09 PM | 05 Sep

Over-Dyed Rugs. (The BIG disaster awaiting careless cleaners.)

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:


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.


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.

Happy Rug Cleaning!

– Lisa

07 PM | 20 Feb

Rugs and Floods. What to do

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.

– Lisa

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!

09 PM | 02 Jan

Don’t water the rugs!

If you have plants anywhere near your rugs in your home – or if you are a rug cleaner and see plants near rugs you are picking up to clean – you want to watch out for this particular problem that often is not discovered until it’s too late.

Even the most careful person spills at times. Either spraying the leaves, or putting water in the planter, there are spills. Small ones over time.

There is also condensation around the bottom of the planter, especially if it’s heavy and is not moved often.

The rugs may feel dry to the touch

…but you don’t know what’s happening INSIDE the rug.

Those fringe tassels you see on your woven rug are the foundation warps of that piece. One strand runs all the way through the middle to the opposite side of the rug, and the wool (or silk) fuzzy knots are wrapped around those warps.

Here’s a rug cut open to show you the white warps inside – which on most woven rugs today the warps and wefts are COTTON.

Thick cotton warps with wool fibers twisted around them.

Cotton is absorbant.

This means with a spill on a wool rug (or silk), you can blot the area with a towel to “wipe up the spill” and a little moisture has already likely seeped down into those inside cotton fibers, and have made them damp.

You won’t be able to “feel” if the inside of the rug is dry. Only a moisture probe can poke inside and tell you that.

Every rug cleaning professional has moisture probes handy to make sure every rug is 100% dry before it is put on the “ready” shelf or placed in storage, because moisture can lead to mildew growth like this:

Mold damage on rug corner under a potted plant.

Mildew damage more visible on back side of rug near planter.

The problem with long-term moisture on cotton foundation fibers is that they begin to rot. And when dry rot sets in, the fibers literally fall apart.

If you are not careful when you move a rug that has water damage from a planter, you could literally create a hole in the damaged area. It will fall apart in your hands.

Potted plants are not the only source of moisture that can create damage secretly to your rugs. Other sources are water coolers, condensation from HVAC units, any leaks from a home that may affect walls or floors, and of course – pets. (Though pets have the added damage-causing element of creating stains that cannot be removed, added odors, and contamination from the waste – that’s why you need to clean up pet puddles right away.)

Help reduce the risks by keeping the house plants away from the rugs. When spills do happen, clean them up right away AND elevate the rug longer than you feel you should, just to make sure the INSIDE of the rug is truly dry. (I’ve used a hair dryer on warm to dry a spill from the back side of the rug just to make sure it was completely dry. Warm air helps the evaporation process.)

You may be super careful with your plant watering process, but not everyone in your home may have your same care. And you cannot keep the condensation from having a long term risk to your oriental rugs.

If you are worried about possible moisture risks, then flip your rugs over and see if you have any areas of concern. Cotton fibers experiencing mildew activity and dry rot will feel stiffer than the rest of the rug when you handle it. And because the foundation fibers are often white cotton, unless there are other colors being used in the wefts, you can often see when there is mildew activity due to discoloration visible on close inspection.

You also will often see dye migration visible from the back side as well, because even colorfast rugs when exposed over a long period to moisture, can bleed in those affected areas. You will see the signs if there is a problem – and if there IS a problem, make sure to stop the source of the water exposure, and handle that rug with extra care.

Dry rot damage is not reversible. Take care to make sure your rugs do not experience it.

– Lisa

P.S. Thank you Rug Chick readers for another wonderful year! I hope you and your families have an amazing 2011.

07 PM | 27 Dec

Hidden danger – bleeding rug wefts.

Every professional rug cleaner knows how to test a rug to see if the dyes are colorfast or not. At least they should know how to. Especially since a good percentage of new rugs today have dye colorfastness “issues.”

I walk through the steps in my post on dye testing, and the video on how to do it is down below.

Click here How To: Dye Test

I mention in the video to dye test the front AND the back – why?

Because you are not just testing the fuzzy face fibers to see if they may bleed during cleaning, you also want to see what the INSIDE foundation fibers may do when wet.

You remember the loom of a hand woven rug, and how every knot is twisted around two warps threads, with weft threads used to hold the rows of face fiber knots in place? Here’s a loom photo to remind you:

It can take months, even years, to weave a large rug.

The construction basics come down to this (NOT to scale here):

Diagram of cotton warps and wefts with wool symmetrical knots.

With many rugs the warps (which end up being the fringe tassels on rugs) and the wefts are cotton, often white cotton – which you can see peeking out of rugs from the backside.

See white horizontal wefts peeking through the back.

When the warps and wefts are white, or a very light color, there are no worries. But sometimes the wefts are NOT white. They might be blue, gray, black, red, purple – and they may bleed on you.

Here’s a hand woven rug with light gray wefts (will not bleed) next to a machine-made rug, which has knots wrapped around the wefts so you do not see them at all. (By the way, this is how you identify the difference between hand woven and machine woven rugs – knots wrapped around the warps are hand woven, around the wefts are machine – we will touch on that another time in more depth.)

Hand woven next to machine woven.

Here’s a photo of a Pakistan rug that was recently sent to me, and the side had torn away a bit to expose its pink weft threads. In fact, some long time pet urine exposure had caused the rug to bleed pink into the edges of the rug.

Loose weft threads have pulled away from this rug.

You can see where is has bled pink into the usually white edge design of this rug.

Pink line where it should be white.

Normally these pink wefts are not a problem with washing. In fact most rugs are not a problem under regular circumstances. These conditions though of long term wet exposure from pets made them bleed. If this had been a rug with no pets around, and washed regularly, that pink would never be visible on this rug from the front.

But some rugs are in fact a problem even under normal circumstances. They have DARK wefts. Here’s a potential problem:

Red wefts on a new Gabbeh.

So you make sure to test the BACK of the rug for colorfastness. If it tests fine – you can clean stress-free.

You also need to pay special attention to any existing spills (especially pet accidents) to identify existing dye migration that might wick up and be visible in the cleaning. The dye may test strong, but in these damaged areas (by the pets) the dye will release and bleed out – that is what happens when pet urine damages rugs over time.

Many rugs are washed before being exported for sale. It’s the ones with cut corners that present the problems today… problems that can averted through thorough inspection of the front and back of each rug, and dye testing both sides, BEFORE the cleaning begins.

Simply making your wash quicker, and using the proper dye stabilizing solution will keep the lurking danger from rearing its ugly head. But the worst thing to happen will be when you test the top side for colorfastness, it tests fine, and then you wash as normal and some UNEXPECTED color rises up from the base of the rug to scare the heck out of you because you did not test the back.

Seeing rising lines of red, blue, or black dye in stripes all over a rug appear as you clean is a frightening experience. One that is entirely avoidable with the right pre-wash inspection skills.

Happy cleaning – and HAPPY New Year!

– Lisa

P.S. Those of you who are professional cleaners, my training schedule is coming out soon, so if you are interested in working with me this year be sure to opt in to the Rug Disasters Report in the right column of this blog. Then you will get notified as soon as openings are available. Looking forward to working with you!

09 PM | 08 Jun

The care and feeding of Karastan rugs.

Karastan has always been known as a provider of high-quality machine woven wool rugs that replicate many classic Persian oriental rug designs.

Woven in America, made of high quality materials and construction. I’ve seen Karastans from the 1930’s still in very good condition.  In fact, we had an older one come through our shop a few weeks ago, and it had an interesting – and outdated – care tag on the back.  Right here:

Karastan rug care tag - be careful!

Karastan rug care tag - be careful!

Here’s a blog I wrote over on our San Diego Rug Cleaning Company rug repair blog – with a point by point blow of the tag in question.

As Karastan has begun importing product from China, you can no longer say that it represents high quality in machine made product. For some unknown reason they have decided to create some blended rugs with wool and viscose, and as all frequent readers of The Rug Chick blog know – viscose is the worst rug fiber to ever choose for your home.

When you read the label description, let me know, was there anything in it that you were also surprised to see in print as “recommended instructions”? Am I the only one surprised?

– Lisa

P.S.  Heads up – rug cleaning workshop upcoming on August 6-7 – get your seat before it SELLS OUT!

09 PM | 25 May

Do you hate rug fringe? Do not cut it off.

An interesting photo sent to me today – take a look:

Yep – it’s tape. Tape used to hold the fringe tassels in place so you don’t have to keep straightening them.

Pros and cons of this. One – it does keep the fringe tassels, especially hefty fringe like on this Karastan rug, in place.

Cons – you can’t reuse the tape, it leaves residue (and a clean spot) where the adhesive was, and if the fringe tassels are weak with age or past bleaching, the tape will easily tear away those tassels.

On a machine woven rug like this one (you can see the machine work on the edges, and that this fringe is clearly added on after the fact) – torn away tassels are not a big deal. In fact, on this rug you can pull off the fringe entirely with your hands (no scissors required).

But on a hand woven rug – torn away tassels will lead to the rug unraveling and losing its value. This will need to be repaired quickly when this happens. Read about getting rug ends repaired right on this prior post.

So, if you HATE your fringe – do NOT cut the tassels off of an oriental rug. Just say no.

But, no worries, because you can hide the fringe. 

The poor-boy route is to simply use masking tape and tape the tassels under the rug. I choose masking tape because it has the least amount of adhesive, so you do not create a huge mess to clean up versus using packing tape or duct tape.

It’s not the ideal choice, but it’s an option that is much better than cutting off the tassels.

The other option is to hide the fringe professionally, with something that does not damage the tassels with adhesive, and keeps them clean in case you decide you suddenly LOVE fringe again.

We use at our rug shop a burlap material to do this. We sew it by hand at the base of the rug, and fold the tassels underneath the rug safely. Take a look on this Tibetan woven rug:

Customer wants the white fringe hidden from view.

Customer wants the white fringe hidden from view.

Ready to fold the tassels under the rug, and sew to secure.

Ready to fold the tassels under the rug, and sew to secure.

Abracadabra! The fringe has VANISHED!

Abracadabra! The fringe has VANISHED!

Rug friends don’t let friends cut their rug fringe off… ever. Spread the word!

– Lisa

03 AM | 14 Jun

Attack of the MACHINES!

Now more than ever, you are seeing MACHINE made rugs coming through your doors.

It used to be that these were still WOOL rugs, but today a number of olefin, polyester, and other synthetic fibers come your way. And they have “traditional” hand woven rug designs, so to an untrained eye and hand, you can easily mistake them for a “real” oriental rug.

(By the way – when I use the term “oriental rug” I am referring to a rug that has been hand WOVEN. I use the term “area rug” to refer to tufted, custom, and machine woven rugs.)

Q. Do you need to know if a rug is machine made or hand made to clean it?

A. NO.

Q. What do you need to know to clean a rug?

A. Fiber type. Dye stability. Construction type. Pre-existing conditions.

(People who claim you must know where a rug is from to clean it are being silly. 98% of the rugs that have come through our rug plant have all been washed with the same process, just differences in solutions, time-frame, and technique NOT because of where it’s from, but because of fiber, dye, or construction concerns.)

That said – it IS cool to be able to know when a rug is machine made or hand made – and it impresses your clients.

Here’s two quick shots of machine woven rugs. The first an easy one, the next not so easy.

Belgian Machine Woven Wool

First thing you notice is you see WAY MORE foundation thread peeking out at you than a handwoven rug. And the fringe sewing stitches, and the stitching on the side overcast wrapping – it looks machine made.

How about this one?

Karastan Machine Woven Wool

There is still some machine thread stitching along the base of the fringe, and along the side, but this is a VERY well woven wool rug… done in the good ol’ USA by machine.  Karastan rugs are good quality, and can often be mistaken by their owners as “real” oriental rugs from overseas.

This also shows you the easiest way to identify a rug… which is to flip over the corner and read the TAG! 🙂

With these two rugs in particular, you can easily discern that one is of a higher quality than the other from just these simple pictures. If a manufacturer is going to take the care to create a tightly woven rug by machine, they are likely not going to be cutting corners on the other factors – the dyes and the fibers.

Conversely, if someone does cut a corner on the construction side by making it a mediocre quality weave by machine, you’d expect that they would not be investing in top quality fibers or dyes either. Usually if you see a corner cut in one area, there will be some “cuts” in other areas as well.

In fact, with these rugs, it is the “lesser” quality Belgian rug that has the dye stability issue (it will bleed if left wet too long) while the Karastan in question has very strong dye stability. I’ve also seen Karastans from the forties still with full wool pile, so the quality of the wool also can be very high.

I don’t prefer machine woven rugs to hand woven (I love hand crafted rugs, they are a piece of someone’s life and their spirit) … but for certain situations, for example, needing a rug in a high traffic entryway or in the room with pets – I’d grab a machine woven rug over a rug I want to keep to pass on after I’m gone. And if I chose a machine woven rug, I’d choose a Karastan.

But, if your budget dictates a cheaper option, there are plenty of alternatives today.

And, if you are a CLEANER, those cheaper options are the rugs you need to keep a sharp eye out for. Test the fibers, the dyes, the construction quality, and catch those pre-existing conditions BEFORE you clean.

– Lisa Wagner

05 AM | 29 May

Tough To Dry Tuft!

Basically you have two major groups of rugs – woven and tufted. The easiest way to identify one from the other is that on woven (whether by hand or by machine) you can see the design on the back side. Tufted you don’t.

Okay – that’s not an absolute truth, but pretty close. When I get a frantic “save my butt” call from a cleaner across the US asking me to help them with a rug that’s gone bad on them, and I can’t see it, I need to know first – is it woven or tufted?

It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s from Turkey, China, Morocco, or Toledo – most times they can’t tell me that anyway – but it does matter to me what kind of CONSTRUCTION the rug is. Especially with tufted, because this is a rug where the face fibers are glued in place. Actually, latex adhesive is used. That’s why the back looks like this – mesh with latex.

Typical Tufted Rug

Quite a number of times you will see a material covering the back of these rugs. This is for several reasons – 1) because the latex looks ugly; 2) because some latex is poorer quality than others and can crumble and make a mess; and 3) because the latex can cause problems (yellowing) to items underneath it (like the living room carpeting you are putting the rug on top of).

There may be other reasons for this… but that’s my list, and this is my blog. 🙂

A big problem with some of the heavier tufted rugs after you’ve given them a bath is – DRY time. If you do not have a climate-controlled drying room, or a wringer to remove the excess water before the dry time even begins, then you are looking at a long dry time. Days in fact, especially in humid conditions.

But one tool we tested recently in our rug plant helped dry time ENORMOUSLY – the Dri-eaz Airpath.

Side by side testing, same construction types, one rug took just under two days (regular air movers used) and the other rug took under half a day.  If you have a small operation, and are looking to boost your productivity, but cannot afford a drying room or wringer – then I would highly recommend you grab several of these.  In fact, if you are a Piranha Member you can get the best purchasing deal in the industry through our Buyers Group (just log onto Piranha Central for details).

Dri-eaz Airpath: Rug Chick tested! Rug Chick approved! (My team LOVES this air mover.)

Studebaker Airpath by Dri-Eaz

Studebaker Airpath by Dri-Eaz