If you’re shopping around for area rugs and a silk rug has caught your eye, you might be wondering if it’s made out of real silk. Reputable manufacturers and sellers will be happy to tell you about the materials and origins of new, vintage or antique rugs, but it’s still a good idea to know more about how to tell real silk apart from other fibers. This information comes in handy, for example, when you’re buying rugs in markets abroad, or when you need to clean it.
Nowadays you can find a broad variety of synthetic and natural fibers of good quality. Some of them have similar properties to silk: they’re soft, light, with rich, vibrant colors. If you’re specifically looking for natural silk, keep in mind these tips.
Types of silk-like fibers
- Real silk: To turn into a moth, the silk moth caterpillar creates a cocoon made out of a single silk fiber several thousand feet long. These cocoons are harvested, boiled to kill the silkworms, and then unraveled into single fibers. The fibers are the folded together and woven into silk yarns. It may look delicate, but it is surprisingly strong and durable. Here’s a cool video showing you this process.
- Artificial silk: This is a catch-all term for several fibers that are chemically treated to look and feel like silk. Usually, it refers to mercerized cotton – cotton yarns treated with caustic alkali. This process makes the resulting fibers stronger and more lustrous. The term may also refer to synthetic fibers like rayon.
- Rayon: This material is made by dissolving cellulose from cotton to form a viscose, a yellow liquid used to form long fibers.
The first thing to look at is the weaving. It should be tight, with clear details. The fringe should be made of silk because it should be part of the rug pile; if the fringes are made of a different material and sewn to the pile of the rug, it’s an artificial silk rug.
You can also do a few quick tests to assess the type of fiber your rug is made of.
Real silk feels warm to the touch when rubbed; artificial silk stays cool to the touc
Check the luster
Natural silk is priced for its luster, but it shouldn’t give off a white shine from every angle. The shine on a real silk rug should change with the angle of the light.
If possible, take out a single fiber of the rug and burn it. Artificial silks smell like paper or plastic when burned, and it will leave no ashes. In contrast, natural silk smells like burnt hair, and it leaves black, brittle ashes.
There are also chemical tests that confirm if the material is natural or artificial silk, but it destroys the material in the process. To do this, you need to mix caustic soda, glycerin, water and copper sulfate, and dip the material into the mix. Real silk dissolves in this solution, while artificial silk would not.
Artificial silks are not necessarily of worse quality than natural silk. They are often an excellent way to get many of the qualities of silk for a lesser price and may last for many years. However, it’s important for you to be aware of what you’re buying, so you can make a reasonable investment and care for it appropriately.