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A hearth rug is a small throw rug, often shaped like a half-circle, that is placed in front of the fireplace, or hearth. The hearth rug is typically made of a flame-retardant material and its intent is to provide a safe place for sparks from the fire to land, preventing damage to your carpet or wood floor.
The hearth rug is a relatively new innovation; in days of yore, when flooring was hard-packed dirt, sparks jumping out of the fireplace were rarely dangerous. Of course, as it became more common to cover the floor with 'strewing herbs,' which were intended to keep down bugs, freshen the air and absorb wastes from animals and sloppy eating, a 'hearth' became a built-up enclosure of stone or brick to keep the fire enclosed and away from household flammables. Today's fireplaces often include a built-up brick step that spans slightly more than the width of the fireplace and obviates the need for a hearth rug. However, some are simply flush with the floor level, although many builders tile or brick the area immediately in front of the fireplace.
Hearth rugs that you can purchase today are specifically for protecting wall-to-wall carpeting, area rugs or stained wood flooring from the singes and burns commonly associated with snapping fire logs sending live coals into the surrounding area. Look for flame-retardant materials. Treated wool can be used in the manufacture of hearth rugs that will not only not catch fire when a live coal lands on it, but actually allow the coal to burn out. The rug will be singed, of course, but the singed portion will simply brush off, leaving no black mark to show that the hearth rug had done its duty.
Look for a hearth rug to complement your décor —- for a colonial look, braided throw rugs are ideal. If you are protecting an Oriental rug, find either a very plain hearth rug in a single, complementary color, or one that carries through the Oriental theme. Sisal and jute rugs are rugged and attractive, but make sure they are truly flame-retardant before using them as hearth rugs.
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