Sisal Rugs

Sisal is the stylish and environmentally friendly flooring choice that more and more people are welcoming into their homes and businesses. Sisal rugs are durable and can last ten years or more with proper care. Sisal fibers can be blended with other natural fibers such as wool or hemp to create an even wider spectrum of eco-friendly flooring choices.

What Is a Sisal Rug?

Sisal rugs are floor coverings made from fibers harvested from the leaves of the Agave sisalana cactus. The plant is indigenous to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula however most commercial sisal today is grown in Brazil, Kenya and Tanzania. The fibrous cords are extracted from leaf pulp through a process known as decortication.

Traditionally, sisal fibers have been used to make rope, twine and cardboard-like materials like dartboards. Contemporary interest in eco-friendly household items, however, has spurred an interest in sisal carpets and other natural sisal rugs.

A sisal carpet is basically a rug woven from sisal twine. Since sisal is a coarse material, it’s often blended with the natural fiber wool to make softer wool sisal rugs. As sisal tends to be slippery, many sisal rugs are manufactured with latex backing or bindings made from wool, canvas, cotton and other materials to help them cling to the floor better. A thin rug pad will also help keep your sisal flooring in place.

What Are the Benefits of Buying Sisal Flooring?

Sisal flooring has many advantages. In most situations, sisal area rugs are extremely resilient, and won’t show compression marks from heavy patterns of use. You can see the pattern of the weave in sisal rugs, and this gives them beautiful, complex textures that make them look handmade even when they are machine-produced

Sisal fiber is naturally stain resistant, which means you will unlikely need to use chemical products on your flooring to keep it looking beautiful. This creates a much safer environment for children, pets and those household members with chemical sensitivities. The molecular properties of the sisal fiber make it an excellent acoustic insulator, and it is a very poor conductor of electrical impulses, which means it won’t build up static electricity on dry days the way carpets made from synthetic fibers do.

Sisal is an extremely eco-friendly and affordable material. The sisal agave cactus absorbs far more carbon dioxide than it generates over the course of its life cycle and can be cultivated without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Its production is also an increasingly important part of the economy for developing African nations.

Buying a sisal rug comes with some sagely advice. Sisal is a natural fiber made from organic plant matter, therefore we recommend you choose a different fiber rug for exterior use or for flooring used in high humidity areas like bathrooms and kitchens. When sisal fibers absorb water from the air, they expand. Damp sisal can also become a medium for mildew and bacterial growth.

As sisal can be slippery, if you’re going to use a sisal stair runner or a sisal runner in other parts of your home, make sure it has a backing or binding made from a material that gives it greater grip with the floor.

If you’re looking for high-quality, durable floor coverings that are an environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic carpets, think sisal.

Sustainable Sisal for Home and Office

sisal in the wildIs the name sisal unfamiliar to you? If you’ve ever played darts, you’re familiar with it. Sisal is that woody, almost cork-like material that dartboards are manufactured from. It has many other uses too, and industrial engineers are excited about its many potential applications.

What Is Sisal?
Sisal fibers are harvested from the sword-shaped leaves of the Agave Sisalana, a large succulent that’s native to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Sisal is known as the coarsest of the natural plant fibers. The Agave Sisalana renders strong, flexible fibers that were used for centuries by the Mayans in everything from rope and twine to hammock cloth.

The Agave Sisalana is a sterile hybrid of a succulent called henequen. Prosperous colonials in the early part of the 19th century became even richer by selling the plant’s fibers to manufacturers in the United States and Europe. These manufacturers used the fibers to make rope, string and similar products. The port the bales of fibers were shipped from was called Sisal, and pretty soon the fiber itself came to be known as sisal.

Over its seven to ten year lifespan, each Agave Sisalana plant produces between 200 and 250 commercially usable leaves. Each leaf contains 1,000 or so sisal fibers. These fibers only constitute a very small portion of the plant, perhaps four percent of its total weight. Harvesting typically begins three to five years after the succulent is planted. Leaves are harvested close to the stalk as soon as they reach their full length. The first harvest typically produces 60 leaves; subsequent harvests, done yearly, produce 30 leaves.

Sisal is naturally flame-resistant and it absorbs sound, which makes sisal rugs a great addition to your home. Sisal is also a poor electrical conductor, so it repels static electricity.

What Are Natural Fibers?
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization defines natural fibers as “renewable fibers from plants or animals, which can be easily transformed into yarn for textiles.” In contrast, synthetic fibers are polymer filaments that are created through chemically processing petroleum monomers.

In the short run, it may seem as though synthetic fibers are cheaper to produce than natural fibers. If you look at energy use over the lifetime of a textile product, however, it’s clear that it requires a lot more energy to produce a synthetic fiber than it does a natural fiber, and that synthetic fibers leave a far larger carbon footprint.

Synthetic fibers are also less healthy than natural fibers. Volatile chemicals are used in their manufacture, after all, and many synthetic fibers radiate small amounts of volatile organic compounds throughout their functional lifespans that no amount of washing will get rid of. Exposure to these chemicals may lead to allergic reactions involving respiratory and skin symptoms in people who are sensitive to such compounds. In some particularly sensitive people, these volatile compounds may even disrupt the normal functioning of the immune system.

Additionally, synthetic fibers don’t move heat and moisture away from the body. The result can be uncomfortable chafing or a buildup of sweat, which can become an excellent medium for fungal and bacterial infections.

Sustainable Sisal

The Agave Sisalana absorbs more carbon dioxide than it produces, which could makes sisal production part of a solution for climate change. Sisal is also completely biodegradable.

The plant has an extensive root system, which means it can be used in watershed management to prevent soil erosion in areas where flash floods constitute a threat.

Sisal fiber is only a small portion of the Agave Sisalana; organic wastes after the fiber is harvested can be used to produce animal feed and fertilizer, or to generate bioenergy.

What Are the Textile and Product Applications from Sisal?

Sisal is too coarse to be worn close to the skin, so it is not used to make garments. Traditionally, sisal was used in the manufacture of rope and twine, but competition from synthetic polypropylene fibers has caused that particular market to all but dry up. Fortunately, many other markets are opening. Sisal has been used to make floor mats, area rugs, placemats and upholstery stuffing. It’s famous as the material that dartboards are made from. It’s also used in specialty paper, filters and cardboard. Sisal is often used in buffing cloths because it’s strong enough to polish steel but soft enough not to scratch it.

Some of the most exciting new applications for sisal lie in the industrial sector. Sisal is increasingly being deployed as part of the plastic composite materials used in automobile components like door panels, seat backs, headliners, package trays, dashboards, and trunk liners. Engineers are also investigating the use of sisal in motor vehicle brakes as a replacement for asbestos.

Where is Sisal Produced?

The highest quality sisal comes from plants grown in humid conditions with plenty of sunshine at temperatures between 20 to 28º C. The covering of the sisal plant is naturally thick and leathery, so it is very resilient to pests and disease, and doesn’t require extensive husbandry to prosper so long as it’s grown in somewhat alkaline soil.

Approximately half the world’s sisal supply is grown in Brazil. Other major producers of sisal fiber include Tanzania, China, Kenya, Madagascar, Haiti and South Africa.

The environmental benefits of using sisal are indisputable: The fiber is 100 percent biodegradable, and sisal products can be recycled and turned into paper before they are discarded. As the oil used for producing plastics becomes more expensive, combining renewable fibers like sisal into molded plastic parts will help keep costs down. The Ford Motor Company is now investigating an injection moulding technique for auto components that would allow 30 percent of the plastics used in parts like battery trays and engine junction box covers to be made from fibers like sisal and hemp.

Most importantly, though, the use of sisal products represents a personal commitment to sustainability, and to the importance of conserving the earth’s resources for generations yet to be born.

Caring For Your Sisal Rug

There’s a lot to be said for natural fiber floor coverings. Natural fibers like sisal are versatile, durable and environmentally friendly. Sisal, which is taken from a type of cactus plant, is strong, and non-toxic. Natural sisal rugs are easy to maintain. Normal vacuuming will keep it clean and spills can be cleaned in a few easy steps.

Regular Rug Care

Sisal area rugs and carpets don’t require any extra-special care. Sisal is resistant to dirt and doesn’t allow it to sink into the fabric. Regular vacuuming once or twice a week will help maintain the rug’s natural look. However, there are some general dos and don’ts to keep in mind.

Use a vacuum cleaner with adjustable brushes for normal cleaning, moving over the rug from different directions. Adjust the brushes so that they lightly impact the surface: brushes that bear down too heavily on the fabric can cause wear and a fuzzing effect of the fabric. With this in mind, avoid using beater bar or self-adjusting vacuums as they could press their brushes too deeply into the fabric.

Give your rug a complete cleaning at least once a year. However, sisal fibers tend to shrink when exposed to too much moisture. It’s important that you never use a steam-cleaner or wet-shampoo on sisal carpets. Instead, use a dry-cleaning method.

What do I do if I spill something on my rug?

It’s best to get to spills immediately. There are a number of natural cleaning solutions that will do the trick, depending on the type of stain. For instance, a quarter-cup of vinegar diluted in a quarter-cup of water works well on things like beer, wine, coffee, juice or gravy. Use a teaspoon of bleach-free detergent with a cup of lukewarm water to clean up animal waste or condiments, such as ketchup or mayonnaise.

Remember, don’t over-saturate sisal fibers. Blot the stain using a cloth dampened with your cleaning liquid of choice, or spray the cleaning solution on the stain using a mist bottle. Don’t rub the stain; it will grind it deeper into the fabric. Use a clean cloth moistened with water to rinse the area, and then blot any remaining dampness up with a clean, dry cloth. Use a hairdryer or fan to dry the area.

Dry stains on sisal rugs can sometimes be cleaned using a dull object, such as a bread knife, to scrape the stain. Then simply use a vacuum on the loose particles.

How Can I prevent mold and mildew growth

Natural sisal rugs absorb moisture easily. For that reason they can be prone to mold and mildew buildup. Avoid placing them in an area that is high in moisture and humidity like a kitchen or bathroom.

Also consider sunlight when deciding where to place your rug. Extended exposure to the sun will affect any fabric. It may be necessary to rotate you area rug from time to time so that light doesn’t hit one side more than another.

Is it better to follow a natural approach to cleaning?

Since sisal rugs are natural fiber floor coverings, it makes sense to maintain them as naturally and chemically free as possible. Dirt doesn’t stick as easily to sisal fabrics. This makes it possible to clean them without the nasty chemicals, which can leave toxins in the air that can be harmful to your health. This is something to keep in mind, especially if you have small children and pets running through the house.

With proper care, sisal rugs and carpeting makes a beautiful, eco-friendly addition to any home. Regular care using natural products will ensure years of enjoyment.