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Are rugs with natural vegetal dyes better?

Yes and no…: Dyes made from natural substances such as roots have been used in Oriental rugs for thousands of years. But at the end of the 19th century poor quality but easy to use aniline synthetic dyes had been discovered. And by 1940 these inferior aniline dyes had essentially taken the place of natural dyes in carpet production. In fact, even the recipes for making natural dyes had been entirely lost or forgotten.

But, starting in about 1980, natural dyes began to be re-discovered (and in some cases “reverse-engineered”) and used in a few rugs. Additionally, the newer generation of synthetic “chrome” dyes were perfected. These dyes do not fade prematurely in the sun nor do they run when washed with water. Sometimes today’s better quality “chrome” or “chromium” synthetic dyes are difficult to distinguish from natural dyes by the naked eye. Today both natural and synthetic chrome dyes are used in Oriental rugs and both are excellent.

Nevertheless, good quality vegetal dyes offer a richer and more variegated palate of color (know as “Abrash”).  And, carpets dyed with natural dyes age with a warm pleasing patina. Additionally, natural dyes are more environmentally friendly. Vegetal dyes are more labor intensive and require a large amount of dye material. Consequently, naturally dyed carpets are more expensive and may add a price premium of 30% to 50% over rugs made with synthetic dyes.

Although some people prefer the more uniform color characteristic derived from synthetic dyes I personally love the rustic beauty of natural dyes. The choice between natural and synthetic dyes is a matter of preference and cost. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish natural dyes from synthetic dyes. Here, rug veteran Steve Price discusses methods for distinguishing dyes.