How to Clean and Care for Your Area Rug

Matt Lashway, owner of Whitehall Carpet Cleaners, cleaning an area rug


Area rug cleaning is a great accent for hardwood, tile, or even carpeted floors, complementing your furniture and feeling great underfoot. When you want something to make your floors “pop”, then an area rug can do the job! Area rugs can last for decades – but in order to do so they require a bit of love.

This article will explore the basics of keeping your rug looking great, as well as examine how often your area rugs need to be professionally cleaned.


Regular Care for Area Rugs

Area rug get dirty and worn from constant foot traffic and exposure to the environment. There are some very simple things you can do to on a regular basis to ensure that your rug stays clean and presentable:

  1. Vacuum regularly. Use a vacuum with an adjustable pile brush and, if possible, an upholstery attachment to get into the fibers.
  2. If you don’t have an upholstery attachment, then use a carpet brush to work dirt out of taller piles.
  3. Take the rug outside and shake it out occasionally. Some area rugs are suitable for beating with a whisk or flat instrument to knock out dust, but a good shake out for dust and particles can help freshen it up.
  4. Rotate the rug 180 degrees at least twice a year. This can help keep the rug from wearing unevenly and reduce uneven color fading from exposure to the sunlight.

Cleaning Area Rugs

In order to increase the longevity of your rugs, and to keep them from holding on to dirt, mildew, and dust, you should have your rugs cleaned annually. This means a deep cleaning above and beyond the above-listed care tips. There are a few things to consider before you just jump into a cleaning project, however:

  1. Different rugs are made of materials, not all of which react the same way to cleaners or cleaning tools. If you have a variety of rugs, then know that you won’t have a once-size-fits-all cleaning solution.
  2. Different rugs are made differently, which impacts how you clean them. A manufactured synthetic rug won’t clean the same way a hand-woven or braided rug, and neither will need the special care an older or antique rug calls for.
  3. Some rugs require dry cleaning, and a wet-cleaning approach could actually destroy them.

With all that in mind, a big question regarding your rug cleaning project is whether you should take the chance of cleaning your own rugs or hire professional help.


Do-It-Yourself  Vs. Professional Area Rug Cleaning

So, what does it take to clean your rug? DIY Working with your own cleaning solution is going to take a few steps. Note that no matter what kind of rug you have, you should check the tags on the rug (when available) and check any manufacturer instructions on proper rug care. This is the only way to tell for sure that your rug doesn’t need dry cleaned, for example. In the most general sense, a typical cleaning approach (for wet cleaning) would follow these steps:

  • Vacuum and brush your rug. Shake it out if necessary. You should remove as much hair, dirt, and dust as possible.
  • Determine your cleaning solution. There are specialized cleaning solutions available at most department stores and in online storefronts that are cost-effective and will clean out odor and dirt from the rug. An alternative is to use a mild dish soap or other natural cleaning agent diluted in cool-to-warm water. DO NOT USE HOT WATER, as hot water can have adverse effects on the fibers of the rug. You don’t wash all your clothes in hot water, do you? This is the same principle.
  • Determine the colorfastness of your rug. Take some of your cleaning solution on a small corner of the rug, where it won’t be notices. If the colors run, then it isn’t safe for cleaning and will damage the color of the fabric.
  • Using a scrubbing brush, work the solution into the fibers to form a lather. Don’t oversaturate the rug, just use enough to get water and soap into the fabric.
  • Let the solution sit for 5-10 minutes.
  • Take the rug outside and use a hose or sprayer to rinse the soap from the rug.
  • If you have a carpet cleaner or a wetvac, use it to pull excess water from the fabric.
  • Let the rug sit outdoors until completely dry.

Professional Cleaning

The above cleaning method is a straightforward approach to cleaning rugs, but there are plenty of times where self-cleaning is not a good approach. Antique rugs, for example, are typically delicate and can’t stand up to cleaning chemicals or machines. Likewise, handcrafted braided rugs or Persian rugs should definitely not be cleaned at home. In these cases, it’s best to get a professional cleaner to come in and handle the rug.
Professional cleaners typically specialize in carpets, rugs, and upholstery, which means that they are knowledgeable on how different fabrics hold up (or don’t hold up) to cleaning chemicals, cleaning methods, and different kinds of cleaning machines. These professionals also have experience working with older furniture and rugs and applying gentle cleaning methods to keep them healthy and attractive.

What’s the Difference?

The main difference will be cost. More likely than not, you’ll save some money cleaning your own rug. But with that savings upfront, you also sacrifice control and quality. So, what’s the big deal? If you have a home full of synthetic rugs that are replaceable, then there isn’t one. You could follow the instructions above (or use a carpet cleaner) and probably do OK.

You’d still want to do the colorfastness test no matter what, because there is no telling when a chemical can obliterate a rug. In any other case, you probably want to go with a professional. That’s because cleaning can be a traumatic event for your rug, so delicate or valuable items should be treated as such. And a professional cleaner can provide the proper care that your rug needs to stay intact and clean.