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Do Rubber-Backed Area Rugs Cause Discolorization to Wood Floors?

Kevin Ann Reinhart

A rubber-backed area rug is designed to reduce the incidence of slips and falls on slippery, polished floor surfaces. Unfortunately, the same rug can discolor the protective polyurethane finish applied to many hardwood floors and also discolor the wood beneath. Care must be taken in choosing a nonslip rug pad that will protect your family without damaging the wood floors that were installed, often with great care and expense, throughout your new or newly redecorated home.

The Problem

An area rug chosen to cover a hardwood floor should be properly backed or padded.

Rug pads and backing may be labeled as safe for hard surface or wood floors but may still cause discoloration. Wood floors are often sealed with a polyurethane finish that must be allowed to breathe. Rugs backed with rubber inhibit air flow. Consequently, rubber-based backing material often causes discoloration to both the finish and the floor. Wood floors can also be negatively impacted by area rugs containing foam, latex, synthetic rubber and plastic.

Products to Avoid

Area rugs and backing containing polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, contain plasticizers that can permanently discolor your wood floor. Avoid using any product that was designed to line cabinet shelves. Although these synthetic rubber materials are touted as being nonskid, they may also leave behind an unwanted pattern on the finish of your floor that must be sanded and resealed to eradicate. Bathroom rugs backed with a white synthetic or natural rubber should never be used on hardwood. These rugs can permanently yellow your wood floors.

Products to Look For

Choose area rugs that are dye-safe and reversible. Wool, cotton and any rugs made from 100 percent natural fibers are a good choice. Look for breathable padding made from recycled polyurethane foam or polyester fiber padding. Rubber-backed rugs can be used safely if a breathable pad is permanently attached to separate the rubber from the hardwood floor. An appropriate non-yellowing carpet tape should be used. Your hardwood dealer or installer can recommend suitable brands for your carpet type.

Other Considerations

The sun's ultraviolet rays, streaming through the windows of your home, will fade and discolor hardwood floors over time. Rotate your area rugs to offer protection against sun damage and to avoid unwanted patches of faded hardwood. Clean your area rugs regularly, or shake out accumulated dust and grit that can scratch the wood or mar the finish of your hardwood floors. With proper care, your wood floors can remain unblemished for many years to come.