09 PM | 06 Mar

Oriental Rug Dyes. What you need to know.

True or false – colorfast wool rug can bleed?


The rug may be colorfast in CERTAIN situations. For example, with a regular cleaning or wash, with a neutral or acid side cleaning solution, the rug could be perfectly fine. No dye migration (aka “bleeding”).

But, under different circumstances, it could absolutely have dyes migrate and bleed out.  Some possible culprits – using high heat, using high pH solutions, keeping the rug wet too long (or in a flood), or exposure to pet urine stains.

True or false – A dye fix/lock/stabilizing solution used by cleaners “sets” a wool rug’s dyes?


The solutions available in our industry for professionally cleaning rugs do not “set” the dyes. They STABILIZE them. This means with wool or silk rugs that are NOT colorfast, but test “stable” with the intended stabilizing solution, that you have a WINDOW OF TIME to clean them. (FYI – with silk rugs that window is MUCH shorter than with wool rugs. You better know what you are doing if you are handling silk, or subcontract the work to a rug plant with silk rug expertise.)

I hear many “salespeople” sharing that you “set” the dyes with this or that.

That is not only inaccurate…

…it is downright DANGEROUS.

A cleaner sent me photos from a job where he applied dye fix on two identical rugs for cleaning. He no problem with the first rug cleaning, using his truck mount. (Which, by the way, you should not use truck mounts to clean oriental rugs period… but I’m not going to get into that right now.)

The heat began kicking in after the first rug was done, and so the matching rug with the same dye fix and the same rug cleaning solution EXCEPT now with added much warmer water – you got this…

Heat is bad for natural fiber rugs.

…red dye bleed.

The danger with well-trained professional carpet cleaners deciding to add “rugs” to their services is that their experience with installed carpeting does not transfer to natural fiber oriental and specialty area rug cleaning.

And the solutions, tools, and techniques they own don’t transfer well either.

In the home, heat, alkaline solutions, and the best tools for getting the installed synthetic carpet the cleanest possible, can absolutely ruin natural fiber rugs.

The most common rug problems I’m asked for help with from professional carpet cleaners are 90% due to applying the wrong cleaning techniques to rugs that they do not have the right knowledge about.

And one of the most common results are, dye migration or dye loss or discoloration.

A rug’s value can vary from a cheap $100 Pottery Barn rug to a rug worth millions of dollars.

If you are not sure what you are working on, you might take a little time to find out the basics. And certainly determine the fiber type, and especially the dye stability.

Here are some helpful posts to educate you on dyes:

Click here for video How To Do A Dye Test

Click here for post Why Some Rugs Bleed

Click here for post Pet Puddles. What To Do To Avoid Damage

I hope you found these reference items helpful. When you know what to look for, and really get the basics of rug cleaning down pat, you can avoid most of the pitfalls that result from the lack of good information (or misinformation) about properly cleaning rugs.

– Lisa

P.S. If you want to learn some of the most common mistakes made by carpet cleaners when cleaning rugs, in the right column of this blog you can opt in for my Rug Disasters Report. I lay out the top 10 most common mistakes I see when handling all of the “help me!” emails that come my way week after week. This is also the way to be on my list for announcements of my upcoming training programs and workshops. (Don’t worry, I HATE SPAM… so you will not hear from me very often, your email will never be rented or shared with anyone else, and it’s super easy to opt-out.)

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  • Cory

    Enjoyed reading the rug cleaning posts. I think alot of times rug cleaners get too confident because they have not had a “problem” in a while and that too is when they make mistakes. They get in a hurry and don’t think through the precautions they need to take to safely and effectively clean the rug. Nothing replaces knowledge and experience but it’s also reminders such as this blog post that helps avoid trouble.

    ↶Reply March 28, 2011 9:18 am
    • admin

      Thanks for posting Cory. I agree with you on that point… in fact in my most common rug disasters, I point out that they happen from novices that need training… and the “pros” that get so over-confident they sometimes forget the basics (like “dye testing”) – LOL! Thanks for pointing that out.

      ↶Reply March 29, 2011 8:01 pm
  • Movers London

    Such a great information about rug dyes.I did not know that .Thanks for the information now i can take much precautions while getting my rugs clean by the professionals.

    ↶Reply November 10, 2011 9:57 pm
  • Charlie Weiss

    Once the dye has bled… is there any way to remove that “free” dye, that just moved (liberated by Woolite) to move it farther (out of the fibers completely)?

    ↶Reply August 1, 2014 1:16 pm
    • Lisa

      In most cases, when the dye has moved and redeposited, and dried, it is tough to undo that damage, especially when it was released by a chemical solution. This is why rug cleaners are trained in stabilizing the dyes before they begin cleaning rugs, to help protect that redepositing problem. If you send me photos of the rug, and let me know where you are located, I can see if I have someone to recommend to you – or any recommendations to try. My email is rugchick(at)gmail.com. Thanks.

      ↶Reply August 19, 2014 5:04 pm
  • Will Phillips

    I myself am guilty for this. As a commissioned sales person, the customer pays top dollar to get their rugs cleaned.. Temptation is high!! There is no proper way to clean natural fiber other than washing.. And ya better know what you are doing! I have learned my lesson the hard way! Dang bleeders

    ↶Reply October 21, 2014 5:11 pm