Natural fiber rugs lend a casual, airy look to any decor, and since they're made from a renewable resource and use fewer chemicals than synthetic rugs, they're an environmentally-friendly choice. Sisal and jute are two common fibers found in area rugs, and while they look very similar, they have some distinctly different qualities.
Strength and Durability
When it comes to durability, while both types of rugs wear well, sisal is the winner for heavier traffic areas. Sisal comes from the leaves of the agave plant and the rugs tend to be stiff and coarse. Sisal rugs stand up well to heavy wear and tear, though the fibers become polished and become smoother over time, so it is not a good covering for stairs. Jute comes from the stems of the jute plant and has a softer feel. Jute will stand up to moderate traffic, and gets softer with time.
Look and Feel
Both sisal and jute rugs can have a similar look, similar to coarse twine or even rope. Jute and sisal twines can be twisted more tightly for a smoother appearance, or left loose for a softer look. The way the different rugs feel when touched is where the difference becomes more obvious. Sisal is a stiffer fiber and maintains a coarse, hard feel no matter how it's woven and is not barefeet friendly. Jute feels more like fabric, though it might be a bit too coarse and scratchy for sensitive skin, it's generally soft enough for bare feet.
Sisal is naturally lighter than jute with unfinished fibers a pale cream. The finished rugs vary from creamy white to pale tan and may even have a silvery sheen. Unfinished and finished jute ranges from pale tan to light brown and the finished rugs have very little sheen. Both sport natural color variations in rugs, and both can be dyed. Sisal and jute both fade in sunlight, especially if they are dyed.
Care, Benefits and Cost
Both sisal and jute require minimal maintenance. Sweep, shake out, or vacuum without a beater brush and blot spills with a damp cloth. Both are biodegradable, help muffle sound and are fairly resistant to dirt. Quality jute rugs tend to be less expensive than similar quality sisal, but sisal has a longer life.