Do you possess a real silk rug? Occasionally a client will bring an oriental rug to us for cleaning that they believe is made of silk. It would be unusual, however, for that rug to actually be made of real silk. Rugs that have bright highlights are often sold as silk, but it is more likely those highlights are made from mercerized cotton or rayon.
This can be the case with certain rugs from India, China and Pakistan, especially when sold in busy tourist markets. Unfortunately for the unwary buyer, a real silk rug can command a much higher price than other rugs. Unscrupulous dealers may even offer guarantees in writing that the rug is silk to further mislead the buyer.
There is also some confusion when it comes to the terms real natural silk vs artificial silk.' Art Silk or artificial silk can be made from many different fibers, such as mercerized cotton or rayon.
The process used to mercerize cotton produces a luster and sheen, as well as increases its strength and is used in certain rugs to simulate silk.
Rayon is a man-made fiber produced from cotton or wood pulp, which also has a sheen similar to silk.
Real silk comes from only one source-the cocoon of the silkworm, either the bombyx mori, which feeds only on mulberry leaves or the wild silkworm, which feeds on oak and other leaves. (The silk from the wild silkworm is not as fine as the domesticated silkworms and their silk cannot be bleached or dyed as easily.)
Real silk is an extremely fine fiber. It can be used to weave fabrics and rugs with extremely high knot counts. Like wool, it can hold up to 30% of its weight in water and still feel dry. Unlike rayon, it will not become weak when wet. It is resistant to some molds and mildew, as well as dry rot.
The moth that attacks wool will also be interested in silk, since silk is a protein fiber, especially if it has protein substances on it, such as food or drink, urine or animal dander. Silverfish and carpet beetles will also attack it. Long periods of exposure to direct sunlight will have a damaging effect on silk and it can be damaged by acids, bleaches, and alkalis as well.
One of the reasons why real silk rugs are not being produced in large quantities is because silk is very much subject to wear by abrasion. This makes them a poor fiber for rugs that are placed on the floor. Hereke, Turkey still produces some of the finest silk rugs.
At ABC, we will be happy to find out for you if your rug is really made from a silk foundation, has silk face yarns or has real silk highlights. But if you are in a tourist market in some large city in the US or overseas, there a few simple tests to perform that may help you.
1. A real silk rug will have a high knot count. It should have at least 200 KPSI (Knots Per Square Inch) and most will have more than 500 KPSI. Because it has a high knot count, it should have a very intricate design pattern.
2. A real silk rug will have real silk fringes that can be clearly seen to be an extension of the rug, not sewn on. Since you may not be as familiar as we are with the differences between silk, cotton, and rayon, it may not help you to know that a real silk rug will have silk fringes.
Therefore, if you can snip a small piece of the fringe and put it quickly through a flame and then out again, the burnt piece should have a crisp, black ball or bead which can be easily crushed, leaving a dark, gritty, fine powder. It should smell like burning hair or charred meat and it will burn slowly and curl away from the flame, is self-extinguishing, giving out little or no smoke.
(Rayon will have a smell like burning paper and the ash will light gray or white and be soft and chalky).
3. Another possible way to discern real from artificial silk is that if the rug is rubbed vigorously, real silk will feel warm; artificial silk will feel cold.
4. The most positive way to determine if a rug is really silk is to do a specialized chemical test, something a bit impossible to do while on a rug buying journey and one that is best left to experts.
We clean all fibers when cleaning area and oriental rugs. We can tell you if your rug is real or artificial silk. We need to know this information in order to clean your rug properly and with the best results.
When you are in the market for oriental rugs, always try to find a reputable dealer or you may pay an unnecessary premium for that beautiful oriental rug.
If you find a rug that is close to our plant, please feel free to bring it in so we can evaluate it for you. Most local reputable rug dealers will allow you to try out your rug in your home environment before buying.
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