There are a multitude of reasons why a rug’s dyes may run during cleaning. In fact, I wrote a post on several of those reasons behind how a rug’s dyes can bleed on you.
The careless cleaner approaches a rug as if they are all the same. “Wool is wool, what’s the big deal?”
Most don’t bother to do a dye test. Why? Honestly, I’m not sure why. It should be done on every rug, and it only takes a few minutes. This can be done with a high pH solution, or my personal preference of testing with hot water in a small area on the front AND the back.
Other careless cleaners do in fact do the dye test, but then they think if they use a dye stabilizing or dye locking solution that the rug becomes bulletproof to bleeding on them. That’s just not true, especially if the rug has colors that crock on a towel during a dry or damp towel.
When color crocks on to a cotton towel when it’s dry, or when it’s just damp, this is a serious problem. Especially if the color is a dark one.
In the case above, this is a tribal woven rug from Afghanistan. In some tribal areas, especially war-torn ones like in this weaving region, water is not always readily accessible to provide the thorough washing and scouring of the wool to remove the excess dyes and other impurities from the wool. So you have a rug that has some excess dye in the wool, that is going to move when it gets wet with a wash, so you better be seriously skilled to be able to handle that when it happens.
But sometimes the crocking is not from excess dye, but from color that has been added AFTER the rug was woven.
We call these rugs over-dyed rugs, and you will see these types of rugs come in two types:
1) TEA WASHED RUGS
A large number of rugs today, especially coming out of India, Pakistan, and China, are being given a tea wash treatment. This is a brown dye that is sometimes called henna wash, or also called having your rug “antiqued,” because it gives the rug a more muted look which makes it look older.
The tones vary from browns to golds to yellows. They make the rug darker, and also make the white cotton fringes beige or brown.
The better quality rugs are properly soaked in the dye to allow for even application, or are given multiple layers of application to ensure a good saturation and bonding of the tea wash dye to the rug fibers.
The lesser quality applications are sprayed on, usually on just one side, and it is often these lesser quality treatments that will crock on a dye test. This means that no matter how gentle you are with your cleaning process that over-dye is coming off. It’s like a spray-on fake tan… good until it’s time to take a shower.
When you grin open the fibers you can see if there has been an over-dye treatment with tea wash. You can also see it on the fringe tassels by untwisting them to see if there is white under the beige tone.
And while you are closely inspecting the rug, look also for other pre-existing damage, because often a tea wash application is given to rugs to try to cover up damage such as pre-existing rug dye bleed or other stains.
It’s important to share with your client that the rug has been over-dyed with this tea wash treatment BEFORE you clean it, because likely some of it will come out no matter how gentle you are with your process. Especially if it crocks on you, that over-dye is coming off even if you choose a dry compound cleaning method.
But, at least it CAN be cleaned. You just need to share that this if it tests as a poorer quality application, that the rug has essentially been given a “spray-on tan” that needs to come off if they want it to be properly washed.
A much more perilous over-dye treatment isn’t dye at all… it’s ink.
2) INKED RUGS
Rug dealers for years have tried to hide small areas of damage on antique rugs with using India ink, or painting of worn areas to make them less noticeable.
Today this practice has unfortunately expanded to create some truly dangerous rugs.
The rug above is an example of one of the dangers of buying a rug on-line on one of these mass market retailers. When you buy rugs locally, at least you get the opportunity to “try it before you buy it” and take it out on approval. But more importantly you can do things like take a handkerchief and do a little dye test in the store just to make sure you are not buying inferior goods.
For a rug cleaner, this rug would be a nightmare. Every single color of this rug has been colored over with ink, which is why it has that blotchy, dark look to it. And when you grin the fibers open you can see that there is dark ink on the tips of the fibers.
Taking a completely DRY towel to the face of this rug picked up every single color.
Getting this rug even damp would make the inks pool together and make a mess not only of the rug, but of your wash floor.
So when you do your dye test on a rug, and it crocks, you want to investigate closely to see if it’s possibly ink applied to the fibers, because a dye stabilizing or locking solution is not going to do a thing for ink.
This rug, and others like it, is flawed product… and is not cleanable. And in the case of the rug being shown, the ink from the rug moved on to the underneath wall-to-wall carpeting which led to a much more expensive problem for the owner to handle.
Today more than ever, with the push to cut corners on production costs and get rugs to market faster and cheaper, there are more traps for rug cleaners today than ever before.
But if you are careful, and very thorough with your fiber and dye tests, and your pre-inspection checklists, then you can avoid the biggest rug disasters out there.
Happy Rug Cleaning!
I just had the privilege of speaking to a group of CFI members up in the Inland Empire. (That is the Carpet & Fabricare Institute, which is a professional trade association that covers cleaning and restoration professionals throughout California, Nevada, and Arizona.)
The topic was… I know you’re shocked… RUGS!
After several hours of non-stop teaching on my end, I promised the group I’d make a post to link to a number of posts here that covers some of the topics we talked about more in depth. So here’s the list!
CLICK HERE => Rug Shop Set-ups
CLICK HERE => Rugs and Pets
CLICK HERE => Rugs That Bleed
CLICK HERE => Rugs and Plants
CLICK HERE => Tea Wash Rugs
CLICK HERE => Why Some Rugs Buckle
CLICK HERE => Why Rugs Aren’t Cleaned In The Home
CLICK HERE => Rugs and Floods
CLICK HERE => Silk Rugs
CLICK HERE => Fake Silk (Viscose) Rugs
I’ve been a member of CFI for several decades, and I’ve met some of my closest industry friends – and best mentors – through this group. I served on their board for 11 years, a few of those as president, which was a highlight for me… even with all the “battles” we had in those good ol’ days – LOL!
It has been exciting to see the energy, creativity, and passion behind those on the board right now… and I’m looking forward to seeing what they have in store for the group and all of us members.
Thank you CFI – and thanks to Jason and Terrance for inviting me to come meet their members. I enjoyed it!
P.S. If you are a professional cleaner and do not have a trade association that you belong to, it’s worth taking a look at CFI. Their number is 1-800-CARPET-9 if you want to call to see about upcoming meetings and educational courses.
Watering a potted plant near a rug can lead to a big ugly dry rot hole in a rug if it’s left undisturbed for too long.
If you want to know why this happens, please read this => Don’t Water The Rugs!
That’s what happened to this runner. The moisture from a potted plant was absorbed by the cotton foundation of this rug, all underneath the pot, and it began to mildew and then rotted from the inside out until it crumbled into a big hole:
This damage is not reversible, or correctible. If you’ve ever seen drapes that have been so exposed to sun for so many years that they just begin to fray in your hands like paper, then you can recognize how deterioration like that is not correctible.
If the rug is an investment textile, you might consider paying thousands to send the rug to a company – perhaps in the country of origin – to reweave the area… but it will never be the same. You cannot truly “restore” a rug back to its original condition when it’s had this type of structural damage.
What you may consider doing is to have the damaged area patched. This would entail removing all of the damaged and mildew affected areas completely, and securing a patch into the hole to allow the rug to be strong and useable again. This is typically the repair choice for rug owners who uncover significant dry rot in their rug.
Another option is to do what was done to the runner shown above with the big hole, which was to shorten it in a way that made it look as if it were meant to be the size it ended up being.
To see the steps taken to shorten this plant-damaged rug, visit this post => Runner Repair Post
If you are a cleaner picking up rugs to take to your facility, pay special attention to the rugs near plants. You want to look for signs of dye bleed, the sign or odor of mildew, or any stiffness to the area that you feel. These are all warning signs of water damage.
If you are an owner of rugs, you want to take care to keep the plants OFF your rugs, or at the very least elevated, and that the rugs are folded away from the plants during watering time.
As you are inspecting the rugs for any planter water damage, take a look also for any bug activity, especially with rugs that have been undisturbed for months. For tips on how to spot bug activity, and how to keep the moths and carpet beetles away, read this post => Bugs Don’t Eat My Rugs!
The damage – whether it’s from plants or bugs – only gets severe when it’s left unattended for months. If you make it a habit to check your rugs regularly, you can catch it before it becomes too expensive to repair.
P.S. If you are a professional rug cleaner looking for second-hand large rug cleaning equipment, I’ve been asked to locate interested cleaners for a 16-ft roller wringer ($13,500 – or best offer) and a 24-pole electric wrench dry pole system ($11,500 – or best offer). These machines are located in southern California. Wringers are hard to find second-hand these days, and to get a new centrifugal spinning wringers instead, only up to 14 ft. long, will run you around $50,000 from U.S. suppliers. A bit less from the European suppliers. The dry racks are selling for around $10,000 new for only a dozen poles. If you are seriously interested (i.e. you have the funds to purchase and ship to your location), then send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. These will go fast, so if it’s sold by the time you write me, I apologize in advance.
The recommended cleaning method for wool oriental and specialty rugs, is washing them.
For as long as rugs have been woven, they have also been washed. Though in the past with a bit more “low tech” methods than are available today.
But before the washing even begins – the beating does!
Rugs – ESPECIALLY wool rugs – have a capacity to hold a large amount of soil in them. This is because wool under the microscope looks kind of like fish scales, so lots of layers, with MANY places to hide dirt and grit. See, take a look:
It’s these many “little pockets” that hold soil, and why a wool rug can have POUNDS of soil in it and still not look especially dirty. The dirt is hiding. And not just dirt and soil, but a whole host of other contaminants. Look at what came out of this rug by vacuuming the back side of the rug with an upright beater bar vacuum:
This rug below also, shows the soil from using a heavier dusting machine (a Rug Badger):
There are several reasons why cleaning rugs requires them to be removed from the home. The big one is of course the removal of this soil before cleaning, and then the actual washing of the rug itself, which simply cannot be done with standard carpet cleaning machines (a portable or truckmount). Those are considered surface cleaning and not washing.
In fact, here is the latest cover story of Cleanfax Magazine, where the specific reasons why choosing to clean a rug in the home can cause more harm than good. This is information every professional cleaner should know, and certainly what their clients need to know regarding any rugs they value:
CLICK HERE The Dirty Truth About Rugs
I am not saying that rugs can just be tossed in water with no worries. You do need to understand what you are doing. We get calls regularly from homeowners who thought they could hose down their rug, and then discover that this can lead to dye bleeding, buckling or shrinking, and incredibly long drying times.
That because those “tiny pockets” that hold soil, also can hold a lot of water molecules too. Wool rugs get HEAVY when wet, and the inside fibers are absorbent cotton warps and wefts that swell with water, so you need to have the equipment capable of removing that level of moisture so that the rug can be properly and thoroughly dried quickly.
Some rug cleaning operations are more “workshop” operations instead of high-volume rug cleaning facilities. I guess you would call them “boutique” rug operations. They wash the rugs one at a time, and have some equipment to help them be more thorough in the dusting, washing, rinsing, and drying processes.
They may use a large wash floor to wash the rugs, like this:
Some rug cleaners have not poured a wash floor yet, or don’t have the space to, and so they use wash “pits” to give rugs a bath in.
I have one skilled rug cleaner friend who owns a “pit” for a handful of his clients who will now allow their highly valued rugs to leave the premises, so he sets up a cleaning system on their property and washes them on premises in their back patios.
This still takes him several days of follow-up visits for dusting, washing, drying, and finishing time, and requires additional equipment brought in for extracting the water and airmovers to dry.
These particular clients he charges multiple times his in-plant washing price versus if they allowed him to clean them properly (and more conveniently) in his rug plant… but sometimes you have to build the “wash system” to make sure investment rugs are properly cleaned. What he does not comprise on is “surface cleaning” when he knows they need to be cleaned right. So a wash pit in the backyard!
In the mobile auto wash industry, they sell inflatable wash containment “pits” that can be easily used for this type of on-location more thorough washing or in your facility if you do not have an inclined wash floor for cleaning.
Here’s one I found on Amazon for less than $600 => Inflatable Car Wash Containment
Ideally though you have a proper wash floor, and bring in larger equipment to help boost your performance and production as you grow. Some of this equipment is a sizable investment, so do the best with what you have and grow when you are truly ready to, and can afford to. I’ve had several friends sink several hundred thousand dollars into opening large rug cleaning facilities, and then go under before they had time to enjoy their new business.
But before you run out and buy any cool new tools for yourself, invest first in the proper rug education and training, because as I’ve highlighted in several recent blogs I receive rug cleaning disasters weekly from both cleaners and homeowners on rug cleaning that has gone bad. The wrong methods, cleaning solutions, temperature, drying conditions, as well as poor rug construction, can lead to rug disasters.
In an upcoming post I’ll share some of the options for different tools and equipment you can use, based on different budgets, to get your rug shop set-up properly. There are LOTS of options for you.
I’ll also be giving you some direction on getting more experience and education in this craft.
My goal is to make sure professional cleaners (and rug owners!) know how to best care for woven rugs, and give them the best information and resources to make that happen.
All my best,
True or false – A 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…
…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.
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.)
With the number of home floods escalating due to severe weather, a number of rugs will be exposed to flood water.
The longer a rug remains wet the more likely it is to have dye migration that is not correctible.
Rugs that are not washed properly, and not dried thoroughly, can end up with mildew and dry rot problems.
Here are tips to minimize the damage to oriental rugs involved in floods:
- Extract the water as soon as possible using a wet vacuum or having your water damage restoration company extract with their professional water removal equipment.
- Make sure you wand extract WITH the direction of the rug’s fiber nap, instead of against it (this minimizes fiber damage). If you “pet” the rug, it’s like petting your animals, you can feel which direction is *with* the grain, and which is against it.
- If you are unable to have the rugs thoroughly washed right away, then it’s important to get the rugs as dry as possible as quickly as possible to lessen the risks of permanent damage. Dry them fast and wash/sanitize them later.
- When transporting to a rug cleaning facility to be washed, wrap in towels or sheets to prevent dry from migration from one rug to another. It is very difficult to remove dye migration.
- Do NOT hang up wet rugs. Extract and dry out flat. Hanging wet puts too much weight on the foundation of the rugs, and will pull the migrating dye throughout the face of the rug and into it’s fringe tassels.
- Do NOT dry in direct sunlight. Most contemporary rugs are sensitive to sunlight fading. If you must dry in sunlight, lay the rugs face down so fading occurs on the back side only until the rugs are taken to a rug washing facility.
(Professional equipment like the Water Claw and the Rover are the quickest way to remove water in the home from wet rugs. The Water Claw should be used on the BACK side of the rug. The Rover can be ridden and pulls much more moisture out quicker, and with the smooth lip on the extraction points, it can be used on the front or back of the rug.)
Wool and silk oriental rugs can take months, sometimes years, to weave by hand. If you have investment textiles you want to protect from a flood that has affected your home, simply follow these guidelines and you can lessen the risk of permanent damage to your rugs due to extended exposure to water.
Once you have done your best to minimize the damage, the rugs then need to be thoroughly washed and sanitized before being returned to the home. This is done in professional rug washing facilities.
Even the filthiest rugs can come out looking fantastic with a good bath.
When it comes to something as messy and dangerous as floods, it’s best to leave it to the professionals.
Print and keep these tips handy in case you have the unfortunate experience of having your home flooded. And you will know what to do in order to help protect your favorite rugs, and to make sure they are clean and safe when they are returned to your “fixed up” home.
P.S. If you like this post, then please *share* it so that others who might have floods will know what to do too. Thank you!
I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately on bugs eating rugs – so I thought I’d share some tips for both rug owners and rug cleaners.
The two biggest wool rug culprits are moths and carpet beetles.
For rugs, there are several steps you can take to keep the bugs from digesting your oriental rugs.
These bugs like nice, quiet, undisturbed places. You will generally find them doing their dirty work under the corner of your sofa, behind a drape, along the cracks in the planks of your wood floor, or on the back side of a rug hanging up still on your wall.
You do not need to “beat” the rug with your vacuum, just give it a good once over on the front every few weeks, and flip over the corners to see if there is anything to be wary of. Moth larvae looks like sticky lint and they do their damage when they emerge from those cocoons HUNGRY.
I like to run my vacuum upholstery tool over the back of the corners of my rugs, just to be safe, and once a quarter I completely vacuum the back side of my rugs to make enough chaos to have bugs look for another place to feast.
For rugs hanging on the walls, at least once a quarter take them down to vacuum. If they are delicate you can use the upholstery attachment instead of a beater bar or super-sucker type vacuum. Because of this needed maintenance for hanging textiles, this is why we like to suggest using velcro to hang rugs – it makes it easy to take down and put back up.
Rugs under normal to heavy use should be washed annually.
This means sending them out to be washed in a rug cleaning plant, and NOT having them just surface cleaned in your home. (BIG difference, especially if you are trying to avoid bugs.)
If you have moderate traffic on your rugs, and you vacuum at least every other week, that wash time can be extended to every 18-24 months. But longer than 2 years, you are asking for trouble. Not only from the abrasive grit that gets lodged into the base of the rug fibers (which is what causes areas to wear down faster), but also in regards to insect activity.
Washing helps dislodge bug activity and remove it. And for rugs with a big problem you are looking to solve, and you do not want to soak the rug in pesticide poisons, washing and giving the rug a vinegar rinse will help physically remove the bugs and their problem-causing ways.
FOR STORAGE – ALWAYS WASH BEFORE WRAPPING UP
Rug cleaners rarely offer “mothproofing” these days because those solutions are pesticides that kill things, and for something you may have your kids or pets rolling around on, that’s just not safe.
Even the odorless insect repellent solutions that professional cleaners have available and are not poisons still have some irritation risks. (Always read the MSDS to evaluate whether you want to use a particular product that requires leaving residue behind.)
But if a textile is going into storage for years, it is best to make sure you are not going to open up the package and find a rug disaster, so using a repellent is wise unless you are putting the piece in a cedar chest, or using other items that tend to discourage moths.
When I put something into storage, I don’t want to worry about it, so I use a repellent.
The most important step though is the wash and making sure you are not wrapping the rug up with any unwanted pest guests.
If your rug does have a visible insect problem right now, while it is out to be professionally washed you will need to bring in a professional cleaner to tackle your wall-to-wall carpet or your hard floors, wherever the problem rugs were, so that you can remove the rest of the problem.
Hot water extraction (“steam cleaning”) can take care of the problem in your carpeting – something the EPA lays out guidelines on for how often you should have this done as posted on the IICRC website.
To sum up, rug-eating bugs are kind of like unruly teens. They like to go hide in their space, and they don’t want you to bother them.
So you need to pull open the curtains to let fresh air and sunlight in, clean up their surroundings so they escape the fright of it all, and make a routine of that so you don’t end up with bigger problems down the road.
Your teens will come back (hey, they need to eat…), but the bugs will move on to another place with a less attentive rug owner in charge.