November 17, 2020 3 min read

What is a rug pile?  A rug pile is the length of the knot, measured from the top surface of the rug to the backing of the rug. The pile of a rug helps determine where a rug is most ideally placed. 

This article defines the types of piles and provides rules of  thumb to keep in mind when considering the purchase of a rug. 


A closeup of a rug, showing the individual yarns/fibers in a rug.A drawing showing the different elements in a rug-pile: how a rug pile is measured, the tuft, and what a pile is.




Types of Pile:

 There are two main types of pile you are going to come across when shopping: cut pile and loop pile. Cut pile is the most prevalent in the market.


Cut Pile is characterized by tufts and clipped yarn loops, creating a comfort oriented rug whose surface is plush and easy to walk on. These rugs work wonderfully in low traffic areas, as well as areas where you want that added level of comfort, such as the living room.


A drawing zooming in on the unique features of a rug pile.





Loop Pile  leaves yarn loops intact. This creates more durable rugs that are easy to clean. Types of rugs that tend to have this are tufted or woven. As such, these unsung heroes are highly suitable for high traffic areas, such as entryways or hallways. 

A drawing zooming in on the unique features of a loop pile.





Pile based on Thickness:

There are 4 main categories of piles: low, medium, plush and shaggy. There are three main factors to consider when choosing a pile length for an area: (1) cushioning, (2) maintenance and (3) durability. Ensure all elements of the rug align in accordance to where the rug is placed.  The rating system below helps classify how each pile length performs under these classifying methods. 


Low pile (Less than ¼ inch thick)  rugs are ideal for high traffic, high accident prone areas. Low pile length rugs make for an easy to vacuum rug (& clean in general!). That said, they do tend to last longer than longer pile length rugs as well, as shorter is stronger. These rugs are ideal for high traffic areas. 

Cushioning Rating: One Star
Maintenance Rating: Three Stars
Durability: Rating: Three Stars
A flat-weave rug is placed in a hallway, demonstrating that low-pile rugs sit in high traffic areas.A closeup on the flat-weave rug, demonstrating how low-cut the low-pile rugs are.

Medium pile rugs (¼ - ½ inch thick)  are the “middle ground” rug- they allow for regular cleaning, and give you a nice plush feeling under your feet for the added level of comfort. (Bedroom, living room, nursery, laundry room--any area that is the center of your space etc). 

Cushioning Rating: Two-Stars
Maintenance Rating: Two-Stars
Durability: Two-Stars
An image of a medium -pile rug in a living-room floor. A close-up on a medium pile rug, demonstrating the length of each yarn in the rug.



High pile  rugs (½ - ¾ inch thick) are all about comfort! They are ideal for guest rooms, an office, or reading zone, but will not hold up under regular cleaning regimens. This is definitely a rug you want to avoid using in high traffic areas. 

Something you want to be conscious of when layering furniture on top of the rugs, is these rugs are easily prone to crushing and marking. Be sure to weigh out the effects to the rug if heavy furniture is placed on the rug. 


Cushioning Rating: Three-Stars
Maintenance Rating: One-Star
Durability: Two-Stars
A high-pile length rug, being placed in an elegant living room setting. A close-up on a high-pile length rug, showcasing the length of each yarn in the rug.



Shag pile ( ¾ inch thicker plus) rugs are all about adding texture and volume to a room! If you have a low traffic room, it could be your ideal piece for your intended purposes. To weary of using a vacuum on these rugs, as the piles are likely to get entangled within the vacuum. 


Cushioning Rating: Three-Stars
Maintenance Rating: One-Star
Durability: One-Star
A shag rug sits on an individual reflection space in a home, in a low traffic area. A closeup is taken of a shag rug, to showcase how long each fiber/yarn on the rug actually extends.

Identifying Your Needs: 

To choose the right pile length, first consider where the rug will be placed, and what function the rug plays.  To help you find the answer to this question, consider participating in the following exercise: 


  1. Write out different scenarios of functionality of rugs in different areas of the house? 
  2. Analyze the attributes of the area, and from the combination of uses you have for defined, rank the qualities of a rug that are most to least important, from cushioning, maintenance and durability. Based on the ranking category provided above, choose the rug pile category that best matches your list of needs. 

While you have a general idea of what type of rug you need now, other factors can be used to help make a “more plush” rug, such as adding a rug mat underneath the rug. 

One more thing to keep fresh in your mind: Pile length and density are not necessarily marks of quality. For that, consider material, and types of make of a rug. Read about Rug Materials and their Properties to get a holistic understanding of the makeup of a rug. 


Equip with this guide, you are now ready to quickly discern whether a pile length of any given rug suits your intended uses of it!

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