Anyone who has ever watched the television “House Doctor” Anne Maurice improving properties to sell will know that she loves sea grass floor covering. It’s neutral, appealing and inexpensive. But what does sea grass have to do with Sisal?
Sisal is a generic term which is often used for all floor coverings made from natural plant fibers. So, ‘sisal’ can include sea grass, hemp, jute, coir, paper and sisal itself.
What’s so Great About It?
Because sisal has a natural resistance to stains, you don’t need to use harsh chemicals, which is especially beneficial if you have children or animals. Sisal doesn’t build up static electricity which is a natural attractor of dust and dirt so it stays cleaner longer than carpet. It’s also very hardwearing and won’t show ‘flattened’ areas. This makes it especially useful in high traffic areas such as hallways.
The natural colors are very restful and the textures are beautiful. With more than fifty types of weave to choose from, you’re bound to find one that you love. Combine that with the fact that sisal is a natural product – it’s no wonder that sisal is so hugely popular.
What is Sisal?
Sisal is made from the fibers of a cactus plant. This particular plant was discovered in the Yucatan (South Eastern Mexico) and Sisal was the name of the port from where the fiber was first exported – hence the name. Sisal is also exported from Brazil, China, Tanzania and Kenya.
The type of cactus that Sisal is made from is called an Agave. In Mexico, these have been cultivated since Mayan times for their fibers which are also used for making cloth, fish nets, hammocks and rope. This is also the type of cactus that is used to make tequila!
How is it Made?
The Agave cactus produces large fleshy leaves. These are crushed and scraped until only the sisal fibers are left. The fibers are then washed and laid out to dry in the sun or dried by hot air blowers. The drying process is critical to the final product as the quality of the sisal depends on its’ moisture content. Once washed and dried, the sisal fibers can be made into a material that is strong, durable, flexible and stretchable. It’s also highly suitable for dyeing and some sisal rugs
are often highly colored.
Isn’t it Scratchy to Walk On?
Not at all. To make it feel softer, sisal is usually mixed with wool at a ratio of 60% wool (or a wool and acrylic mix) and 40% sisal. So although you are walking on a cactus, it certainly doesn’t feel like it!
Is it Easy to Care For?
Yes – as long as you remember that it came from a desert and continue to treat it that way. So, no steam cleaning or water-based carpet shampooing of any kind. This makes it unsuitable for use in bathrooms. If you love the look of it, and want to use it in an area where water is around, such as a bathroom, around a Jacuzzi or swimming pool, you could choose a synthetic ‘copy’ of sisal which would be waterproof.
If any liquid is spilled onto the sisal (even if it’s only pure water) it will draw any dirt particles in the rug to the surface – as the liquid acts like a magnet. This can cause a dark stain which is hard to get rid of. To avoid this, vacuum the sisal frequently, preferably with a model that has beater brushes to bring any dirt right up to the surface.
However careful you are, accidents do happen…and they always happen just where you don’t want them to! If liquid is spilled on your sisal, don’t panic, but do deal with it immediately! Use a clean, absorbent white towel to blot (not rub) the area. Rubbing would only serve to push the liquid deeper into the sisal fibers and make a stain and make that stain larger! For any solid spills, first scrape up the substance using the dull side of a knife, working from the outside of the spill towards the middle. If you still need further help, you could call in a carpet cleaner but make sure they use a ‘dry extraction’ cleaning system.
For extra protection, you can use a spray-on sealant called Sisal Guard. This can be used on any natural fiber rugs and reduces the rate at which the fiber will absorb liquid. It doesn’t guarantee that your sisal will never stain but it will reduce the chances if you do have a spill. A one-quart bottle will cover approximately 10-15 square yards.
If you’re considering sisal, do take your time in choosing as it can save you a lot of money. The less inexpensive sisal rugs have fiber that has been imported from Asia and their bindings are cotton fabric and are top-stitched and not mitered. At the higher end, sisal is often imported from Europe, there is usually a greater choice of weaves and bindings are mitered and blind-stitched in leather or suede.
Whatever your budget and whatever you choose, you’ll love your sisal rug and get many years of pleasure from it!