Clean Your Area Rugs & Make Them Look New Again — Here’s How!
Use these simple tips for standard care, deep cleaning and removal of stains to keep your area rugs looking their best. Also, learn about proper care for specific types of rugs.
An essential part of a room’s overall decor, area rugs are used to warm up a space, inject color and pattern, and to divide a space into zones. The only downside are the stains and debris that inevitably accompany them.
As a first step, it’s always important to identify the material from which your rug is made. Knowing this and modifying your treatment of the rug accordingly will prolong its life. Use this rug cleaning guide for tips and instructions for basic cleaning and stain removal.
Basic Rug Care
Determining the best way to clean an area rug comes down to its material, construction and size. For large area rugs, care for them as you would wall-to-wall carpeting. The majority of rugs will be best served by following this care routine:
- Vacuum to remove dirt: As with regular carpeting, consistent vacuuming is the most important cleaning action you can take. For rugs that are reversible, remember to vacuum both sides. This takes care of debris that can prematurely wear out your rug. Do not vacuum any fringe, and disengage the beater bar when vacuuming a shag rug so as not to tangle long fibers.
- Stiff brush for pet hair: A vacuum doesn’t always pick up pet hair, so the best way to remove it is to use a stiff brush in the same direction as the nap of the rug.
- Flip rugs yearly: Between the sun and foot traffic, area rugs are under a lot of stress. To even out the wear, turn them once or twice per year.
- Shake out small area rugs: To remove dirt and grit from small area rugs, you can simply take them outside and shake or beat them. Be sure to check your local codes first, however, since some areas have ordinances about shaking rugs outdoors.
How to Clean a Rug: By Material
Particular types of area rugs need special care. Consider filing away care tags on your rugs for future reference. Take notice of any deep cleaning recommendations from the manufacturer, including using a rug shampooer or other cleaning devices. Follow these tips for caring for specialty rugs:
- Braided or Woven Rugs: Inspect for any stitching breaks before and after cleaning. Check tags to see whether a small braided rug is washable. If so, put the rug in a mesh laundry bag or zippered pillow case and wash in cool water on the gentle cycle. Rinse thoroughly and either lay flat to dry or tumble dry on a low setting. For large braided rugs, lay them out on a concrete or vinyl floor with a blanket underneath. Cover the surface of the rug with commercial carpet-cleaning foam and rub it in according to the instructions. Rinse or vacuum the foam off and dry thoroughly before putting the rug back in place.
- Antique, Oriental and Hand-Knotted Rugs: Popular choices for kitchens and other high-traffic areas, antique and Persian runners may require more attention than other area rugs. Any new Oriental rugs should be vacuumed like you would carpet and wool area rugs. If your rug is delicate, like some vintage and antique varieties, use special care when cleaning it. For instance, consider protecting it from the vacuum by covering the surface with a piece of nylon screen weighted down with bricks or other heavy objects. Or, cover the vacuum attachment with a piece of nylon mesh, switching out the mesh as dirt accumulates. Professionally clean these rugs annually, and rotate them to ensure even wear. Try not to use them where they are directly exposed to sunlight, as the sun causes fading.
- Sisal, Coir, Rush and Grass Rugs: Rugs made from natural fibers feature an open weave that lets dirt fall through to the floor underneath. These types of rugs are popular in mud rooms and as welcome mats. To clean them, vacuum frequently, picking up the rug every once in a while to vacuum the floor beneath. Many of these rugs are reversible, so if yours falls into that category, consider flipping it every time you vacuum to ensure even wear. Scrub any stains or areas of discoloration using soapy water and a soft brush, rinsing with clear water. Blot the cleaned spot as dry as possible with a towel. You can speed up the drying by using a hair dryer or portable fan. Remember, water weakens the fibers in this type of rug, so work fast and dry thoroughly to extend the life of the rug.
- Sheepskins, Fur and Hair-On Hides: Cover in unscented talcum powder and let it sit for several hours. Brush the powder through the hair and shake it out. Depending on the length of the fur, repeat this process several times. To clean the underside, simply use a clean cloth and warm soapy water. Wipe off any spills or dirt and rinse with a cloth dipped in clean water. Allow to dry completely before putting it back in place.
Care labels are the best way to know how to deep clean small rugs. Any rug that carries a dry-clean-only label is probably not colorfast. That means you should test a small area before spot-cleaning. If you find that a rug is washable, throw it in the washing machine on the delicate cycle. If your rug features long fringe, reduce the risk of it tangling in the washer by dividing the fringe into several bunches and wrapping each with string. Place your rug in a mesh laundry bag or zippered pillowcase and wash it in cold water on delicate.
Dry your laundered rugs over a clothes-drying rack, a slatted picnic table or layed over multiple bricks stacked on a patio, breezeway or porch. Try not to hang rugs over a clothesline as it will distort the shape of them. For small rugs consisting of synthetic fibers (similar to carpeting), simply lay them to dry on a small counter or work table that is protected by an old sheet, towel or drop cloth.
Deep clean area rugs every 12-18 months. When using commercial cleaning products, be sure to test a small area of the rug to make sure it is colorfast and will not be otherwise damaged by the product. For larger area rugs, place them on a concrete or vinyl surface, apply carpet-cleaning foam over the surface and rub it in according to the instructions. Rinse or vacuum the rug, putting it back in place only when it is completely dry.
When your rug is stained, time is of the essence. First and foremost, remember to blot the stain — do not rub it — and remove the moisture from spills as fast as possible.
- Soft drinks and alcohol: Apply a cleaning solution of 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap, 1 quart of water, and ¼ teaspoon of white vinegar to the stain. Rinse and blot dry.
- Tea or coffee: Use the same cleaning solution above on the stain, then rinse and blot. If a stain is stubborn, use a commercial spot carpet cleaner.
- Fat-based stains: This includes things like margarine, butter and gravy. Use a dry-solvent spot carpet cleaner.
- Gum: Pick off what you can, then use an ice pack directly on the spot to harden the remaining gum. Scrape the gum off with a dull knife or spoon. Vacuum the spot and apply a dry-solvent spot cleaner if necessary.
- Paint: Spot-clean acrylic and latex paint spots with the cleaning solution mentioned above while the stain is still wet. If any color remains, dab the spot with rubbing alcohol. When dealing with oil-based paint, sponge the area with odorless mineral spirits. Work carefully so as not to soak through to the backing.
- Tomato-based stains: Sponge the area with cool water and then dab with either the aforementioned cleaning solution or a citrus-oxygen cleaner. Rinse with a mixture of 1 cup white vinegar and 2 cups water. Blot until dry.
- Vomit, feces, and urine: Apply the cleaning solution mentioned above or a citrus-oxygen cleaner. Rinse thoroughly and blot until dry.
- Melted wax: Use the same treatment as gum — harden the wax and scrape it off. Then, dampen a cloth or cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and blot to remove any residual wax.