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,
I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately on bugs eating rugs – so I thought I’d share some tips for both rug owners and rug cleaners.
The two biggest wool rug culprits are moths and carpet beetles.
For rugs, there are several steps you can take to keep the bugs from digesting your oriental rugs.
These bugs like nice, quiet, undisturbed places. You will generally find them doing their dirty work under the corner of your sofa, behind a drape, along the cracks in the planks of your wood floor, or on the back side of a rug hanging up still on your wall.
You do not need to “beat” the rug with your vacuum, just give it a good once over on the front every few weeks, and flip over the corners to see if there is anything to be wary of. Moth larvae looks like sticky lint and they do their damage when they emerge from those cocoons HUNGRY.
I like to run my vacuum upholstery tool over the back of the corners of my rugs, just to be safe, and once a quarter I completely vacuum the back side of my rugs to make enough chaos to have bugs look for another place to feast.
For rugs hanging on the walls, at least once a quarter take them down to vacuum. If they are delicate you can use the upholstery attachment instead of a beater bar or super-sucker type vacuum. Because of this needed maintenance for hanging textiles, this is why we like to suggest using velcro to hang rugs – it makes it easy to take down and put back up.
Rugs under normal to heavy use should be washed annually.
This means sending them out to be washed in a rug cleaning plant, and NOT having them just surface cleaned in your home. (BIG difference, especially if you are trying to avoid bugs.)
If you have moderate traffic on your rugs, and you vacuum at least every other week, that wash time can be extended to every 18-24 months. But longer than 2 years, you are asking for trouble. Not only from the abrasive grit that gets lodged into the base of the rug fibers (which is what causes areas to wear down faster), but also in regards to insect activity.
Washing helps dislodge bug activity and remove it. And for rugs with a big problem you are looking to solve, and you do not want to soak the rug in pesticide poisons, washing and giving the rug a vinegar rinse will help physically remove the bugs and their problem-causing ways.
FOR STORAGE – ALWAYS WASH BEFORE WRAPPING UP
Rug cleaners rarely offer “mothproofing” these days because those solutions are pesticides that kill things, and for something you may have your kids or pets rolling around on, that’s just not safe.
Even the odorless insect repellent solutions that professional cleaners have available and are not poisons still have some irritation risks. (Always read the MSDS to evaluate whether you want to use a particular product that requires leaving residue behind.)
But if a textile is going into storage for years, it is best to make sure you are not going to open up the package and find a rug disaster, so using a repellent is wise unless you are putting the piece in a cedar chest, or using other items that tend to discourage moths.
When I put something into storage, I don’t want to worry about it, so I use a repellent.
The most important step though is the wash and making sure you are not wrapping the rug up with any unwanted pest guests.
If your rug does have a visible insect problem right now, while it is out to be professionally washed you will need to bring in a professional cleaner to tackle your wall-to-wall carpet or your hard floors, wherever the problem rugs were, so that you can remove the rest of the problem.
Hot water extraction (“steam cleaning”) can take care of the problem in your carpeting – something the EPA lays out guidelines on for how often you should have this done as posted on the IICRC website.
To sum up, rug-eating bugs are kind of like unruly teens. They like to go hide in their space, and they don’t want you to bother them.
So you need to pull open the curtains to let fresh air and sunlight in, clean up their surroundings so they escape the fright of it all, and make a routine of that so you don’t end up with bigger problems down the road.
Your teens will come back (hey, they need to eat…), but the bugs will move on to another place with a less attentive rug owner in charge.
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:
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?
P.S. Heads up – rug cleaning workshop upcoming on August 6-7 – get your seat before it SELLS OUT!
I’m seeing a number of these rugs coming to market. I refer to them as shaggy leather rugs.
Couple things to know about these rugs if you are buying one, or are cleaning one:
1) Pets LOVE these. And there is a tendency to have pet puddles on them as a result.
2) Many have SIZING on them to make the strips of leather “stiff” – and this sizing is not permanent.
3) The colorful strips (reds, blues, and blacks typically) can bleed when given a wet wash. Test for this.
So, if you do happen to have pets in the home, or the rug gets fairly dirty, you will need to get the piece washed to become clean again. This means the strips will likely become limper, and the overall rug not as “peppy” as when you first bought it.
If the rug does not have heavy soil because it is vacuumed regularly (on this type of tied-together strip construction, do not use a regular vacuum, I’d suggest a canister vacuum) – then a professional cleaner may opt to actually clean those strips of leather by hand with leather cleaning products. This hand work will take a very long time, and would have a sizeable cost because of that labor.
Another interum way to “pep” the piece up is to take the rug, flip it upside down (with helpers), and shake the heck out of it. (This also works fabulous for shaggy rugs like flokatis.)
This helps release grit, dust, and fuzzies that have lodged into the base of this rug, and will pep up the leather strips for a short time.
These rugs are kind of cool though.
I would not use them in a high traffic area. And, if I had pets, I’d probably not opt for this choice. The rugs are pricey to begin with, and having to wash it frequently because of pet accidents or dander odor, would make it an even pricier investment.
Just a few things to know before you buy one… or before you decide to clean one.
The most common repair needed by rugs in our town (and EVERY town with rug owners) is END repairs.
With hand woven rugs, when the fringe is torn or worn, the knots of the rug start to slide away and off.
You rug starts slowly shrinking, and gets shorter and shorter. Like this:
Once a knot has pulled loose, you cannot resecure it… it is lost FOREVER.
That’s why when your fringe gets VERY short, you need to pay attention.
The value of your rug is in those tiny little knots. You want to keep them in tact. But sometimes when you try to do good and grab some wool and thread, you might actually cause more damage than good.
This rug has fringe that is way too short, and you can see someone’s attempt to tie off the tassels is actually sliding off, and pulling some knots with it. Too little too late.
Another attempt at trying to use a whip stitch to darn this end is doing no good either. By pulling that thick wool through the foundation to try to hold the edge together, the person has actually loosened those rows of knots and this edge will pull apart sooner as a result.
Good intentions, bad results.
Sometimes you take your rug to someone who decides that using an industrial serging machine to machine repair the edge is a good option. This also is a very BAD choice.
This is heartbreaking… a sewing machine happy idiot decided to machine repair a hand woven rug. Not only is the color choice ugly, but this type of machine work causes structural damage to the rug that cannot be reversed.
The reason hand woven rugs are repaired by hand is so that the Rug Repair Specialist can slip the needle around, and inbetween the foundation fibers (warps and wefts).
A serging machine does not go around fibers – it powers right through them, over and over and over again.
Over time these repairs will tear away, and pull away inches of the rug that could have been saved if it had been repaired by hand.
If you are talking about an investment textile, the more inches you lose, the more value you lose. Simple as that.
When this machine repair tears away, the rug will need to be reduced further to provide enough warp length to anchor a solid repair with. (Remember those VERY short fringe tassel stubs up top in photo #2? You need more length than that to hold a good end repair in place.)
What does a good end repair look like? There are several styles, but this is my favorite – an overcast stitch:
Your stitch should use a strong upholstery thread that will not get brittle over time. Your stitch should vary now and then to lower weft threads so that the tension of the stitch is evenly distributed so it will not unnecessarily pull the edge loose. Your buttonhole stitch, flat along the top, should be close to the outermost weft thread to hold the edge tightly in place.
Many rug repair facilities, like ours, guarantee their overcast repairs for the life of the rug. This is because, when it is done properly, it should never need to be done again.
Now… if your vacuum cleaner sucks up and tears off the edge, that is a different matter. There are no guarantees to help someone not paying attention. 🙂
If you have a hand woven rug, and the edge is unraveling, make sure the repair is done by hand.
If you have a rug cleaning facility, and want to know some rug repairs that you can do without having to be trained by a rug repair specialist, be sure to opt-in for the Simple Rug Repairs Report I’ve made available. The opt-in box is at the top of this blog, over to the right. Enjoy!
I often receive questions about vacuuming rugs from rug owners, asking if they should vacuum rugs, and if so how to do it.
First of all, YES – rugs should be vacuumed. If any of you have hard floors in your home, then you know how often you need to sweep and dust because of the constant fine layer of contaminants that settle into your home.
This grit settles on rugs also, but because you do not notice it, this can work its way into the base of the fibers of your wool rug and it creates abrasion that can cut those fibers. This is why rugs wear down in spots.
So it’s important to do a regular “dusting” of your rugs to take off that top layer of settled dust and bigger pieces caught in the fibers from shoes, feet, and paws. Even rugs hanging on the wall will have a layer of dust on them.
For weekly vacuuming, you do not need an abrasive beater bar vacuum. A better choice is a canister, or setting the beater bar at a higher level so the bristles are not continually brushing against the fiber.
I like to vacuum with strokes across the width of the rug rather than the length, because with one move you might accidentally suck up the fringe tassels into the vacuum. (If it’s a canister, no problem, but when tassels get tied up in the beater bar they can tear off.)
When a rug has not been vacuumed regularly, then the dirt embedded in the base of the rug can be too lodged in to release, so you need a little more help. Back in “the day” these rugs would be hung up and beat with a rug beater to whack the dust out.
Most of us do not have this as part of our cleaning routine. 🙂 So here’s another option with your regular upright vacuum cleaner. Vacuum the back of the rug to “shake” out the soil from the base – like this:
A wool rug can hold several pounds of dry soil in a square yard before it “looks” dirty. It’s not uncommon for us to pull 5-10 pounds of soil from a large rug just from vacuuming.
This is a great attribute of wool, it acts as a fantastic air filter, grabbing soil from the air and hiding it in the small scales of its fibers, and the rug will still look good.
The negative of this is that rug owners tend to wait until their rugs look dirty to get them cleaned, and by this time there can be pounds of soil in that rug causing damage to the fibers.
Have you ever had a tiny rock in your shoe, and how even when it’s very small it drives you crazy because it hurts? This is what happens with a rug, these tiny little rocks get lodged in the fibers and when you walk on that rug it cuts and scrapes the fibers.
This is why dusting is so important – to help extend the life of your rug. And if you are thorough, you can even extend the length of time needed between professional cleanings. How often should you clean your rugs? That depends.
A rug under regular use should be washed every 18 months. If you have pets or lots of kids, or high traffic on the rug, you want those fibers free of contaminants more often, so annual cleaning would be a smarter choice.
Washing the rug removes the contaminants from the entire rug – it’s the most thorough way to clean rugs, as well as the most gentle.
Rugs can live for centuries, and can be handed down from generation to generation … especially if you care for them enough to care for them properly.
Moths and carpet beetles like to munch on wool rugs.
But they are not the only culprits. If you do not keep your rugs clean, and there are food spills, or drink spills, you can attract insects who are eating the “food” but also the wool that has absorbed it. Like a shish-kabob for bugs!
Since many rugs have a COTTON foundation, which these bugs do not eat, most moth or carpet beetle damage will look like this – empty spaces of white cotton foundation threads peeking out at you.
Wool-munching bugs like dark areas without much air circulation. This means you will tend to find their “activity” on the underside of a rug, or behind a large drape, or under a sofa, or on the backside of a textile hanging up on a wall.
It is important, especially if a rug has been in place for 6 months or longer without much activity to make sure that bugs are not making a feast of your rug. When you are vacuuming a rug (ideally with a canister vacuum – little abrasion so you can do it weekly), be sure to flip over the corners and sides and run the vacuum head over the edges to pick up any LINT that may actually be larvae. Moth eggs do sometimes resemble sticky lint, so you want to keep an eye out.
By creating air flow under the rug, and moving it around, you can dissuade bugs from making a home there. You can also set smaller rugs out in the sunlight (face down) for a half hour to hour while you are cleaning the underneath flooring. This open air and sun will also make unwanted bugs get the heck out of Dodge and move to the next home.
Pulling down hanging rugs and vacuuming the back of the rug is very important, especially if you have tribal pieces such as American Indian weavings. These pieces tend to have “tastier” unprocessed wool for bugs, and with some (such as pieces from Morocco), there can be wool that has not had as thorough a cleaning process before being exported and so they may have carried over some of their own indigenous insects.
Wool is an incredible fiber. It is strong, it is dyed vibrantly, it is incredibly environmentally friendly because it is a renewable resource. People love wool … and unfortunately so do bugs.
Wool is also an AMAZING filter for the air because it can grab and hold dust and grit, pounds of it, and still look clean. When you wait to clean your wool rug when it looks dirty, you are already months behind the ideal time, and that packed in grit causes abrasion that makes your rugs wear down. Think of a tiny rock in your shoe, how the tiniest one can drive you nuts. Now think of thousands of tiny little rocks rolling in those wool fibers that you are walking on – that is why rugs can wear down over years of misuse.
Wool rugs can last for CENTURIES under the right conditions – which includes regular dusting (vacuuming) and washing.
And your best protection against BUGS? Have your rugs regularly cleaned. This not only makes your home environment cleaner, but removes unwanted guests in your wool fibers before they begin causing real damage, AND removes the grit that causes rugs to wear down sooner than they should.
By having the rug sent out for a bath, you can thoroughly clean the rug and have it come back residue – and bug – free. You can apply “chemicals” to try to mothproof the piece, but these are poisons, and are only appropriate if you are packing the rug away for years in storage. An insect repellant is a safer choice, if you must have something applied because your home is prone to moths and carpet beetles.
The safest option of course is to simply clean the rugs regularly, and vacuum them regularly, which is better for you, your family, and your home anyway. And… no chemicals you have to worry about your kids and pets crawling over.
I like residue free … it just makes life cleaner and simpler.