Jute is a plant fiber that we used to only see in a small number of older American hand hooked rugs…
…and some more contemporary European latch hook, embroidery, and needlepoint rugs.
But lately jute has become the cheap and plentiful fiber of choice for many rugs we see coming out of India (the world’s #1 jute grower) and other countries. If you go into any of the more popular home furnishing stores today, from Pottery Barn to Restoration Hardware to Crate & Barrel, you are going to find rugs with jute in them as face fibers or as the backing material.
The pluses are that it’s cheap, it’s quick to grow, and it’s environmentally friendly because it’s biodegradable.
The minuses (you just KNEW there would be minuses!) are that it is an extremely difficult fiber to handle if you do not know anything about it beforehand, and problems are very tough to correct.
Here are the three major challenges with jute.
Jute Browns & Yellows Like No Other Fiber Out There.
If you are a professional carpet cleaner who has ever had to tackle installed wall-to-wall wool carpet, which happened to be woven on a JUTE backing, then you know how absolutely dangerous this situation can be.
Get that jute even a little too wet, and the white wool can turn shades of coffee brown.
Jute gets brown and yellow when it’s wet. It releases oils that brown. So, when the way to get rugs clean is to WASH them, this can create a technical nightmare.
Something as heavily soiled as this rayon and jute rug needs to be washed to clean thoroughly, but both fibers like to yellow when wet, so what is a cleaner to do?
Jute Holds Odor Like No Other Fiber Out There.
Jute is super absorbent, and can hold on to odor causing contaminants like pet urine even throughout multiple washings.
Rug labels tend to only list what the face fibers of a rug are. So a hand woven rug may say “100% wool” even though the warps and wefts of the foundation are all usually cotton.
With synthetic rugs, you will see “100% polypropylene” (or acrylic, nylon, polyester) – but most have heavy jute weft threads in their foundation. This makes removing odors like pet urine from these rugs very difficult because you have to try to remove the source of the problem, and it is often absorbed into the middle of these innermost fibers.
If there are pets in the home that are not trained, jute would not be a good choice… unless you just plan to get cheap rugs on the floor that are jute, and just buy new ones when they get badly contaminated.
Jute Will Rot And Get Brittle Like No Other Fiber Out There.
Jute will dry rot faster than other fibers.
Unfortunately rug cleaners discover this fact when they are inspecting rugs with some age to them that have been woven on jute. Over time it just disintegrates, and these sometimes very wonderfully woven textiles just fall apart.
Sometimes spills will make the jute rot quicker in specific areas:
When the jute throughout a piece has become brittle with rot or age, there is nothing that can be done to salvage it. It’s as if your skeleton began to crumble apart, you cannot support something with no strength left in it.
If you do not catch this deterioration BEFORE the cleaning process begins, you could literally have the rug fall apart on you unexpectedly.
Tips On Cleaning Jute Rugs
BROWNING/YELLOWING: If the rug looks like it already shows signs of a cellulose browning problem, you may opt to only surface clean the rug to expose the jute backing to as little moisture as possible.
You could also clean with a dry compound or low-moisture bonnet cleaning method.*
(* – I personally am not a fan of dry compound or of encapsulation cleaning of rugs, because I do not feel they truly “clean” the rugs. I would rather see someone surface clean with an upholstery tool to try to clean the rug without getting the backing very wet instead of these other choices. That said, when the rug has a serious browning problem and moderate soiling, your dry compound or encap methods may be the only viable option.)
If you fully wash a rug with jute because it needs a thorough cleaning, then having an acid rinse can help lessen some of that cellulose browning.
Also, sometimes if you dry the rug flat and face down (fuzzy side down) on a CLEAN surface, and put some high speed air movers on it to dry, you can often make the wicking of the browning problem move to the back side of the rug instead of up on the front side of the rug.
ODOR REMOVAL: If the odor is strong in a rug with a jute fiber foundation, and the rug is polypropylene, then you can use some of the new oxidizers on the market to remove the odor, such as OSR or Oxcelerate. (Be VERY careful to NOT use this on wool rugs – only synthetic, and of course test first.)
BRITTLE FIBERS: Unfortunately, when the jute foundation fibers are splitting and crumbling away, there is not much you can do.
With smaller decorative hooked and needlepoint rugs woven on jute, especially the older ones, it may be time to prepare them for hanging in order to keep the foot traffic from tearing the rug apart completely. You have to see how much strength is left in the jute fibers to allow it to be hung because the weight of itself may be too much for even that.
With jute, the main protection again getting caught having to pay to replace a rug is to be obsessive compulsive about your pre-wash inspection process.
Look for jute, and when you find it, go over those 3 major concerns: browning, odor, and brittleness. Discuss the options with the owner BEFORE the cleaning, and don’t be afraid to turn away a job if it looks like it could end up becoming a rug disaster.
Hope these tips and warnings help you.
Happy Rug Cleaning! ☺
The biggest fear most rug cleaners have regarding rugs is that the rug might bleed while in their care.
The fact is, with proper training and the right tools and solutions, even the most fugitive dyes in a rug can be successfully cleaned…
…you just need to know what you are doing.
And interestingly enough, the biggest bled rug disasters I’ve seen in my career have been when cleaners have brought me rugs that they should have not cleaned in the first place, and they could have avoided their disaster through the simple step of doing a proper dye test.
If you do not know know how to do a proper dye test, here is how I do one.
I use hot water for my test, but you can also use a high pH spotter. And if the dye bleeds when you test with either of those items, you need to test with your DYE STABILIZER solution to make sure you can safely clean the rug. If it bleeds with your stabilizer, you are in trouble.
My latest article in Cleanfax Magazine on Why Dyes Bleed is down below. I’ve linked to the entire PDF article so that you can print it out to reference. All of the photos of bled rugs are real rug disasters from cleaners who did not know that the way they were cleaning the rugs was going to ruin them. Unfortunately they were all very expensive mistakes… much more expensive than paying for proper rug training would have been.
Hopefully this helps explain any past dye migration challenges you have had, and gives you some insight to avoid disasters in your rug cleaning business.
Happy Rug Cleaning!
P.S. Looking for more rug care training? Jim Pemberton and I have the most comprehensive real-world textile program in the industry for oriental rug and fine fabric care. If you want to be a Textile Pro, take a look at the details on our Textile Pro page. Cleanfax – Why Dyes Bleed
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,
When rugs come in our shop that are gosh-awful smelly, the usual suspects are: PETS, FLOODS, or BAD LATEX.
1. PET PUDDLES
With pet urine, this hits a wool rug, penetrates those face fibers, and gets absorbed deep into the innermost cotton warp and weft foundation threads. Ever run for hours and take off those sweaty cotton socks? Then you know how much moisture cotton can hold. A LOT.
So lots of urine absorbed into the middle of your rug, it’s not good news.
Specifically, besides the odor, pet urine can create dye migration or loss that is permanent, as well as yellowing that often is permanent damage as well. (Rug owners are shocked when I explain their $10,000 rug is no longer worth that because of some puppy puddles. They would never pay full price for a bridal gown with a urine stain on it… yet they seem unaware of the devaluation from urine stains on their rugs.) It also, if left unaddressed for months, can lead to dry rot and a nice big hole where the problem is.
Surface cleaning a rug in the home with a portable or truck mount is only cleaning the surface and not the MIDDLE where the problem is. (By the way, cleaning rugs in the home, especially wool rugs, is a huge NO-NO. We will get into that in detail in a future post, right now we are talking odors only.) 🙂
Rugs with odors, especially pet odors, need to be WASHED.
If you do not use thorough rug washing methods, you will not remove the source of the odor. You will lessen it. Maybe some will use a fragrance to try to cover it up (ever get a whiff of a sweaty man using cologne to hide it? yeah… it’s not much better having a “floral” pet urine smell in your rug…). These are not solutions to the problem.
Moral of the story is – pet problem, wash the rug. And use a professional for it, otherwise the rug could have more damage done than the puppy did to it.
Rugs that get improperly wet can get a musty, moldy odor as mildew sets in. We see this mostly with rugs not prepared properly for storage, and the unit gets damp, or has a flood. Or, an unskilled cleaner does not verify the rug is 100% dry (by using a moisture probe) and rolls up a rug that feels dry, but isn’t.
Neighboring planters that leak are also a BIG creator of water damage to rugs, because again that innermost foundation is made up of absorbent cotton, and it sucks up that water you spill over sometimes, and it leads to mildew, dye bleeding, and over time dry rot. I’ve seen a rug literally have a big hole crumble apart from long term water exposure. In fact, here’s one:
Rugs improperly exposed to water need to be properly washed to remove the contaminants from those foundation fibers and the face fibers. If you step in a puddle, you don’t wring the sock, wipe it off, dry it, and it’s clean enough to wear again. (At least I hope you don’t do that!) You wash it.
Same with rugs. You need to soak the rug in the proper sanitizing solution, and then thoroughly clean it. This needs to be handled by professional rug cleaners who are experienced at handling flood-affected contents, and bringing them back to pre-loss condition.
3. BAD LATEX:
With some tufted rugs (these are the rugs that you do NOT see the same design on the back as the front because instead you see a material backing) – there can be some odor issues.
Due to a lack of consistent quality control, some latex used to hold these cheaply made rugs together can end up souring, and not be properly cured. This gives off a VERY bad smell that is best described as a combination of sweaty old socks, rubber, and livestock.
Nice, huh? Here’s one of these culprits, a tufted rug from India:
When you are looking at a new tufted rug, and it smells bad when you put your nose to it, then just RUN! It is a “Rug To Run From.”
When you try to clean it to make it smell better, it will get WORSE. The water activates the odor-causing elements more.
I would say about 10-15% of the tufted rugs we see from India have this problem. And I always tell my clients to take the rugs IMMEDIATELY back to the store they bought it and demand a replacement (that doesn’t smell) or their money back. This is a manufacturing flaw.
I have read some comments from retailers that say the odor is nothing to worry about. It’s not “dangerous.”
Do you think someone might say this in order to keep people from getting refunds?
Yeah, I think so too.
Here’s what I know… when something smells really bad, my natural instinct is to move away quickly and make a really ugly face.
Your body does that to PROTECT you. If my nose tells me to “get away” – then I know it is harming me.
What is really scary is that many of the tufted rugs I see on the market today are made for kids. They have goofy designs on them, and some are cute… but the ones with the odors, I certainly would not want any kids around those.
Cleaning does NOT improve this odor. So watch out.
There you have it – 3 typical smelly rug sources, and a little insight on what can and can’t be done with them.
I think I’ll go out now and get some fresh air…
I just made a trip to Ontario Canada to teach a little rug cleaning clinic. It was just outside of Niagara Falls, which was BEAUTIFUL. Windy, cold, but beautiful. Here I am – shivering! 🙂
One of the many rugs we handled in the clinic was a rug that they asked me how to make it “white” again – here it is:
The question is – is this rug WHITE to begin with?
One of the dangers of seeking out white and ivory rugs is that they do have a tendency to YELLOW over time.
If you look at a sheep, none are truly that Colgate-white-teeth white. So the wool when sheared, tends to be heavily bleached to create that “white” look. So the end result is not quite natural (just like those smiles make you wonder what the heck they painted on those teeth… they don’t look natural.)
Now, sometimes, improper cleaning (i.e. using the wrong cleaning solutions) can yellow a rug. If it is a result of the CLEANING then it would have the problem only on the front side of the rug because that is the side being cleaned.
If the yellowing is from the environment (i.e. foot traffic and sunlight exposure), then again, this yellowing would be on the front side only because the back has not been walked on or placed in those UV rays.
Let’s take a look at the back side compared to the front:
In this case, the back side IS yellowing the same as the front, so this is simply the effect of age to the wool used in this rug. Again, BRIGHT white is not a natural color of wool, so this process to make it more appealing for the buyer has the negative effect of turning yellow.
Be sure to rotate the rug in the setting, as it can look more white from one direction versus the other. And just realize when you are shopping for rugs, that the white state can only be temporary with wool. It’s just the way it was made, and there is nothing wrong with the rug itself… and though professional cleaners may be able to lighten the look a touch with some oxidizers or reducing bleaches, these solutions (just like the original treatment) are chemical treatments that DO cause damage to those fibers. Some cleaners may refuse to do the work for fear of creating structural problems for the rug.
One solution may be to simply buy a blue rug instead. 🙂
I am not the biggest fan of TUFTED rugs. Simply because I appreciate the art of a woven rug crafted by hand,versus the mass-market production of tufts of wool held together by latex and covered up on the back with material.
It’s cheaper to buy a tufted rug than woven, because of course the labor is a fraction of the time, but you also get what you pay for – a rug that lasts several years versus decades (or centuries) … a rug that is many times “disposable” because they simply do not last long.
And definitely not a rug to hand down to your children. But maybe you don’t mind that. You might be looking for something that looks nice, and maybe you have pets so you don’t want an investment piece of art on your floor, so it may be that a tufted area rug is exactly perfect for your needs and budget. I can understand that.
But what happens when the new tufted rug you bought stinks? I mean, literally STINKS? Like this one:
Tufted rugs from India are getting a reputation for smelling bad. There appears to be a flaw in the curing process of the latex holding the rug together that off-gases an awful smell.
The purchaser may get a great deal on the rug and think that this can be washed to smell better – but they would be wrong, because the odor actually WORSENS with moisture. As of this date, none in my network has come up with a solution to this problem except to turn the rug away as uncleanable.
Some of these problem rugs have white material backing, and many I have seen have the blue backing shown in the photograph above. In my experience all have been from India, but not all India tufted rugs have this problem. And it may be that China or other countries produce tufted rugs with this particular problem, I just have not experienced it in anything other than tufted product from India.
What do you do?
When you go to buy a tufted rug, you grin open the fibers in the store and you SMELL the rug. If you notice a strong blend of dirty old socks with old tire rubber, then you have a problem. Do not buy the rug.
If you have recently bought a tufted rug, have closed up your house for a trip, and return to the strong pungent smell that makes your eyes water, then return the rug to the store. This is a manufacturing flaw, and the rug should be replaced. Then the retailer can ship it back to the factory and insist that they improve their manufacturing process.
And if you don’t want to deal with any potential odor problems like this, then buy a rug that is woven and does not use latex or glue to hold it together because it has been crafted beautifully by hand and does not require any adhesive to keep it together.