip and trip resistance, warmth and cushioning beneath the feet when installed in the entire home, especially when it has a memory foam pad beneath it. While you can choose from carpets with designs and different types of pile, neutral color-carpeting helps to create a sense of cohesion in a space. One major drawback to carpeting is that right after it is installed, it can take several months for the off-gassing — offensive chemical smells — to dissipate. And carpets develop wear patterns in heavy traffic areas and take more work to keep clean.