Shag Rugs. What You Need To Know.

One of the frequent questions I get asked by cleaners and consumers today is “what about SHAG rugs?”

My answer to them is this: “Cool idea… BAD reality.”

Shag rugs out in the market today are far and away the most difficult rugs to clean and maintain.

In theory I understand the “fun” of it. You can get a crazy, cushy, unexpected look in a home that looks like it would be fun to walk on, roll on, and play on…

A few cool looking shag rugs from www.modernrugs.com

…but the coolness factor fades pretty darn fast for the owner, especially when they find out how hard it is to keep many of these rugs looking good, and how expensive it is to have these rugs professionally cleaned. (Though if they know these things before buying them, they can just get something cool and know they will replace it in a few years after it gets too dirty to enjoy anymore.)

At our rug cleaning facility we often charge more to clean shag rugs per square foot than we do to clean much more valuable silk rugs. That’s because there is a lot of additional hand work needed to try to clean what gets embedded in the fibers of these rugs.

The shag rug may be an inexpensive one from Pottery Barn or IKEA, or a pricier one from a designer shop like Modern Rugs (which has a wide selection). Shag rugs of all values ALL present challenges that take considerably more time to get these rugs truly clean.

And more time to clean unfortunately means more cost to the shag rug owner.

Here is what you need to know about shag rugs if you own one (or are thinking of buying one), or if you are a professional cleaner and are going to attempt to wash one.

WOOL SHAG = SHEEPDOG

Much cuter than a shag rug.

Some of the first “shag rugs” were woven Flokati rugs from Greece, which cleaners often refer to as sheepdogs, because it’s a big shaggy construction that is difficult to wash and brush out smooth, as a sheepdog can be.

Greek Flokati wool rug. One of the first “shag” rugs.

If you clean them regularly (before they look dirty!), you can keep Flokatis looking good and staying “fluffy” for years. There is extra time needed to groom and get the rug nice after a wash, so generally cleaners charge more to clean Flokatis versus regular wool woven pile rugs.

Here’s an even older shag rug that came into our shop that is not wool, but is SILK. This was crafted by a client’s grandmother during World War II with silk parachute cord strands:

Silk parachute cord – vintage WWII.

The problem is that this was woven on a burlap/jute foundation which over time has become brittle so the rug is slowly falling apart. But this may be the “oldest” shag rug I’ve seen in my rug career:

Silk parachute cord WWII “shag” rug.

It’s a shame the foundation is weak because this actually is a good fiber to build a shag rug from. The silk cords are strong, so they do not “mush” up and lose their shape. The slickness of silk also keeps the inside fibers relatively clean – you can shake the rug upside down and get much of the dust to simply shake away. The grit does not grab onto the fibers as they do wool or synthetic fibers with this type of shag construction.

Back to WOOL shag rugs…

Today we are beyond just the Flokati type of construction. We are getting rugs that many of us describe as NOODLE rugs, because the wool fibers look like pasta noodles. =)

Wool shag “noodle” rug.

These rugs have heavy twists of wool as the face fibers, and they are loosely woven into typically a heavy cotton backing. Here are some of the drawbacks of these wool shag rugs, both the “noodle” ones and the “shaggy sheepdog” ones.

=> These rugs have a felted type of wool, which wants to grab EVERYTHING and hold onto it.

This means if you have pets, you are NEVER going to get the pet hair out. If you have kids that crumble food on the rug, you are NEVER going to get all of the crumbs out of the rug with any vacuum you own. It’s almost like a microfiber cloth, it picks up everything and does not let go of it.

Wool shag that picked up black flecks from a husband’s socks – this won’t wash away, you will have to pick these fiber “dots” away one by one. YOU have to… because I won’t. =)

=> These rugs yellow over time.

Wool can yellow over time from exposure to light, exposure to certain chemicals (like laundry detergents), or due to being woven on a jute foundation or with a construction that has used latex to hold it together.

Wool shag rug is yellowing from latex backing and age.

Usually the wool used has been bleached to make it “whiter” in the beginning, and this does damage the wool so it will yellow over time as a result. Sometimes short term “whitening” can be done again using a low percentage hydrogen peroxide treatment, but all whitening attempts do add a little more damage to those already weakened fibers.

=> These rugs are very tough to vacuum and to spot… and the tufts can pull out easily.

The construction of these wool pieces makes it impossible to vacuum with a regular vacuum. A Dyson on these rugs would be a disaster. You need a canister vacuum, or an upholstery attachment, to try to literally vacuum the sides of these fibers and in between them row by row.

Wool shag construction tough to get the “grit” in the base of the rug out.

Spills also can be a disaster and need to be gotten to immediately otherwise they work their way down into that heavy cotton foundation, and this is much harder to get clean afterwards.

If your vacuum (canister) is too strong, or your spotting attempt too aggressive, you might pull some tufts out because they are typically not in there very securely.

A good tug on a tuft can yank it out of a rug like this.

Though wool by far is the superior fiber for rugs on the floor, that is when you are discussing short pile woven rugs. With the shag construction, the looser weave construction with wool can grab a lot of lint, hair, dust, and general mess and embed it deep in the fiber base to where you may not be able to keep it clean and sanitary.

There are some higher quality wool shag rugs that have much more fiber density that helps protect that grit from easily falling into the base like these other wool examples I’ve shown.

Here is a sample of a high quality wool shag rug from Unique Carpets Limited, their Shagtastic line:

Shagtastic wool rug.

I had a client bring in this sample to show me because I was trying to dissuade her from buying what I thought was a “typical” wool shag rug. This UCL construction has a very high density of wool in it (8 pounds of yarn per square yard). It also has a very strong backing construction that is not the loose and absorbent cotton style.

But it is also not cheap. The price was $50 per square foot. I have to say though, I was very impressed with the quality of the construction and it’s the first time I’ve told someone “that is a good shag rug.”

ACRYLIC SHAG = FIRE HAZARD!

The synthetic knock-off of wool is acrylic.

For those who “know” wool, they can spot acrylic right away. It lacks the luster and vibrancy of dyed wool, and the texture is scratchier (which makes sense because it is plastic).

Acrylic white shag rug.

As with some of the comments made before about shag “felted” wool, acrylic also (even more so) grabs lint, hair, and “gunk” and does not let it go. These rugs are very hard to keep clean, and the tufts are even easier to pull out as well. These rugs are usually quite cheap to buy, so we are seeing them pop up more and more because they are a cheaper way to have the “look” of wool without the price.

But unlike wool, a big danger of acrylic is that it is HIGHLY flammable.

Up close acrylic fibers.

Wool as a fiber self-extinguishes when lit with a flame. It will literally put itself out (this is due to the high moisture content in the fiber to begin with).

That is one of the pluses of wool as a fiber for clothing or for a rug on the floor or any other fabrics in a living environment. (I don’t know if you’ve noticed when you fly that the interior floor and seat fabrics are generally all wool, which will not burn unless under constant and continuous strong flame, unlike most other fibers.)

Acrylic when it was first used in clothing was discovered to be highly flammable, and government standards had to be established (especially for children’s clothing) which brought the addition of fire retardant to fabrics in clothing and on furniture. You usually see this referred to as “modular” acrylic.

But I am not seeing that same treatment reaching the rug world in our area.  I can tell you that the last few acrylic shag rugs I’ve fiber tested by burning a tuft, have not just burned – they have IGNITED into a big flame and burned very fast.

Anyone purchasing a rug made of acrylic needs to be aware that the screaming deal they got on the price might actually be bringing a serious fire hazard into their home. We’ve seen two client fires this past Christmas holiday, one where a grandchild playing with fire dropped it on to a blanket that caught fire, and then spread to the rug, and then another where a cat knocked over a candle onto a rug that caught fire.

A low pile acrylic would obviously be difficult to “ignite” – but these shaggy construction acrylic rugs, I would not even allow one into my home.

DESIGNER SHAG = PRICEY… and can be COSTLY to maintain.

Then you have a lot of whacky construction shag rugs using synthetic fibers, artificial silk, and even leather strips.

=> Leather shag rugs.

I like the look of the shaggy bomber jacket on this rug.

Leather shag rug.

The challenge with leather shag rugs is that as they age, they lose their sizing, their color, and their “look.” When brand new the strips of leather are perky and bright and stiff, and they are quite cool looking.

It is possible to clean these rugs with leather cleaner and not have to fully wash them (washing can remove the sizing that makes them stiffer, and can remove color) – but usually when we see leather shag rugs there has been a dog in the home, and there are pet puddles in the backing material (usually absorbent cotton) and that rug just flat out needs a serious bath or it will just have to be thrown away.

This is an example of a cool idea… but a not super practical choice for a home with pets. And these rugs are understandably expensive if the quality of the leather is good.

=> Synthetic shag rugs (polyester, nylon, and viscose).

Then you have a whole host of synthetic designer shag rugs, which even though synthetic fibers are much less hard cost to use, does not mean that the custom rug designs are cheaper. You see prices all over the map depending on the “designer” brand.

Some synthetics are made to look like leather strips:

Synthetic shag rug.

Others are made to look like silk, like this viscose and polyester blend:

Side view construction of viscose-poly shag.

One of the “pluses” of synthetic rugs is that they are all primarily plastic fibers, so they can take the heat (and chemicals) of hot water extraction (“steam” cleaning) which natural fiber rugs like wool cannot. This means synthetic rugs can be surface cleaned this way at much less cost to the owner because steam cleaning a rug takes a fraction of the time as thoroughly washing it does.

Unfortunately, with this type of shag synthetic construction, even with the powerful tools at a carpet cleaning company’s disposal, they also would need to literally try to clean these rugs with upholstery cleaning hand tools because full carpet wands and machines would not work on those long strands. They would pull the tufts out and unravel the rug.

It’s a lose/lose situation.

SHAG RUG CLEANING CHALLENGES

Here are the challenges facing professional rug cleaners AND rug owners when they have a dirty shag rug on their hands:

1) You can’t really vacuum them. Even if you have a canister vacuum, or an upholstery attachment tool, you have to literally vacuum in between the fibers row by row to try to get most (but not all) of the “gunk” out of the middle of these rugs. It’s time consuming, but if you love the look of the rug when you buy it new, then you have to commit to the regular upkeep… or plan to replace it in a few years.

You just can’t vacuum it… and it NEEDS it badly!

(For tips on vacuuming all types of rugs, read my post on “How do I vacuum my wool rugs?”)

2) You can’t spot clean. Spills have to be quickly blotted up or just give up. The cotton construction of the backing material can quickly suck up a spill, and if it’s anything food-related you can attract bugs with the contents not removed from the rug right away.

3) You can’t D-I-Y clean. These rugs are much too heavy to move, and impossible to dry if you own one and try to clean it yourself. If you are a professional rugs cleaner, sometimes in a full wash system you can use a softer pressure washer spray (700 p.s.i) to try to clean in between the rows – with some constructions that will help the grime release. Just take care to not cause pile distortion or loss.

Incredibly tough to get this rug super clean. It’s going to flower and fuzz with scrubbing, so what’s a cleaner to do? Sometimes some slightly higher pressure water can help.

4) You can’t get odor out easily. The cotton foundations of many of these shag rugs absorbs urine easily from pet accidents, and you need A LOT of water to get those contaminants out. Surface cleaning is NOT going to solve this problem, in these cases the shag rugs must be fully and professionally washed.  Even then, if the backing has latex adhesive in it, you may not ever get all of the odor out of the rug. That is why these are not the ideal rugs for homes with pets that are not trained.

5) There is no quicker, cheaper clean. Even synthetic shag rugs, which should be steam cleaned, can’t because of the construction. That means the only option is washing them, which is a labor intensive service. So if the cleaning price is more than the price of the rug, you might just plan to buy a new one every 2 or so years. (Rugs under regular use should be cleaned every 18-24 months. If you dust/vacuum them regularly, you can extend it to 30 months, and any longer than that the rug is truly not sanitary after all of the feet, shoes, and paws walking all over it. Just buy another new, clean rug.)

There used to be shag wall-to-wall carpet several decades ago until everyone realized what a nightmare it was to live with and keep clean. Sometimes kids even got lost in those fibers! =)

The same fate will happen with today’s shag rugs… they will go out of style when it becomes apparent how tough, and how expensive, it  is to keep these rugs looking good.

Happy Rug Cleaning!

– Lisa

P.S. If you are looking for rugs and do not know what to buy, here’s a past post on what to look for when buying rugs, and another on the pros/cons of synthetic rugs versus natural fiber rugs.

Comments

  1. Ian Harper says:

    I clean these types all the time in the UK turn upside down on hard floor to vac back with upright dust fulls out pull back and keep vacing the dirt from hard floor. then clean by hand with shampoo mix with oxibrite. not perfect but does the job.

  2. Rug Chick says:

    Thanks for posting Ian. Are you seeing mostly wool shag rugs in the UK, or synthetic?

    I don’t know any “perfect” way to clean these rugs. =) I appreciate you sharing – thank you!

    Lisa

  3. Gerwyn says:

    I am currently cleaning a synthetic shag rug, that smells of ‘dog’, although the dog is clean, he does like chewing his bone on the rug! The first method I tried was a ‘surface clean’ as in HWE and de odourizer- this made the rug look cleaner and improved the smell! I then submerged the rug in a deodourising solution and gave it a light scrub and the rug is nearly ‘dog smell’ free! I am going to submerge the rug again in carpet cleaning solution and give it a scrub with scrubbing machine- hopefully this will do the trick?

  4. Vance says:

    Great info Lisa. I have had a few Flokati rugs come through the shop. They were not too bad to clean (and the client was happy).

    However the synthetic shag with the 4 inch pile was a nightmare. Just returned it to the client and recommended she buy a new one. She has 2 basset hounds that dragged their fat bellies (and nether regions)across the rug. Ugh!

  5. Rug Chick says:

    LOL… Vance, thank you for posting. I do like Flokatis much better than the synthetics as well.

    Lisa

  6. Rug Chick says:

    Sometimes you have to do the work several times to make it “work” – that is why most cleaners charge more for shag rug cleaning, they are NOT easy to clean.

    Good luck! Let us know how you do.

    Lisa

  7. Peter Daly says:

    Thank you for this great article. The photos help a lot. I am going to share this article. Peter Daly

  8. Cory says:

    Thanks for all the rug cleaning tips. I love your blog. We have cleaned several Flokatis. they are not near as bad as a shag. Had one client with a huge (heavy) shag rug. We nicknamed it the cigarette rug because it looked like it was made from a ton of cigarette butts. LOL!

  9. Hi Lisa,

    Just wanted to share a personal experience I had recently with an 8×10 synthetic shag rug. It was not terribly dirty, but because I was unable to dry it quickly enough, it gave off what I can only describe as a “smelly foot” odor in some regions of the rug. Initial moisture after wash was around 30%, which decreased to around 20% (readings taken with a moisture meter) after almost a full day of constant blowing. The humidity here in Texas is terrible and we had some rain the day after the first cleaning (yes – there was more than one cleaning). After trying post-extraction without success, I decided to water-claw it to no end until I finally got the initial moisture level down to the 20% range. That, along with a break in the humidity level, allowed me to finally get the rug down to around 5% moisture level. Based on this experience, I can attest to much of a challenge it is to wash these things.

  10. Lisa says:

    Thank you Jose

  11. question’s concerning flokatis. Washing how agressively can they be scrubbed? After wash the extraction is it safe to use a drag wand or are we talking upholstery tool or water claw? Drying is it better flat or hanging? Grooming what is the proceedure? I have yet to clean a flokati, but I did just look a a pretty big one at a clients home that was fairly dirty.

  12. Julia says:

    Speaking from personal experience, I can relate to this blog posting completely. We had an off-white synthetic shag rug that looked gorgeous in our living room but when our dog got very sick and tried to clean it… after it dried it smelled like what was described by others above–smelly feet! Eww! Professional cleaners estimated cost of cleaning it at the same cost we paid for it. We ended up ditching it in the end! Beautiful idea… not so practical though!

  13. Lisa says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience Julia – it will only help others to think through the best choices for rugs in their home.

  14. douwe says:

    Thanks. Great article. and yes my cheap white shag rug is now gray after two years and impossible to get clean. :-(

  15. Great article — several very important tips like the fire hazard of acrylic rugs — we see these in homes with children and you are right — very scary!
    thanks for all the great information! What do you all charge for cleaning flokatis?

  16. Lisa says:

    Thank you Shelly. We charge for Flokatis and all shag constructions rugs $5 per sq ft for washing. Unfortunately they are the most difficult to thoroughly clean (especially the new shag synthetic ones) because they require so much hand work to clean between the rows and groom/block. It’s like washing a sheep dog sometimes. =)

  17. Jeannine says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for posting this! Someone at a garage sale practically *gave* me a super-fun, retro-70’s rocking chair from Pottery Barn Kids, with a removable synthetic shag cover. It instructs “Dry Clean Only”, but I won’t pay $50 to clean a trinket I bought for $5. Home dry-cleaning only made it smell perfumed, not look any cleaner. So I went online to research whether it’s OK to stick it in the washer, anyway. Thanks to your flammability warnings, I’ve decided that using this in my rambunctious 5-year-old’s bedroom is too risky. I’m considering making a patchwork cover, from old wool sweaters. That would still be funky and fun, but safer and easier to dry-clean.

  18. Chad says:

    Has anyone had any success using a shag rack attachment for a canister vacuum?

  19. Lisa says:

    Shag rugs are a bear to clean and vacuum. Sometimes turning it upside down and having friend help shake the heck out of it is the only way to get it to release the gunk when dry. I would think the attachment will help… but this is a losing battle, just like when we had shag wall-to-wall in the 1970s – we don’t have it today because no one could keep it clean.

  20. Melanie says:

    Just bought one from someone who got it from IKEA and has not had it for long. Now I know why? Thanks to all of you for the advise. See what happens!!!

  21. Coco says:

    Thank you!! I was looking for a shag rug to buy and found your site. THANKS! So happy to know the truth about those rugs before buying it!!

  22. Lisa says:

    You are welcome Coco. I have to say that these days these are the most challenging rugs for upkeep, and most rug cleaning companies charge top dollar to clean them (sometimes exceeding the purchase price if the shag rugs are synthetic). It’s nice to know all of that up front.

  23. Bec says:

    I have a lovely leather shag rug. Unfortunately my dog has recently had an upset tummy & has been to the toilet on it. The mess is too runny to pick up. I’m at a loss as what I should do to clean the mess & the smell. Any suggestions will be gratefully received.

  24. Lisa says:

    There is no way around this one… you need a professional rug cleaner to wash the rug. This type of contamination needs special handling to make it free of bacteria and other unmentionables, including odor. Another challenge is that leather does not handle being washed well (it usually has sizing on it to try to make it stiffer) – so it may get more limp as a result. This is why a professional needs to be called, to see what they can or cannot do. Anything you try to do yourself will undoubtedly leave contamination in the rug and that will not be healthy for your home. I hope your dog feels better. =(

  25. Marie dornwell says:

    Hi, how do you fluff a silk shag? Thanks,marie

  26. Kaye says:

    I use rubbing alcohol to clean my 5 x 7 synthetic off white shag rug. Just use a white wash rag so color does not transfer. Poor onto the wash rag and rub in all directions? I also use it to clean microfiber chairs. Works like a charm and inexpensive too!

  27. Lisa says:

    Marie – why does it need fluffing? Has it been washed, or is it from walking on it? Most shag rugs are fluffed by simply turning the rug upside down, getting some friends to help, and shaking it really good, then flipping it back around. (Good excuse to have a party – invite some friends to help FLUFF up the rug!) Send me some photos of your rug so I can see what we are dealing with. Thanks!

  28. Patty Pinkham says:

    So this article was written about me! I absolutely fell in love with a very thick expensive shag and we did really well with it for 4 months – until we went away for a night and our dog sitter did not show. We paid about $700 for this 8×10. Our dog peed many times on it due to emergency of situation. Layer upon layer of urine. And the house was super hot too. Should I attempt to have it cleaned or just buy a new rug? I am heartbroken but will not invest in the cleaning if I should just save our money for a new one.

  29. Lisa says:

    Patty, I would probably put the money toward a new rug. If there are “many” stains, getting into that latex adhesive in the backing will be a challenge for any cleaner to get it out 100% – so your dog may return to those spots again. I am sorry. If you are in San DIego I would be happy to look at it to see if I feel good about the options for getting it odor-free. I tell my clients with pets who they leave behind with sitters to roll up their favorites rugs, because the change in routine often leads to accidents unfortunately.

  30. Heather says:

    We had one and I LOVED it. It was huge and tightly woven. Perfect for my babies to play on. We would clean it though. We would take it outside with soap, hose it down, soap it up with our hands and he it off again. It took a lot of time and two of us at the least to get it lifted over something to dry and several days for that to happen, but it would look brand new and was amazing after until,it needed it again. We had it for several years and wish I still did. Had to give up because I was pregnant with our third and had a hateful cat who kept targeting it. As in, we washed it and she got it within 24 hours. Ended up throwing it out after a really bad hit AND got rid of the cat.

  31. Lisa says:

    You know Heather…. the WOOL shag rugs are great. Wash up nice. They are a beast to handle and brush and care for (like a SHEEP DOG!) but Flokatis and similar shags, are fun when they are kept clean. These new shags, the polyester ones and viscose ones, just do not have the same life and look. I have had several clients pay a pretty penny to get these shiny shag rugs, and after about 6 months of use they gray out from the soil and have to be washed – and it is usually more costly to wash these than short pile rugs, and so it can get expensive to own these. They can be fun to have in the house – you just need to know all the aspects of owning one so you do not regret the purchase. I have a number of clients who love their shag rugs. Cleaners… well… they are the hardest to wash, so they are not our favorites. =)

  32. Anne says:

    Anyone know anything about the quality of Sansom shag rugs? (sansomshagrugs.com) I just ordered some samples but don’t know the company.

  33. Lisa says:

    Hello Anne, I went to the site to take a look. I am ALWAYS suspect when a rug store states that their prices are “50-70% off.” In the rug world, places that say things like this, or have a perpetual “going out of business” sale, are warning signs to me. What does not make sense to me is their pricing. The wool and the polyester rugs are basically the same price, though polyester is MUCH cheaper a fiber than wool. All of these are machine made, so there is no labor cost, and yet all of the rugs seems to be about $10 per sq ft and up – adding shipping on top of that – this is about what you could pay for a hand made rug, not a high end handmade rug, but an average quality one.

    If shag is the look that you are after, you just need to understand that these rugs are the most difficult to keep clean, and the hardest to wash. Most rug shops will charge extra to clean shag rugs, which may approach the price paid for the rug if it is synthetic. Another draw back with the synthetic shag rugs (not so much the wool ones), is that they look dirty faster because they have no soil hiding ability – so they turn gray after months of use, rather than with years. So you will have to clean more often, which is an unexpected expense. So… if you like the look, get one that won’t show the soil as easily, if it’s polyester, and get a wet/dry vac with a nice square attachment head so you can vacuum often to try to get the dirt from sticking to the fibers so you can have it look good longer. Or even better, get some good short pile rugs to place before you get to the room with shag, and capture the dirt before it gets there. Shag rugs are fun… but they can be a beast to take care of. As long as you know that going into your purchase, you will be okay. But as far as the pricing… you are not saving 70% – and no one ever is when they go to a place that has that plastered all over the place. Rug dealers will never make a sale without a good profit. But then think the only way people will buy is with a big sale sign. Kind of like stores that always have sales, and always have coupons to get you in to save an additional 30% – they just raise the prices so that they still make money. Just be a smart shopper and if the price is good for you, and you like the style, go for it. Hope that helps, Lisa

  34. donna says:

    What would you recommend between a Flokati and a wool shag rug?

  35. Lisa says:

    A flokati IS a wool shag rug, except that it is woven instead of loosely tufted/looped into a canvas back. If you are looking for a rug that is plush and will always wash up great, I would go the flokati route (some that are small enough can be washed in a commercial washing machine – just DO NOT DRY them, they will shrink). If you need a HEFTY rug (if it’s a larger size and you have activity in the room) then the wool shag rugs tend to be looped into a heavy canvas backing, so it can take high activity.

    If you are looking for the one that will be able to be cleaned most thoroughly – get the flokati, as the shag wool ones tend to get everything caught in the foundation, they are next to impossible to vacuum, and they also shed more than the flokati will.

    Hope that helps,
    Lisa

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