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Sisal and its siblings.

Here are choices in plant fiber floor coverings

CRISP GEOMETRIC weaves, warm woody tones, and durability make plant fiber matting an increasingly popular choice of floor covering for Westerners. Here's a rundown of basic characteristics.


Four types of plant fiber matting are now available in more styles, weaves, and blends than ever before. Choices include sisal, coir (pronounced coyer), jute, and sea grass--as well as various blends. Though each type of fiber is derived from a different plant, all of these fibers are similar in appearance and texture. Sisal and coir are the most alike; both were originally used to make brushes, rope, and twine. This similarity has led to confusion: shoppers mistakenly use sisal as a generic term for all natural fiber floor coverings.

Sisal. These mattings are made with yarns spun from fibers extracted from the spiked leaves of sisal (agave)--a cactuslike plant native to Central and South America and Africa. Sisal's natural color is creamy white, but, like coir, the fiber is sold in a wide range of colors. Be careful about where you put such rugs; prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause the fibers to bleach to their original color.

Sisal breathes, which means it reacts to the relative humidity in its immediate environment. It shrinks slightly when moist and is subject to rot if left damp for a long period. It should not be used outdoors.

Coir. Yarns for these mattings are made of fibers extracted from coconut husks. The coconuts come primarily from palms growing along India's Malabar Coast.

Coir fiber is darker than sisal, and its yarn is coarser, scratchier, and thicker than sisal yarn. It can feel harsh and prickly on bare feet. "Before buying the coarser floor coverings, think about how often you walk around barefoot," advises one dealer. Coir can be used in indoor-outdoor situations. Because it is less slippery than sisal, it's a better choice for covering stairs.

Like sisal, coir breathes--but it expands slightly when wet and shrinks as it dries.

(Some experts recommend that installers avoid potential wrinkling or stretching problems by rolling coir and sisal mattings out on the floor 24 hours before installation to allow them to adjust to the humidity and temperature.)

But coir has long been used in brush form in doormats because it is resistant to dirt, bacteria, and mildew. As part of the coconut's outer shell, it is also naturally resistant to insects.

Jute. This glossy fiber extracted from plants in the linden family is native to eastern India. It is less durable than sisal and coir but softer, so it can take a flatter weave. It resembles wool in texture.

Sea grass. This popular product from China is smoother textured than sisal and more strawlike; it often has a slight greenish tint, which usually disappears with age. It wears well, but not as well as sisal and coir.

Blends. For the look of plant fiber mattings without the coarse texture, you can choose from an increasing variety of coir and sisal blends, wool and sisal blends, and all-wool carpets woven to mimic sisal and coir.


Plant fiber mattings are manufactured with or without an applied backing. Your dealer can help you choose the installation technique that's best for your situation. For example, in a beach house or an area where sand or dirt will be tracked in, experts recommend installing mattings without backing so that the sand can pass right through. Then occasionally roll up the matting and vacuum.

Immediate attention is the key to stain removal. For most water-base spills and general dirt, blot up the spilled substance with undyed paper towels and then brush or sponge the discolored area with small amounts of lukewarm water and a little detergent or carpet shampoo. Do not saturate. Then dry the matting quickly with a hair dryer. For stronger oil-base stains, dampen a clean, undyed white cloth with dry-cleaning fluid and blot up the stain. Dry with a hair dryer. For more specific instructions, ask the manufacturer.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:plant fiber matting
Author:Gregory, Daniel
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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