Cowhide Rugs - Should I buy real or fake?

Posted by Kirsten Oviedo on

Real vs. Fake Cowhide Rugs

You are in the market for a new rug and love the look of cowhide rugs, but what are some of the pros and cons of fake vs real cowhide? These are great questions and here I'll explore all the benefits and downfalls of both on 5 main points: durability, maintenance, environmental impact, price, and variety.

What is the difference in durability between real and fake cowhide rugs?

"Fake" for the purpose of this blog just means that it is not made from real cow. The artificial rugs that I have seen in the bigger box stores that have them available are made from polyester, although I am sure that there are varieties out there made of a different material that's a bit more convincing. The fake hides are very lightweight with a plushy hair material on one side and a woven polyester material for backing.
I have purchased one of these rugs (a cheaper version, to the tune of $89) to see how it held up. At first glance it looked great but I could tell right off that with heavy traffic, it wouldn't hold up much better than any of the plush stuffed animals my children play with. It was a bit too small for my area and the backing was too slick to stay in place on my tile floor but did okay once I moved it into a room with carpet. It was very soft, much softer to lay on than a real hide but again, I'd say in less than a month it was pretty dingy from just mild daily traffic. 
I would say that these would be great in a low traffic, carpeted area or over a child's bed but would not hold up in a high traffic area used as an actual rug.
Real hides are made from real cow leather and hair. The backing is made from suede, with the texture varying depending on the country of origin. The suede is not sticky or tacky by any means but generally stays put on the harder flooring surfaces like wood and tile.
Authentic cowhides with proper care can last 7 to 10 years in a high traffic area. While they cannot be put through the wash in similar fashion, they do not stain or absorb smells and naturally repel liquids. They are not easily torn or scratched.

Which is easier to clean, real cowhide or fake?

You can use a broom to sweep the polyester hides but depending on how natural looking of a replica it is, it may sweep a bit more like carpet that a true cowhide. Polyester hides can stain depending on the original hide color. While the tag instructions only indicated that I could spot clean as necessary, I did put mine through the wash. It came out cleaner but it permanently changed the texture of the hair even though it didn't go through the dryer so that's something to keep in mind.
Authentic cowhides can be swept with a broom to clean off dirt and dust and can be taken out and shaken to removed deep-set particles. Spills wipe clean with just vinegar and water and they can be dried in a well-ventilated area. You can find detailed instructions for the right way to clean a cowhide rug here. 
How to clean a cowhide - the right way!

Which has greater Environmental Impact?

Since real cowhides are natural resources, there is a ecological debate about whether buying fake or real can negatively impact the environment.
The polyester cowhides that are sold in major brand stores are produced in mass using the same materials that are used for clothing. As mentioned in the previous section, the lifespan of artificial hides is quite short, landing the item in a landfill within 2 years of purchase.
Real cowhide rugs are made from cows leather from cattle raised and harvest to meet Brazil's demand for red meat, one of the country's largest industries. The hides are salvaged, processed and repurposed into a new product through various curing processes and then exported. Their durability and value retention over time gives them a much longer lifespan of 7 to 10 years, cutting down on environmental waste.

Which is cheaper, real cowhide or artificial? 

Polyester hides can be purchased for a little under $100 bucks at big box retailers. More lifelike patterns and more convincing textures can run up to $300.
Real hides generally start out closer to the $150 price point, depending on the size and pattern and run up to $800 depending on the uniqueness of the pattern and the brand that sells it.

Which gives you more pattern options, real or fake? 

The box store selections generally boast 3 to 7 different patterns or color selections and only one size.
With real hides, you have a lot more control over your overall design experience. Real hides come in hundreds of patterns and color combos and can range in size from 3ft by 3ft all the way up to a solid 8ft by 10ft rug. You are able to coordinate colors with your furniture and room colors and end up with a truly unique accent piece that fits perfectly with your décor. Real hides also come with their own unique character marks as each one is distinct based on its individual markings, size and shape.
To shop authentic cowhide rugs, check out Crew & Company's extensive selection of over 200 patterns and sizes here. 
Designer Cowhide Rugs

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