A less-is-more approach can include a rug in an understated color with a simple design. Picture: Ben Soleimani, The Washington Post

Washington - Buying a rug can be daunting. With so many patterns, materials and sizes to choose from, it can be difficult to parse through all the options to find something that will last. 

We asked several rug experts to help demystify the process of buying and caring for a rug.

Consider function

As with any major purchase, think about what your expectations are for the item. Designer Annie Selke, who founded the Pinecone Hill and Dash & Albert home decor brands, suggests thinking realistically about what function you need the rug to perform within your home.

"It's important to say what's going to happen in that space, whether it's pets, people or drinking, and really take that into account before you invest in something," Selke said. 

For example, it makes sense to buy an easy-to-clean indoor/outdoor rug made of a durable material, such as polypropylene, if you're shopping for a rug for your dog to nap on. A piece made from a delicate natural fiber, such as jute, is probably best for an area where kids won't be running all over it.

Go with your gut

Thrift stores and estate sales can be treasure troves for finding household items, and rugs are no different. It might be ideal to know all about the rug's origins, especially if it's an expensive investment piece, but that's not always possible. 

Let your eye guide you and make a judgment call for yourself, knowing you won't be able to find out everything about the piece. If the design speaks to you, and the material works for your needs (and budget), go for it.

Make the rug a room's focal point by choosing a piece with a bright, intricate pattern. Picture: Annie Selke, The Washington Post

Use a rug pad

A solid rug pad anchors the rug to the floor and prevents it from sliding (who hasn't almost tripped after kicking up a rug?). A thicker rug pad can be helpful if heavy furniture stands on the rug, and it can provide a cushier feel. If you're dealing with a particularly heavy piece of furniture, consider buying some casters or covers for the legs from a hardware store to avoid the legs digging in and damaging the rug's fibres. Lay the pad out with the rug on top, and smooth it out to adhere the two together.

Know how to care for it

Few rugs can simply be thrown in the wash (completely saturating a rug with liquid can damage the rug's integrity and dyes, Terrell says, and they can be difficult to fully dry); check your rug's care instructions. 

Small stains on many materials can be minimized by spot-cleaning with a damp towel and a mixture of vinegar and cool- or room-temperature water or a diluted liquid dish soap. Just be sure to blot, not rub, the stain because rapid back-and-forth motion can damage a rug's fibers and change its appearance. 

Terrell said that while steam cleaners are great for wall-to-wall carpets, the temperature is too high for handmade rugs. If a fragile rug is so soiled it needs thorough cleaning, it's best to leave it to professionals.

Heavy vacuuming and foot traffic are the main culprits that contribute to wear and tear. For regular cleanings, remove the brush attachment on your vacuum and be gentle, particularly around the edges: Terrell cautions that rough vacuuming on a rug's corners and fringed edge can pull on its threads and lead to tears.

The Washington Post