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How to Clean a Rug

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How to Clean a Rug Tools and Tips
A person vacuuming an area rug.

In general, area rugs only need to be deep cleaned yearly. Here are a few ways to determine if it is time for rug cleaning:

  • Lift a corner of the rug and lightly kick the back. If the rug releases a large cloud of dust, it definitely needs some attention. 
  • Run your hand against the rug face in a circular motion for 10 seconds, then look at your palm; if your hand is dirty, then so is the rug. 
  • Check for signs of deeply embedded dirt by looking at the rug backing. Deep-down dirt will settle along the warp and weft of the rug and can be seen in the backing.

Cleaning a rug only requires a few basic tools. You will need:

  • Rug beater or broom
  • Rug shampoo or safe cleaning solution
  • Two 5 gallon buckets
  • Large sponges
  • Towels
  • Large tarp
  • Fan

Before cleaning a rug, read the care instructions on the rug’s label. Try to pick a time to clean your rugs when there will be a few sunny, hot days together. It may be easier to clean your rugs outdoors, and sunshine and warm air will help them dry more quickly and thoroughly. Plus, the sun is a natural and effective deodorizer and this will keep most of the dust and dirt out of the house. If an outside area is not available, use any floor area that moisture will not damage (like vinyl or concrete floor in the kitchen or garage.)

Cleaning a Rug
A person using a soapy sponge to spot clean a rug.
  • Shake or beat: Take smaller rugs and medium-sized rugs outdoors and give them a good shake to release loose dirt and dust. If the rug is large, ask a partner for help to hang the rug over a porch railing or over a couple of solid chairs. Use a broom or rug beater to hit the rug all over to loosen deeply embedded dirt. Don’t forget to shake out the rug pad too.
  • Mix the cleaner: Make a cleaning solution as directed by your chosen rug shampoo, or mix two to three teaspoons of mild dish soap into one of the 5-gallon buckets with warm water. Fill the other bucket with clean water. 
  • Test the rug for colorfastness: Before cleaning a rug with any type of solution, it should be tested for colorfastness to avoid damage. Dab the cleaning solution on a small corner of the rug with a white towel. Check to see if any color transfers to the towel. Let the test spot dry completely, then check again to make sure colors have not bled or faded.
  • Scrub, if needed: If the rug is colorfast, apply the soap solution to the rug with a soft-bristle brush or sponge. Start at one end of the rug. Dip the sponge/brush into the cleaning solution. Do not over-wet the fibers—only use as much as needed. Use gentle pressure to lightly scrub the rug. Work in a 3- by 3-foot area. Rinse out the sponge/brush frequently so the dirt will not be transferred. 
  • Rinse the rug thoroughly: It’s important not to leave any soap substance on the rug. Soap will attract more dirt. Dip a clean sponge in the rinse water and remove any soap in the area just cleaned. 
  • Blot: Push out as much excess water as you can using a squeegee and moving in the direction of the rug nap. Use the towels to absorb any excess moisture. Scrub, rinse and blot an area before moving to the next.
  • Dry: Hang up the rug to dry, or lay the rug flat, face-up and prop the underside with risers to allow for air circulation. Let the rug dry thoroughly before bringing it back inside, rotating it periodically to promote even drying. Once inside, turn on fans to promote more air circulation and help the rug dry more completely.
  • Adjust rug fibers: Once the rug has dried completely, lightly go over the rug with a vacuum or a soft-bristle brush to refresh the fibers.
  • Steam cleaners: If your rug is very soiled, it may be worth it to rent a commercial steam cleaner. Vacuum the rug first, then follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to operate the machine. 

Maintain the Rug
A living room with area rugs.

Area rugs only need to be vacuumed once or twice a week, depending on footfall traffic. There are a few steps you can take to protect your rugs: 

  • Spot clean spills right away to keep them from staining.
  • Avoid wearing shoes on rugs to keep outside dirt from being tracked in.
  • To absorb odors, lightly sprinkle a little baking soda over the rug and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes before vacuuming.
  • Rotate the rug every six months for even wear.

Area rugs add warmth and character to any space. Keep your area rugs bright and spotless with our tips on how to clean a rug. If you're interested in learning how to specifically clean jute, wool, or shag rugs check out our in-depth rug cleaning guides. Shop The Home Depot for a variety of area rugs and the supplies you need to keep them looking great.