Area rugs — How to take care of rugs so they look good and last

Area rugs are terrific at defining and warming up a space. They can dress up a room or calm it down. They can introduce art or color or simply provide a cozy spot to plop down. Rugs get a lot of wear — especially if they’re in high traffic areas such as entryways. So, to keep area rugs looking their best and lasting their longest, it’s a good idea to invest a little bit of time caring for them. 

Some general maintenance tips

• For starters, take your shoes off at the door. This is a good idea for lots of reasons, and saving your rugs is one of them. Slip into slippers or go barefoot — and encourage visitors to do the same. (I love the Japanese custom of providing slippers at the door for visitors to use. But even these aren’t worn on tatami mats or carpets.)

• Keep your rug from getting damp. High humidity can breakdown the weave of your rug. So don’t put plants on top of it, and if you spill water on the rug, blot it right up, then put something underneath to hold it up while it dries. 

• Protect your rug from direct sunlight. I love bright light, so almost every rug in our home is bathed in sunlight, which means they’ll fade over time. I’m willing to make that sacrifice. If you’re not, consider providing protection with shades and blinds when the sun is brightly shining in a nearby window. 

spacious, simple room with geometric rug in the center

• Rotate your rug. Once or twice a year, turn the rug so that it wears evenly. (You’re likely to be walking across the same areas consistently.) This will also help with sun-faded areas.

• Use furniture coasters. If you place heavy furniture on your rugs, put coasters under the legs to protect the fibers from crushing and denting. 

• Buy a rug pad for your rug. Not only will a rug pad keep your rug from slipping and sliding out of position, it will also provide extra cushioning, absorb sound, and help extend the life of the rug. 

• Don’t pull any loose fibers from your rug. Clip them instead. 

• Keep wool rugs away from areas where they might be exposed to water, such as kitchens and bathrooms. 

• If your new rug has a crease in it, roll it in reverse, then lay it out flat. It’ll relax over time.

Now for some nitty gritty clean up!

Vacuuming Area Rugs

Vacuuming is the most important thing you can do to take good care of your rug, because imbedded dirt and grime can wear out the fibers. Some vacuuming tips:

• Ideally, you’ll vacuum both sides of the rug to get it as clean as possible. (I compromise and do the back sides once a month. For rugs that sit under heavy furniture, I wait until spring cleaning.)

• Vacuum using slow passes, not quickly. You’ll pick up more dirt this way. 

• Make multiple passes with your vacuum, especially over a rug that’s in a high-traffic area.

• Don’t vacuum fringe. Sweep fringes with a broom instead.

• If pet hair remains after vacuuming, use a carpet brush or carpet sweeper to remove the hair.  Brush in the direction of the nap (the nap is way the fibers run; you can tell if you run your hand over the rug).

• Instead of vacuuming small rugs, shake them outside to get rid of loose dirt.

thin black vacuum on ornamental area rug

• Use a vacuum without a beater bar (upright or canister-type vacuums) for area rugs. The suction on many vacuums is too strong for area rugs; this can pull fibers and cause fuzzing on the rug. If your vacuum has a beater bar, choose a low-power setting or raise the beater bar, if possible. Don’t use a beater bar on a long shag rug! Another option — which I would use for a more delicate rug — is to use the vacuum’s handheld attachment rather than the beater bar. 

• To help prevent fraying or other damage, don’t vacuum bound edges on rugs. 

• Place a piece of nylon screen on top of a delicate rug (an antique or handmade rug, for example) before vacuuming to protect it from the vacuum. Vacuum right on top of the screen.

• Most indoor/outdoor rugs don’t need vacuuming because the tight weave doesn’t hold dirt like other pile rugs; you can sweep them regularly instead. 

• When your wool rug is new, vacuum it often, because it’s likely to shed for a while. Once it stops shedding (it may take a few months) you can go back to your regular vacuuming schedule.

• Natural fiber rugs like jute, sisal, coir, rush, and seagrass rugs should be vacuumed regularly on both sides. Vacuum the floor underneath them, too, because dirt tends to sift through the weave.

• It’s usually better to shake out fur, faux fur, and hide rugs than to vacuum them. If you do vacuum, don’t use the beater bar. Try a suede brush on rugs without nap (like hide) and a wire brush on rugs with nap. Brush in the direction of the nap.

• An alternative to vacuuming is to hang a rug over a railing and beat it with a broom or a rug beater to get loose debris out. 

Removing stains

• Blot up any spills right away, using a clean white cloth. Blot, don’t rub, or you can push the stain further down into the fibers. Pull up and away from the fibers, trying to pull out the stain with your clean cloth.

close up of vibrant and colorful area rug

• If needed, combine warm water and just a drop or two of gentle liquid soap. Using a clean cloth, dab some of the soap solution into the rug. Wait a few minutes, then dab with plain warm water to remove the soap. Blot with a clean dry cloth. Note that if you have a rug made of viscose fibers, water can discolor the viscose. Follow the cleaning directions on your viscose rug’s label, or have it professionally cleaned. (Acetic or citric acid rinse is often used instead of water to clean viscose rugs.) 

• If soapy water doesn’t do the job, you’ll need to resort to a stain remover. Here are some directions for natural carpet stains removers, in case you’ve got a stubborn spot. Whether you’re using a natural remover or a commercial brand, make sure they’re safe for use on your rug. Otherwise you might damage the fibers or coloring of the rug. So you’ll want to test whatever you’re using on the most inconspicuous area of the rug. While I prefer natural fibers, synthetic rugs do tend to be more colorfast, and often are stain and mildew resistant, too. Nylon, olefin, and polyester are examples of synthetic fibers used in rugs. Apply the stain remover to the area, according to directions (after blotting up the stain). Allow to dry for half an hour, then vacuum. Repeat if necessary. 

Washing

First check your rug’s label to see if the rug is washable or if it needs special treatment. 

Small, washable rugs

Some small area rugs are washable. Some are even machine washable. If the rug has long fringe, you might gather and tie groupings of the fringe to keep them from tangling. Placing the rug in a laundry bag or pillowcase, and tie it closed to protect it in the washing machine.  Use a gentle cycle and cool water. If you have a larger, washable rug (like a large cotton rag rug), you might take it to the laundromat where you can use a large industrial washer. 

Hang to dry (though some care labels may say to tumble dry on a low setting), but don’t hang it over a clothesline, or it will stretch out of shape. Instead, lay it over a couple of rungs of your clothes drying rack or on a slatted picnic table or pallet or something similar that allows air flow under and over the rug.

Large, washable rugs

Place the rug on a clean, hard surface (like a concrete or vinyl floor), with old clean towels or blankets underneath it. Cover the rug with warm soapy water (use mild liquid soap — just a little bit) or a carpet-cleaning product. Let sit for a few minutes, then rinse with a cloth soaked in clean water. Let dry, then vacuum. Make sure the rug is completely dry before putting it back on the floor. To speed up drying, put it up on something with slats, like a picnic table or pallet. 

clean tan, gray, and white room

Natural fiber rugs

Jute, sisal, coir, rush, and seagrass are washable, though they don’t like water much, so don’t wash them often. And don’t soak them. To clean up stains, place the rug on a clean towel and use warm soapy water and a soft brush to scrub. Blot excess water with another clean towel. Dry the rug quickly by placing in the sun or by using a small fan or hair dryer over the wet spots. 

Delicate rugs

If you have an antique, hand-tufted, or silk rug, it may be hanging on your wall rather than sitting on your floor. Handle it carefully, without using vacuum beater bars or chemical cleaners. Blot stains carefully, if they happen, but don’t try to wash it yourself. Get it professionally cleaned. 

Fur, faux fur, and hide rugs 

These area rugs do better if you simply blot any spills up. Cleaning solvents can break down the fibers. You can also clean them by shaking baking soda over the top of the rug, leaving for an hour or so, then taking outside and shaking it. Turn the rug over and wipe the back clean with a damp cloth. Dry thoroughly, then place on the floor, right side up, and vacuum with suction-only (no beater bar).

Indoor/Outdoor rugs

These rugs don’t mind water, so use a mild detergent mixed with water and a soft brush to clean them. Wet them first, rub in the soapy water (on both sides of the rug), then rinse with a garden hose. Allow to dry in the sun. 

Dry cleaning

If your rug label warns that your rug is dry clean only, be careful doing anything else to it. (Do blot up any stains right away, however!) Even if your rug doesn’t specify dry cleaning it, having it spruced up by a pro every year or so — especially if it’s in a high-traffic area — can remove odors and allergens, dust mites, mold spores, and stubborn stains. Some companies will pick up, clean, and deliver rugs back to your door, spick and span.

Here are some helpful directions from The Humming Homebody for repairing a looped rug.

You might also like: Wood floor TLC — How to protect, clean, and care for wood floors and Brooms — How to clean and care for your household broom.

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