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
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!
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 email@example.com. These will go fast, so if it’s sold by the time you write me, I apologize in advance.
There are a variety of reasons a rug might “bleed” on you. Let’s go through different scenarios for a wool rug like this one, where the red dyes have migrated into the neighboring off-white areas:
What could create this type of dye migration? Several things.
FUGITIVE DYES – if the red is shown to not be colorfast during your dye test, it could bleed from improper exposure to water from a flood or a poor cleaning attempt. Your dye testing process will show you this potential risk, and you can determine what dye stabilizing solution to use and which shampoo.
EXCESS DYE or OVER-DYED APPLICATIONS – if the rug has never been cleaned before, there might be a bit of “excess” dye in the fibers that may wash out on the 1st cleaning, just as with a new colorful shirt in the laundry. Or, if additional color has been ADDED after the rug was woven to make it brighter (or to make it look older, such as with a tea-wash antiquing application) this additional dye or ink could bleed during a cleaning.
With excess dye, using the proper dye stabilizing solution you can protect the neighboring areas to keep the transfer of the “extra” dye from landing on the wrong areas – it just washes away in the bath.
With over-dye applications, especially inks like India Ink, you cannot protect the neighboring areas so you need to identify these rugs before cleaning to avert a disaster. Often these rugs crock color with a dry towel alone, and transfer a sizable amount of color with the dye test itself, so know when you need to turn down cleaning. Dye stabilizers work on DYES not inks.
HIGH HEAT or HIGH ALKALINITY – a colorfast dye may bleed even with the proper application of a dye stabilizing solution IF it is improperly combined with high temperature during cleaning or high alkaline cleaning solutions (such as traffic lane cleaners). If you plan to clean the rug outside of recommended pH and temperature ranges, then always test the dye with that temperature/alkalinity to make sure you do not create dye damage.
PAST IN-HOME CLEANING OF RUGS – the biggest problem with having a rug cleaned in your home using wall-to-wall carpet cleaning equipment and solutions (or a home-owner Bissell or Rug Doctor) is the amount of residue left behind in the fibers after the “cleaning.” This chemical residue buildup tends to be on the alkaline side, and over time can affect the acid dyes of especially wool rugs and can create a “bleeder” out of these rugs. It might clean up fine one or two times in the home, and on the third the dyes may bleed all over and you have no idea why. It’s because of the extended build-up of all of the residue NOT removed in the past.
If you have a rug of any value at all – never clean it in the home. Natural fiber rugs are meant to be washed.
REPEAT PET STAINS – pet urine starts off as an acidic stain, and then turns alkaline over weeks and months. If it is not cleaned up right away off of a rug this will create long term permanent dye damage that devalues your rug. A rug may have colorfast dyes, but all of the areas with urine exposure will bleed no matter what steps are taken to stop that. This is why pet urine is the most dangerous “spill” on rugs, and why you need to jump on cleaning it up as soon as you see the puddles especially if you have valuable rugs.
The more time you take to inspect the rug before the cleaning begins, the more problems you can avoid.
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.
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:
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.
P.S. Thank you Rug Chick readers for another wonderful year! I hope you and your families have an amazing 2011.
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:
The construction basics come down to this (NOT to scale here):
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.
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.)
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.
You can see where is has bled pink into the usually white edge design of this rug.
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:
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!
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!