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…)
Fire season has arrived early to my region (San Diego) and we have been inundated with calls from last week’s devastating fires in our county. Thankfully our incredible fire crews saved many homes, buildings, and certainly lives.
Now the clean-up begins.
Soot and smoke damage on a Pakistan wool rug.
Though most of our clients were not in the those neighborhoods where homes burned down this time, many experienced the heavy smoke and ash that went airborne throughout our county with the strong winds, and we are all trying to get that acrid smell out of our homes. The fine fire particulate gets into the HVAC systems, and comes through our windows/doors, and will contribute to odor issues until those particulates are physically cleaned away.
And it is not just the irritation of the smoke odor. These airborne fire particulates can contribute to sore throats and coughing, bloodshot and irritated eyes, nose bleeds and other sinus issues. People with asthma need to be especially careful outside in this type of pollution. Those in the heaviest hit areas likely have to leave their neighborhoods to try to breathe fresh air again.
I tried to find some useful information to share on my blog for our clients regarding this type of clean up, and there are very few good resources that I could find. (If you see any great resources, PLEASE let me know.)
One page that I did find with useful information regarding fire damage and homes was on the IICRC website (the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification). Here are their guidelines on handling fire damage in a home or building. CLICK HERE IICRC: Fire Smoke Damage Tips
Here are the tips that I am offering to our clients.
CLEAN UP QUICK CEILING TO FLOOR. (Plan to do it again.)
I live in Ramona, and when we had the devastating 2007 fires in our town, with so many homes lost, that odor was truly horrible. Not just ash, but the smell of burnt plastics and metals and every other item you can imagine incinerated.
Those who did not have direct fire structural damage requiring fire restoration/rebuilding contractors sought out professional cleaning companies to handle it all: air duct cleaning, ceiling and wall cleaning, carpet cleaning, hard floor cleaning, air scrubbers to get the air cleaned, and of course rug cleaning. Most insurance companies covered this type of clean up for owners and renters of homes/businesses.
The problem we experienced at that time was after a rush of getting indoor environments liveable again, we had another strong Santa Ana wind come in weeks later that picked up soot and ash and blew it all through our living spaces again. So we cleaned again.
My advice to clients (especially those in the San Marcos, Carlsbad, Bonsall, and Pendleton areas) has been to get everything cleaned quickly because the acidity of soot/ash harms most surfaces and fibers, but be prepared to do it again in the next month or two unless we get some rains to help prevent all of this soot and ash from getting airborne again.
With rugs, soot and smoke needs to be washed out of the fibers.
Tabriz wall hanging. Soot/smoke must be washed away from this rug to prevent fiber and dye damage.
In situations where rugs have light to moderate smoke odor, a standard wash will take care of the problem by washing away the fine particulates that have grabbed onto the fibers and are carrying the odor with them. Afterwards regular vacuuming can keep your rugs in their best condition.
(For step-by-step how to properly, and safely, vacuum your rugs read my post on vacuuming rugs. That is the most common question I get, so I answered it in depth.)
Heavier fire damage requires some additional care.
Heavier smoke/soot damage to a Chinese wool rug. This must be deodorized.
In these situations, the rug requires washing, but also deodorizing with solutions formulated to help remove the odor source from natural fibers (wool, silk, or cotton).
Sometimes the damage is too extensive to save the rug, such as with this rug:
Burning embers damage the face of this wool tufted rug. Thankfully wool self-extinguishes, but the damage in this piece was too much to reweave.
One of the nice qualities about wool is that is has a high moisture content that results in it self-extinguishing flames in most cases. This is why you see wool carpet and fabric used in airplanes and also in many hotels.
Small fire damage burns in rugs can often be reknotted, so it is always worth determining whether a rug can be saved when it is part of a fire.
Most heavy soot and ash can be removed if a professional rug washer can get to the damaged rug sooner rather than later. The longer that acidic ash and residue stays on the fibers, the more damage that is caused to the rug fibers and dyes.
One rug owner did not think this rug would be salvageable.
This Turkish Hereke silk rug was on a table in a home that burned down. Comparing the back to the front.
A heavy lamp on the edge of the rug created one small unaffected area. The odor was very strong.
This rug was one of the few items to survive this home fire, and because the work was performed very soon after the loss, the rug – and the memories from that trip to Turkey – were saved.
Turkish Hereke silk after the wash services to save it.
Often when a home is lost to fire, one of the few items that can be saved are the wool and silk rugs. It is not much… but it is something when everything you own may have been taken away in something devastating like this. Every rug usually has a “story” to it, so it is nice to help save a happy memory in the midst of an unhappy experience.
Our thanks go out to the fire crews who helps to protect our city last week, and my prayers and hugs go out to those who lost their homes in this disaster.
P.S. If you have any clean up questions, or if you need any recommendations of companies in the San Diego area to help clean up your home, please feel free to email me. I know many outstanding cleaning companies in our county, as well as professional fire restoration/rebuilding companies if your insurance company has not already recommended one to you. And of course, if your rugs need to be washed and held in storage while your home is put back together again, we are here to help. Good luck everyone on the big clean up to return us back to America’s Finest City again.
The biggest fear most rug cleaners have regarding rugs is that the rug might bleed while in their care.
Bled Afghan rug.
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 Bleedis 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 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!
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.
P.S. Thank you Rug Chick readers for another wonderful year! I hope you and your families have an amazing 2011.
All pile rugs, just like your pet pooch or kitty or gorilla (hey – we have ALL kinds on this blog!) – the fur has a direction to it. You can tell when you are petting with the grain…
…or against it.
The grain points toward the bottom end of the rug. This is the end where the weaving process began, so as those knots are twisted around two warp threads, they end up pointing downward.
Weaving a rug on a loom.
This means that when the rug is on the floor, its wool (or silk) pile is pointing toward one fringed end, and pointing away from the other.
Because the pile reflects light differently, you end up with some very distinct LIGHT and DARK “looks” to every pile rug. Take a look:
View from bottom end, looking INTO the pile.
View from top end, looking WITH the pile.
Now…if you happen to take a rug out for its regular washing, and you were to lay the rug down in the opposite direction, with it suddenly looking quite different to its owner…
…could you understand how there might be a problem?
Technically, no problem at all. No damage per se. But, the “look” of the rug they live with day in and day out would suddenly be different.
It’s important to note which end (top or bottom) is where in the room before you remove it, and to open it in the same direction again when you return it so you can avoid any comments like “what happened to my rug?!?”
Especially if you are dealing with SILK rugs, which reflect light much more dramatically than wool does, you can have a very vibrant difference in the look of the rug.
This is why when you spill anything on a silk rug and try to dry it, and the pile gets tussled or matted, it can look like soil because it can appear very dark afterwards. (By the way silk is a horrible choice for a floor rug, because foot traffic will always make it look blotchy. Though silk is a strong fiber, I recommend hanging and enjoying the pieces rather than stomping on them and having them always look “a little dirty” even when they are not. Plus, with any spills silk is a dangerous beast to try to correct spill damage, many tend to have dyes that will bleed with spills.)
So, remember to PET the rug and determine the direction of the rug pile before you remove it from the home. I like to roll the rugs from the bottom end, which makes for a tighter roll.
And after they are thrilled with your cleaning then you can recommend that they rotate the rug for the upcoming year to help even out any traffic wear and sun light exposure.
I was sent some photos of a relatively “new” type of product hitting the market – a tufted rug using silk as highlights.
Now…tufted rugs are of course not new to retail shops. I’m sure you’ve seen them, rugs with a material backing, like this:
Tufted rug - cloth backing.
Tufted rugs are what I refer to as FAKE rugs, because they are a cheaper, quicker way to create the look of a woven rug without the quality and longevity of a real woven rug.
Tufted rugs are essentially hooked rugs, looped into a cotton mesh, then latex is poured over the back to glue the fibers in place. They most of the time cover the back with a cloth, because the latex is ugly and can sometimes crumble or yellow the floor/carpeting underneath it. Then they shear off the top loops so it is straight fibers like a “real” rug.
Tufted rugs by and large are cheaply made, and have a life of several years, versus decades (or centuries) like quality hand woven wool rugs.
A real hand woven rug can take months - or years - to craft.
That said, most consumers do not know the difference, and many buy tufted rugs, so you need to know how to clean them.
Because tufted rugs have a lot of corners cut to allow them to sell for cheaper prices, you have a number of concerns:
1) The latex, if poor quality, can crumble and the face fibers can pull loose during vacuuming or cleaning.
2) The designs, if stenciling is used that is INK, can bleed out when wet and wick up to the top (this is a manufacturing flaw, because they should NOT be using ink to do this).
3) The latex, if it has gone bad and soured, can create a HORRIBLE odor (smells like a cross between dirty socks and rubber) that will get WORSE with any moisture from cleaning. If the rug is new, and smells, tell your client to RETURN the rug immediately to exchange for another one or to get their money back. This is flawed merchandise.
Back to my story… I was sent a photo of a TUFTED rug with wool face fibers, but also SILK highlights throughout it. And the cleaner wanted to know any tips or concerns he should have. Here’s two photos of the rug in question:
Wool and silk tufted rug - front view
Wool and silk tufted rug - back corner
Now, considering this is a tufted rug, the odds of the highlights being good quality silk are not high. In fact, it is likely rayon or viscose or mercerized cotton (all used as artificial silk).
To determine if it is real silk versus fake silk, you take a tuft from the rug (use tweezers) and drop it in a small cup of fresh Chlorox bleach.
If it is real silk, it will begin to bubble and slowly dissolve.
There are many high quality rugs from Persia, and China, that are hand woven wool oriental rugs with silk highlights around the floral designs. They are beautiful.
Silk is a natural protein fiber, like wool, and in these cases where the amount of silk is not large, you can follow the same guidelines you do for cleaning wool and safely clean the silk as well. Same shampoo, same dye stabilizing solutions, same vinegar rinse to remove the residue.
One difference is that the silk will get matted and stiff when fully dried, and this requires some grooming to loosen those fibers up again. Very slow hand brushing is required (similar to the grooming needed for velvet when it is cleaned, except you use a hand brush instead of a carding brush). This additional time needed is why it usually costs more to clean silk rugs than wool rugs, because more time is required. (By the way, grooming is required for FAKE silk also, so even cheap viscose rugs cost more to clean than wool rugs because it takes more time.)
With this tufted rug in particular, because these rugs are made quickly and not with the highest quality ingredients, I would pre-inspect for a few things. I would want to know: are the dyes colorfast? are the fibers strong or do they pull away easily? is there any stenciling? is the silk actually RAYON? is there any latex strong odor?
I would test the dyes. If they test colorfast, and the rug is fairly soiled, then I would wash the rug. Give it a bath.
If the dyes test as fugitive, then I would surface clean the rug with an upholstery tool section by section carefully, to clean it. I would use an Airpath air mover to speed dry.
I would test the fiber strength. If they test strong, and the rug is fairly soiled, then I would wash the rug.
If they test weak (easily pull away from the rug), then I would surface clean it with the upholstery tool, and if needed, place a screen over the rug sections as I clean them to keep fibers from being pulled away during extraction strokes.
If I do see stenciling, and the rug is fairly soiled, I would STILL wash it… because the rug is dark and so ink bleeding out will not be visible on the front, but I would let the client know ink marks will show on the backing material. (Most clients don’t care what the back of the rug looks like, and I always prefer to give rugs a bath versus surface cleaning because it is the difference between taking a real bath or having a sponge bath.) Just in case the ink might bleed into the white silk highlights, I would use an Airpath to speed dry it.
I would test to see if the highlight fibers are RAYON instead of silk. If they are in fact rayon, then I know I need to be careful about scrubbing the rug, and to be extra careful when grooming after it’s dry. Rayon is a very weak fiber, and will break apart with even the gentlest cleaning.
I would pre-inspect for the horrible odor found in some tufted rugs. If the rug has that odor I would NOT CLEAN IT. This is a manufacturing flaw, tell the client to return it to the store they bought it at.
As long as you are VERY good at pre-inspection, and VERY good at carefully cleaning a rug, this should not be a problem rug to clean.
If you have any questions for me on this rug or others, please post them in the COMMENTS.
Thank you for reading the Rug Chick blog, I am always happy to see so many come to visit me here. 🙂
The fiber is not just kinda weak – it is VERY weak. Spill on it, and scrub it trying to clean it up, you will permanently distort and damage the fibers.
It likes to YELLOW on you. Get it wet, just with water, and you will have a water mark that ends up looking like a big pet urine puddle. (This is because rayon is a bunch of cellulose by-products, mish-mashed together and heavily chemically process to make it look shiny, and it yellows when wet.)
It likes to BLEED on you. The dyes are not strong. Ever try to clean one of these on your own at home, because it looks easy to clean, and you will create a soup of dyes mingled together if you’re not careful.
And… it looks worse after every year of foot traffic, and after every cleaning. Why? Because you can’t scrub it much without distortion or damage. Think about something you have that is cotton (a stronger version of rayon), like perhaps some socks. They’ve gotten dirty from use, and then you can only wash them by gently soaking them in a cleaning solution, and not being allowed to scrub to try to get the soil loose, and not allowed to use hot water to help remove it (because it would make it come apart more).
How clean could you get those socks? Would you ever be able to wear them again? Probably not.
So you have viscose rugs, with feet, shoes, and paws walking on it – and the contaminants brought in from those sources – and you cannot properly and thoroughly clean it because it’s such an inferior fiber it can’t hold up to proper cleaning over time.
You literally buy a rug, when it’s viscose, that is disposable. It will look good for a short period of time, and will age quickly and will be in the landfill, or given away to Goodwill, in a few years.