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How to Clean a Rug

Save money by learning how to clean an area rug   

2-4 hours
How to Clean a Rug

Area rugs are a great way to add warmth and personality to your decor, but after prolonged use, they will need a good cleaning to look like new. For most modern rugs, cleaning can be a once-a-year, DIY project that saves you the expense of professional care. If your rug is tagged with specific cleaning instructions, follow those. Otherwise, use this guide to learn how to clean an area rug, including how to wash a rug that can be washed, and general rug maintenance tips.

Tip: 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.

What You Need

How to Tell If Your Rug Needs to Be Cleaned

Vacuuming a Rug

There 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.

Pre-Clean the Rug

• Take smaller rugs and medium-sized rugs outdoors and give them a good shake to release loose dirt and dust. For larger rugs, simply proceed with vacuuming.
• Turn the rug over and vacuum the back of the rug. Clean the floor of any released dirt, then lay the rug face up and vacuum the front of the rug. Do not vacuum the front face of a shag rug, as this can potentially damage the long rug fibers.
• Test the rug for colorfastness. Make a cleaning solution as directed by your chosen rug shampoo, or mix two to three teaspoons of mild dish soap into a bucket of cool water.
• 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

Tip: If available, use the "rug" setting on your vacuum cleaner. The lower airflow will keep the rug from getting sucked into the vacuum and is less harsh on the rug fibers.

Apply A CLEANING treatment

• Apply the soap solution to the rug with a soft-bristle brush.

• Brush the rug firmly but with a light pressure.

• For deeper cleaning, use more solution. 

• Wool, antique and jute rugs should never be soaked with water. Instead of applying soap solution with a brush, dampen a microfiber cloth with your soap solution and lightly dab the surface of the rug. Remoisten your cloth as needed, but never saturate the rug.

• Shag rugs should only be spot cleaned on stained areas with soap solution. Use same method as with antique rugs. For general cleaning, use a dry carpet shampoo. Never soak or submerge a shag rug.

• Cotton rugs can be machine-washed in cold water on the gentle cycle. Be sure not to overload your washer; if the rug is too large for your home machine, take it to a commercial laundry.

Rinse Thoroughly

• For a synthetic fiber rug, hang the rug or lay it on a sloping driveway and run water from an outdoor hose over the rug surface until the water runs clear. Then push out as much excess water as you can using a squeegee and moving in the direction of the rug nap.

• Wool, jute and antique rugs must be hand rinsed using a blotting method. Use fresh water and apply lightly using clean microfiber towels and the same blotting motion as used to clean the rug. 

• Cotton rugs can be machine-rinsed in cold water on the gentle cycle.

Dry the Rug

• 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 the 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.


Maintain the Rug

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.
• Vacuum rugs once a week. 

• To absorb odors, lightly sprinkle a little baking soda over the rug and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes before vacuuming.

How to Care for Different Types of Rugs

Rug MaterialWashRinseDry

Wool Rugs/Antique Rugs

Blot rug with soap and water solution; do not saturate rug

Blot rug with clean water; do not saturate rug

Blot rug with dry microfiber towels; be sure rug is completely dry before walking on it

Jute Rugs / Shag Rugs

Spot clean with mild soap and water or gently apply dry cleaning powder with a stiff-bristle brush

Blot with dry microfiber towels; vacuum if using dry-cleaning powder

Allow to dry completely

Cotton Rugs

Machine wash rugs on delicate cycle; use commercial washer for larger cotton rugs

Completed in machine wash

Hang over a clothesline or railing to dry

Synthetic/Outdoor Rugs

Wet rug, then gently work in soap solution with a brush

Rinse rug with hose until water runs clear

Hang to dry or spread on flat surface; rotate frequently for even drying

Persian Rugs / Oriental Rugs 

Professional cleaning only