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Proper At-Home Cleaning and Care for Rugs & Carpets

When beginning the process for cleaning your carpet or rug, it is imperative to first closely inspect the rug to determine what type of damage your rug has endured. At this point you may choose to hire a professional cleaning service, however, you can also choose to embark on your own home cleaning process. If so, there are several critical pieces of information to keep in mind when cleaning your rug at home. It is also important to mention that hand made, hand woven and heirloom-type rugs are to almost exclusively be handled by professionals.


Once you have decided on a home cleaning process for your rug, you must consider the least invasive techniques to properly care for and conserve your rug. This in mind, you are ready to begin and apply the techniques. To start, it is essential that all loose dirt and soil particles be removed from the rug, which can be done in a couple of ways. You can turn your rug upside down onto a clean surface and lightly tap the back of the rug, or you can gently vacuum the rug. It is recommended by conservators at the Victoria and Albert Museum in England that you use moderate suction and a covered nozzle when vacuuming your rug.[1] You will want to start from the center of the rug, vacuuming toward the fringe and being careful not to catch any strands. Remember to vacuum the reverse side of the rug as well as the front to release deeply embedded dirt and grit that can accumulate at the base of the pile and become abrasive to knots. To get the best results, vacuum slowly and carefully, working in the direction of the pile as you would with velvets or other similar piled fabrics.[2]

Spot Treatment

If you notice that your rug has spots or stains on it, you may consider using a spot treatment to ensure the best outcome of your rug. The least invasive treatments are simple solutions using household items such as diluted ammonia, vinegar, mild liquid detergent, enzymes, and cold water only.

For stains and significant soiling, remember 1. Quick treatment. 2. Absorb the bulk of soiling by blotting liquid with paper towels – do not scrub the stain, blot as needed. 3. Use appropriate cleaning solution. 4. Work with the direction of the pile. 5. Work toward the center of the stain as best as possible. This process may need to be repeated several times in order to remove the spot. After the spot is gone, blot the area with water once or more times to remove any remaining product.[3] Lastly, rinse the rug liberally. See this interactive stain removal tool for more tips and tricks: http://www.rugrag.com/StainRemoval.aspx

Screening, Washing and Drying

After completion of the spot treatment, the next thing to do is to gently wash the face of the rug by hand, restoring the luster of the fabric and original brilliance of colors. For rugs that have seen more wear and tear over the years, perform a deep shampoo on the rug using an appropriate solution consisting of lukewarm water and mild liquid detergent soap or rug shampoo. Some washing processes may often be rigorous, and there is a greater potential for exposing loose or otherwise unsecured areas with propensity toward unraveling during treatment. To avoid further exposing more wear than visible prior to treatment, lightweight or fragile textiles should undergo the process referred to as screening. Screening secures loose fibers in areas of the rug, typically around the corners, side selvages and ends. A nylon or fiberglass screen is placed on top of the rug during cleaning.[4] After screening and washing, lay the rug flat to dry and repeat on both sides for several hours (it can take roughly 6-12 hours for the rug to fully dry[5]). Vacuum the rug once more to remove any final loose pieces of fabric, remove the screens, and your rug will often be restored to its same condition, if not improved!

Periodic Cleaning and Conservation

The notion of how often antique rugs need cleaning is somewhat debated amongst many specialists. According to those at the Victoria and Albert Museum, if you take the proper precautions and handle your rug with extreme care, such as hanging it on display, deep cleaning may only be required every 25 years or so. This is quite different from the every 12-18 month cleaning that professionals at The Carpet and Rug Institute recommend. However, on average, it is advised that your rug be washed and cleaned every 2-6 years to maintain its original condition. In terms of how often a rug should be vacuumed, that is measured by the amount of traffic the rug has been exposed to. The Carpet and Rug Institute has a general formula you can use for determining how often to vacuum: 1. Vacuum daily in high-traffic or pet areas. 2. Vacuum twice weekly in medium-traffic areas. 3. Vacuum weekly in light-traffic areas, using attachments at carpet edges.[6] To help conserve the condition of your rug or carpet over time, rotating the rug 180 degrees every year or on an as-needed basis may help distribute wear patterns and areas that may have received prolonged sun exposure. This will further increase the longevity, value and aesthetic of your rug.

[1] For more information, see Blyth’s Carpet & Rug Care on the Victoria and Albert Museum website. Available at http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/carpet-and-rug-care/.

[2] See The George Washington University Museum’s Textile Museum on Care & Cleaning for Textiles. Available at http://museum.gwu.edu/care-cleaning.

[3] See The Carpet and Rug Institute’s Cleaning Spots and Spills under the Cleaning and Maintenance section. Available at www.carpet-rug.org/Carpet-for-the-Home/Cleaning-and-Maintenance/Cleaning-Essentials/Cleaning-Spots-and-Spills.aspx.

[4] For more information on screening, see the Henry Ford’s Cleaning section under The Care and Preservation of Antique Textiles and Costumes. Available at https://www.thehenryford.org/research/caring/textiles.aspx#4.

[5] See The Carpet and Rug Institute’s Do-It-Yourself Extracting under the Cleaning and Maintenance section. Available at www.carpet-rug.org/Carpet-for-the-Home/Cleaning-and-Maintenance/Cleaning-Essentials/Do-It-Yourself-Extracting.aspx.

[6] For more information, see The Carpet and Rug Institute’s Vacuuming under the Cleaning and Maintenance section. Available at www.carpet-rug.org/Carpet-for-the-Home/Cleaning-and-Maintenance/Cleaning-Essentials/Vacuuming.aspx.