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,
Here is an article on some of the characteristics of contemporary Chinese rugs that as a professional rug cleaner you need to be aware of:
Certain rugs – especially those from China – are given a strong chemical washing using chlorine bleach (which DISSOLVES wool fibers) in order to make the rug more appealing to buyers. It makes the wool cuticles smoother, and as a result they reflect more light and appear shinier and silkier. They also are softer to the touch as a result.
But- if the process is too aggressive, it can make these rugs EXTREMELY sensitive to permanent stains from spills (especially acid spills), to loss of color during spot cleaning, and also fading and total loss of color if placed in an improper setting (direct sunlight) or improperly cleaned (being cleaned in the home).
Here is a Chinese rug that was cleaned improperly with aggressive cleaning agents and dried in direct sunlight (a horrible double whammy):
Many rugs, when you grin open the fibers, if they are susceptible to fading you will see a distinct difference in the base of the fibers to the tips. The base will be DARK, and the tips will be LIGHTER. Almost frosted.
What you need to know about these rugs are that they are more susceptible to permanent staining because the fibers are already weakened by this chemical processing. This does not mean that the rug will not last you a hundred years (wool is by far the BEST fiber to use for a rug) – it simply means you cannot grab an over-the-counter spot remover to use on these rugs, they will cause a loss of color that will be MUCH worse than the original spill was.
While we are talking about over-the-counter products, you want to make sure you NEVER use these on any wool oriental rugs, or other natural fiber rugs (silk or cotton). These chemicals are formulated for synthetic wall-to-wall carpeting and are much too aggressive for natural fiber rugs. Folex, Resolve, Oxyclean.
Even Woolite, when applied directly to certain wool rugs, will bleach out colors or cause discoloration that is not correctable due to some optical brighteners that are used in their formulation. I find customers tend to not dilute it when they use it, and it almost always created dye damage as a result of a panicked over-use.
Many rugs are chemically washed – as are many fabrics and other natural fiber objects we use daily. You just want to be able to point out which ones may be a problem in terms of color loss and fade from sun.
Gentle, proper washing of wool rugs does not fade a rug.
What fades a rug is direct sunlight in a room, or direct sunlight drying of a rug being cleaner.
What fades a rug is improper choice of cleaning solutions – using the same chemicals from your wall-to-wall synthetic cleaning on wool rug.
Or what fades rugs is cleaning them in the home and as a result leaving cleaning chemical residue in those fibers afterwards because you are not washing the rug and rinsing those fibers clean.
Those are situations that contribute to further and faster fading of a rug.
A little sun never hurts, right?
Well, with rugs, that depends. Some rugs , you could put them in the sun for ages with no affect. While others can’t last even a few hours.
Take a look at this rug. It appears to be a nice beige Chinese sculpted wool rug. (They use a hand tool to carve out those floral designs.) These are plush rugs, with nice BRIGHT white fringe tassels.
This particular rug was cleaned by a professional cleaner – one who had cleaned this rug several times before over the years. But this time, he made the decision to put the rug into direct sunlight to dry it out. Something that normally would not be a bad decision – but with this particular type of rug, it was, because the rug USED to be not beige, but blue – take a look:
Many contemporary rugs are chemically washed with a chlorine-bleach solution before it is sent to market. This process can lighten up strong colors and because it strips scales off of the wool fibers to make them smoother, they reflect more light and appear “shinier.”
With certain rugs from China, and this particular type shown in the photos – the chemical processing is aggressive, and while it makes the rug very attractive, it also makes it very reactive to many things. It permanently stains very easily with acid sources (coffee. tea, soda, juice, and pet urine), it reacts horribly to any spot removers (coffee stain remover will strip color out completely), and it is VERY sensitive to sun fading.
This rug in the photos was only in the sun for a few hours, yet that color change was severe, and also not reversible. And I receive photos like these several times a month from cleaners who want to thoroughly dry a rug for a client, and end up having a surprise like this result.
I have not found any rug more reactive to sun that this type of Chinese rug, and it has a very distinct fringe style, a wide white fringe base, with a knot style that looks like a fist. Print the photo for your files so you can watch out for these in your cleaning business so that you don’t get yourself in trouble when you decide to place a rug in the sun.