Are Rubber-Backed Rug Pads Right for Your Floors? Here Are the Facts
Rubber-backed rugs seem like a good idea when you purchase them.
It’s a cute rug!
It has a sticky back!
What could possibly go wrong? (*narrator voice*) That’s precisely when everything went wrong.
If I’ve miraculously caught you before you’ve made a purchase, then I’m so glad you’re here. You’re gonna want to know this stuff.
Rubber-backed rugs are made with a rubber material attached to the side that faces the floor, the main purpose of which is to prevent slips.
There are two types of rubber that manufacturers use to make a rug’s backing:
Natural (organic) rubberSynthetic (artificial) rubber
Natural rubber works great with most floor types, but artificial rubber, on the other hand, is troubling.
That’s because natural rubber is eco-friendly and has little to no reaction with floors.
Synthetic rubber, on the other hand, is processed with chemical agents that result in biochemical reactions with your flooring.
But how do you choose the best rubber-backed rug that is safe for your floors?
That’s what I’ll break down here.
What are rubber-backed rugs?
Rubber-backed rugs are an excellent solution to tripping hazards in your home. You can find these rugs in various sizes — ranging from small runners, to doormats, to large living room area kilims.
While they may not offer a lot of cushioning, they've got an excellent grip on the floor. Hence, they eliminate rug-movement that can cause slippage.
There are three common types of rubber-backed carpets in the market:
- Natural rubber-backed rugs
- Synthetic rubber-backed rugs
- Latex rubber-backed rugs
Let’s uncover the difference between natural, synthetic, and latex rubber-backed rugs, as well as look at how different rubber-backed carpets are made. And finally, let’s discover how these pair with different types of floors.
That way, you can make the right choice the next time you go shopping for a perfect rubber-backed area rug.
Natural rubber-backed rugs
A natural rubber-backed rug is made with 100% organic rubber that’s harvested from rubber trees.
The main distinguishing factor of natural rubber is its tensile strength — its ability to stretch. Organic rubber has more tensile strength than its latex or synthetic counterparts.
Moreover, it wears out naturally (though more quickly when compared to synthetic rubber) without releasing harmful toxins.
The advantages of using a rug with organic rubber backing include:
- The quality of breathing air in your home is free of harmful toxins. That’s because an organic rubber-backed rug is eco-friendly and doesn’t off-gas — unlike a rug with synthetic or latex-backing.
- It’s safe for the floor. It has no chemicals that react with your flooring to cause stains or scratches, and natural rubber grips the floor as opposed to sticking to it. Hence, it doesn’t rip off the floor’s surface as you remove the area rug.
Synthetic rubber-backed rugs
A synthetic rubber-backed rug is made with natural rubber that's processed with chemicals.
One of the binding chemicals used in the manufacturing process is PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride).
Including chemicals in the manufacturing process gives synthetic rubber-backed carpets some benefits:
- Has higher resistance to wear and tear, oxygen exposure, and extreme temperature conditions.
- Available in more versatile options compared to natural rubber. You can find it in various colors and types.
However, artificial rubber-backed carpets have some disadvantages — tied to the use of chemicals in the binding process:
- They off-gas and fill your home with toxins. So, it’s best to use them as outdoor rugs.
- They disintegrate over time instead of wearing out naturally. This makes them release flakes, as shown below, which consequently discolors your floors.
Latex is a synthetic liquid form of rubber that’s classified as a polymer. A polymer is a product with the ability to bounce back to the original shape after stretching.
The main difference between latex and natural rubber is their source. Natural rubber is only harvested from the rubber tree, while latex is tapped from the trunks of about 20,000 tree species that produce latex.
A rug with latex backing is non-slip and waterproof. Thus, it grips the floor and prevents water damage.
However, latex has two major disadvantages:
- It’s not breathable. Thus, a latex-backed carpet traps a lot of moisture between the rug and the floor which subsequently causes dampness and discoloration.
- Latex sticks to the floors. The aftermath is a sticky residue that remains on laminate or vinyl that is difficult to remove as you may risk scratching the floors.
Will rubber-backed rugs ruin your expensive flooring?
Rugs with artificial rubber backing are unfit for your expensive floors. But natural rubber is a safer option.
Natural rubber is safe to use on hardwood floors.
A rug with plastic or artificial rubber backing contains glue or adhesives, and unfortunately these are harsh on hardwood floors. They can scratch and ruin the wood, incurring damage costs.
Moreover, a synthetic-backed area rug sticks to the hardwood floor instead of gripping it. Subsequently, they rip off the floor’s surface when you move them during cleaning or redecorating.
Rubber-backed rugs will damage your beautiful laminate flooring.
The rubber material underneath the carpets reacts chemically when in contact with a laminated floor. This reaction causes the rug to trap air between the carpet and floor and results in molding and discoloration.
Similarly, a latex-backed rug clings to laminate or vinyl floors, leaving a sticky residue that's hard to remove and that you sometimes have to scrape off — potentially scratching your floors and ruining them in the process.
Rubber-backed rugs are not safe for vinyl flooring.
Vinyl floors contain chemicals that react with both natural and synthetic rubber. The chemical reaction is triggered by heat, including in-floor heating or sunlight.
The reaction leaves your vinyl flooring stained.
Tile floors and rubber are an excellent match!
Rubber-backed runners rarely cause damage to tiles.
The only reason why tiles can be prone to damage by rubber is if the grout isn’t correctly sealed. The cement-based bonding element seals gaps to prevent stains and discoloration.
Hence, if the grout is poorly done, the rubber or latex material can react with it, leaving a yellow residue. Unfortunately, this discoloration is permanent.
Rubber-backed rugs ruin carpets.
Layering rugs on top of a carpet is the perfect hack to prolong the life of your carpet — especially in high-traffic areas. Similarly, you can use carpets to define spaces or add an element of comfort in certain rooms.
However, area rugs with latex and synthetic rubber-backing will damage the carpet.
This is because it’ll cling and rip off carpet fiber, unfortunately causing faster wear and tear where you were trying to prevent it.
So, to help define spaces over a short-pile carpet, use a shag rug. And to add extra cushioning for comfort, opt for a thick or a low-profile woven rug pad.
Alternatives to rubber-backed rugs
There are two excellent alternatives to a rubber-backed rug that won’t damage your floors.
- Rug pads
- Rug tape
A rug pad is a sheet of material that’s placed under the conventional area rug.
Different rug pads serve different purposes, including:
Offering grip for your area rugsGiving you a cushioned feeling underfootImproving soundproofing of your floorsProtection for your floors
Rug pads help to eliminate the risk of floor damage caused by synthetic rubber and latex.
Although carpet pads are also made of rubber, they’re porous — they allow air circulation between the area rug and the floor. This breathability prevents the rubber from holding moisture and damaging the flooring.
For instance, lay a rubber and felt rug pad under latex or synthetic backed rugs to improve breathability. The air circulation will help to keep the floors dry, prolonging the life of the rug while protecting the floor.
Rug tape is a type of carpet adhesive that functions like double-sided tape.
To install, simply peel the rug tape and attach it to multiple sections on the backside of your rug. Then, apply pressure on the rug to secure it.
The major downside of using rug tape is that it’s not long-lasting. So, it’s not suitable in places with a lot of foot traffic like the entryway or outdoor patio.
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