Wool rugs are woven to last HUNDREDS of years. In our industry a rug today is not considered to be “antique” unless it is woven before 1900. They are made to last, and many of them do when properly cared for.
However, you put a rug in the wrong conditions, with the wrong bugs, and you can lose that rug in under a year. Eaten away by moths, carpet beetles, or other bugs feeding on other contaminants the rug fibers are holding on to. (more…)
Peter Stone “Oriental Rugs: An Illustrated Lexicon of Motifs, Materials, and Origins”
What I enjoy most about this book is the ease of use. It is essentially an encyclopedia of rugs, rug terms, rug construction, rug history, and anything you can think of that is rug-related.
It is very user-friendly if someone is just beginning, but it also feeds the curiosity of the more experienced in the field. I enjoy flipping it open and just reading random sections to learn something new, or in using it to help explain a term, or rug type, to a client.
This is also a visually stunning book. And rather than sharing “rare” rugs that you will likely never see in your lifetime, I find a great collection of rugs that we rug cleaners see now and then through our doors – so the content is relevant to those cleaning today, and those rug shopping today.
Another plus of this book is the extensive bibliography at the end, which lists many great rug books (classics and contemporary) organized by country/weave/topic so that anyone who becomes enamored with a specific rug they see can delve deeper on that topic.
I have purchased multiple copies of the hard cover book (for my own use and for gifts), and I also was thrilled to discover this to be one of the first Kindle edition rug publications I’ve seen. As an avid iPad user, now I have access to this great content no matter where I am.
Great rug books tend to come out with limited publications, and when they soon are no longer in print, the existing copies become extremely pricey to acquire. So get your copy now while the price is down right cheap. This can be on the gift list for any rug lovers in your life.
PRJ Ford “Oriental Carpet Design: A Guide To Traditional Motifs, Patterns and Symbols”
Many people who are first drawn toward rugs come in based on designs they like, or that the begin to recognize. This book lays out the most common field designs, border designs, motifs, and styles. You get a great visual education on how they vary from tribal weaving to city weaving regions.
The rug examples are excellent, as is the observations and historical descriptions. It helps to identify where certain symbols came from, and what they intended to represent. This is another great book to give as a gift because it is a beauty to flip through and randomly read sections from.
I especially enjoy the details on the various Turkoman gul designs, and have referenced those pages often when trying to determine which clan wove a particular carpet. With this book, as with the Stone book, the writing style is easy to follow and not stiflingly academic. (Though if you ever find yourself stumbling upon a particular rug term, the Stone book acts as a fantastic rug glossary in the format that it is laid out with.)
Janice Summers “Oriental Rugs: The Illustrated World Buyer’s Guide”
What I love about this book though is the format of how she lays out the rug identification process. Summers is the first rug author that I have seen that has provided an excellent front/back view of rug types, and the identifying characteristics in such a user-friendly manner.
In reading about a particular rug, you can know what identifiers that specialists look for, such as knot type (asymmetrical or symmetrical), weaving materials, weft count, side finish, end finish, etc.
This is a must-own book for anyone seeking to begin on a path of becoming able to identify which country a rug may have been woven in. It also is an excellent tool to use to help determine whether a rug may be from one village, or another, based on its characteristics.
The weaving region histories are not at the level of detail in this book as you will find in the Ford book, but this is a great general book to begin your library with, and one that you will reference often.
Marla Mallett “Woven Structures: A Guide To Oriental Rug And Textile Analysis”
This is a textbook on understanding the construction of rugs. Her focus is more on tribal weavings, and in particular flatweaves, but she does address pile rugs in the book as well.
What I love about Mallett’s book are her illustrations and drawings that very vividly “show” the reader how to understand a rug from a weaver’s point of view. You come away with insight on the nomadic lifestyle, fiber cultivation and preparation, and the intricacies of crafting a textile.
It was with this book that I began to look at rugs, especially tribal rugs, very differently. I gained an appreciation of the workmanship through the analysis breakdown provided in this book.
Mallett is an excellent instructor in print, and I am certain even more so in person. She also has a wonderful website (www.marlamallett.com) with a wide range of photos, articles, recommended resources, and rug education.
Many websites in the realm of rugs are garbled messes of outdated material, bad links, and just general chaos. Mallett provides one of the better organized, updated, and easy to navigate sites in our industry. I always learn something new from her website. Though the illustrations and photos in her book are primarily black and white, there is a tremendous amount of color on her website.
If you have a friend who is a weaver, collector, or a serious student of rugs – this is the book to buy for them (or for yourself). And if you have ever struggled with trying to understand the difference in different rug knots, or selvedge finishes, this book will clear it all up for you. Her drawings masterfully illustrate how rugs are crafted.
Rug Book Wrap-up
There are MANY great rug books out there. I expect my blog readers will chime in on some of their favorites in the comments (I encourage you to do so).
What I wanted to do here was to share the ones I grab most often to reference and recommend to others, and the ones that make great gifts to others, or to yourself if you are in the process of beginning your rug library.
(FYI: All of the links provided in this post are general links to general listings. I have shortened the URL’s for convenience sake, but these are NOT affiliate links, so please don’t worry that buying through these means that I am making anything on the sale. I am not. I just wanted to save you some time searching for a listing by providing you the direct links.)
One final request for those of you who already own these books, or plan to buy and enjoy them. PLEASE share the recommendations with others if you like them, and post your reviews on Amazon also if you can. Any of you who have written a book, you know the amount of time/energy projects like this take, and how much work was put into each of these books. Let’s show our appreciation by sharing great rug education with others.
Happy Rug Learning!
P.S. I am officially the “international” Rug Chick! I had the pleasure of working with Modern Rugs UK in crafting a rug care guide section of their website. If you are looking for some quick rug care tips, go take a look at their site => http://bit.ly/modernrugUK – they also have a huge collection of rugs for sale to UK rug shoppers.
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.
Blue dye migration on Wilton wool rug.
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.
The red dye crocks on to a 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.
India tea washed rug
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.
Grin open the fibers and you see the bad tea wash job.
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.
Cleaning the fringe removes the tea wash dye on some.
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.
New Hamadan rug bought on-line, and covered in INK.
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.
Tips of the fibers are purple ink, base of the fibers are blue.
Taking a completely DRY towel to the face of this rug picked up every single color.
Dry towel picks up red from the rug easily.
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.
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.
Rugs being washed near a river.
But before the washing even begins – the beating does!
Let the beating begin!
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:
Wool strand under a microscope.
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:
Pounds of soil out after dusting the rug on the back side.
This rug below also, shows the soil from using a heavier dusting machine (a Rug Badger):
Pounds of soil “beaten” out of a rug before washing.
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:
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:
Persian runner being washed thoroughly.
Rug being rinsed thoroughly. Can’t do this “in” the home.
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.
(FYI – the Rover is excellent for removing water from a washed rug without any marks and the Studebaker Airpaths are fantastic to help speed up drying times).
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.)
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.
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!
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.
The best process for cleaning a tapestry, as with any natural fiber textile or fabric, is having it washed by a rug care professional. You need to know what solutions to use, how much water to use, how much agitation you can safely use, and have the facility to properly dry the piece.
Because there are so few rug specialists who can handle pieces like these, many times owners of tapestries will have them cleaned using dry cleaning solvents, which can leave residue behind that yellows them over time. We often receive tapestries that look dull and lifeless, and after a wash removes all of that built-up residue they spring back to life (like the one in the photo for this post).
With tapestries woven with silk as highlights, these areas can split and deteriorate with age, so you need to be particularly careful in inspecting the strength of the piece before any work is done.
If you are a rug cleaner who has not had experience with tapestries, and have one come to you, you cannot treat this as you would any oriental rug. Some of these tapestries can be incredibly valuable, and using the wrong solutions, methods, and tools can create damage – especially if it is a tapestry that is several hundred years old.
If you get a piece in and are not sure what to do, find a local rug cleaning plant to refer the wash to who has experience with these particular pieces. You can also email me photos and I can help you locate the right place to care for it. email@example.com
These are beautiful, valuable textiles… be sure you care for them properly.