How to Clean an Area Rug on Hardwood

Despite their undeniable and timeless charm, hardwood floors are, well, hard. To soften their look and their feel underfoot, many people choose to top them with a supple area rug. Area rugs can add a splash of color and warmth to your home decor, and can even soften the acoustics of echoey living rooms.

But, cleaning an area rug is never a simple task – and when laid over hardwood floors the difficulty of this chore is compounded. Today we’ll explore the best ways to clean an area rug over hardwood floors at home, as well as discuss when professional rug cleaning may be necessary.

At Whitehall Carpet Cleaners, we have the expertise and experience to get your large area rug looking like new right away.

The Right Way to Place a Rug

Ok, this part is optional, but will help prolong the life of your rug and of your hardwood floors: when placing a rug, you should always use a rug pad. Rug pads allow your rug to last longer by providing them a more forgiving backing and make your hardwood floors last longer by keeping abrasive dirt and grit from trickling down through your carpet and landing directly atop your floors.

Of course, not all rugs are going to work with a rug pad and not all rug pads are going to prevent dirt from passing through to your floors. However, a high quality rug pad will go a long way towards boosting the longevity of both your rug and hardwoods.

Vacuuming Your Rug

Anyone who owns a rug should own a vacuum – the convenience they offer is simply unparalleled. A high quality vacuum will create a powerful suction that can pull dirt and hair out of your rug fibers. Skip the anemic vacuum cleaner you found at a garage sale – if you’re going through the effort of vacuuming you might as well use a device which is working as hard as you are!

Spot Clean Stains

Stains are inevitable and take many forms. Food, drinks, and pet stains are the most common culprits, but no matter the cause it is important to treat stains ASAP. If you delay, the stain can set deeply inside of the carpet fibers and become much more difficult to remove.

The first step to spot cleaning stains is to blot (not rub!) as much of the offending liquid as possible. Use clean, dry, absorbent cloths, gently pressing at the stain until you are no longer able to pull any more liquid from it.

Next, you need to choose an appropriate carpet cleaner. Pet urine stains should be treated with an enzymatic cleaner to help remove odors, while food stains can be treated with regular carpet cleaning agents. For store bought cleaners, be sure to follow the included instructions.
If you’re feeling handy, there are several DIY carpet cleaner recipes which usually yield good results. Here’s a step-by-step guide to using one of favorite home rug cleaner recipes:


  • 1 part white vinegar
  • 1 part warm water
  • A squirt or two of dishwashing soap
  • Baking soda / Sodium bicarbonate (not baking powder!)
Brushes, rubber gloves, and cleaning supplies to clean a home for the holidays

Combine your white vinegar, water, and dish soap together in a spray bottle – shake gently to mix – don’t over do it otherwise you’ll end up with a bottle full of foam!

Cover the stain with a thin layer of baking soda. Try to use just enough – not so little that you can barely see the powder, and not so much that all you can see is a mound of baking soda!

Spray your cleaning solution onto the stain, making sure to extend beyond the edges of the stain. Wait a minute or two for the foaming to stop and then blot the stain dry with a clean colorfast rag.

Using a slightly damp rag (yes, another rag!) gently blot the stain. Wait for it to dry and then vacuum to remove any remaining baking soda.

Treating Large Stains

While spot treating stains is an option for a splash of red wine or a puppy having an accident, larger stains are a bit trickier. The problem you need to be cautious of is that excess water may discolor or even warp hardwood floors. Ideally, large area rugs should be removed from hardwood floors and treated in a water-safe environment.

Professional cleaning is probably your best option in these cases, but there is an in situ alternative to consider:

Put Down a Waterproof Barrier

Place a large, waterproof barrier such as a plastic sheet underneath your rug, separating it from your hardwood floors. You’ll probably want to fold your rug up halfway, set the sheet (also folded in half) on the floor and reset the rug. Fold the rug up from the other side until you can reach the plastic sheet and then carefully pull it so that it fully covers the underside of the rug.

Note: This is a great time to vacuum the floor underneath your rug!

Clean with Carpet Shampoo

After you’ve put down waterproofing you can use the stain remover solution detailed above, or a commercial carpet shampoo. From here you can clean the carpet as needed, without worrying about the moisture from the treatment damaging your hardwoods.

Allow Drying Time

After you’ve treated your rug (and keep in mind that deeply set stains may require more than one treatment) you need to allow your rug time to dry. Once the rug is fully dry you should carefully remove the waterproof barrier that you set down.

One Final Vacuuming

After the rug has been cleaned, give it a once over with your vacuum to return the loft to your rug’s fibers.

Using a Carpet Steamer on Rugs?

Carpet steamers are sometimes available for rent at local hardware stores and can be a good option for deep cleaning rugs. While steam is usually safe for clean an area rug, the same cannot be said for hardwood floors. Even sealed wood floors may bulge or warp when exposed to the high temperatures that steam cleaning entails.

If you use a steam cleaner it is important to first move your rug to a heat safe surface such as tile or concrete flooring.

Pressure Washing an Area Rug

You may have seen videos on your social media feed of people using a pressure washer to clean their rugs and wondered to yourself: will this work for me?

Well, it should go without saying, any pressure washing of rugs needs to happen outdoors. Additionally area rugs made from natural fibers like wool, or rugs which are delicate, expensive, antique, or otherwise precious should not be subjected to the intense cleaning of a pressure washer.

But, area rugs made out of durable synthetic materials, like polypropylene, are usually capable of standing up to a pressure washer, and a pressure washer can provide thorough cleaning!

Start with your pressure washer on its lowest setting and gradually increase the power until you are seeing the desired results. Use the lowest pressure setting which works in order to protect the fibers from damage. Afterwards you’ll need to allow the rug to dry completely before returning it to your home. Hanging or elevating the rug will greatly speed the drying time. Give the rug a final vacuuming to fluff the fibers and you’re ready to go!

Brushes, rubber gloves, and cleaning supplies to clean a home for the holidays

A Dry Alternative

There are a few waterless options for cleaning area rugs which generally provide greater levels of deodorization and deeper cleaning than simple vacuuming.

Dry carpet cleaners are powders which you sprinkle over your rug, allow to sit briefly, and then vacuum up. At their most basic these powders are simply super-fine sodium bicarbonate, although some formulations contain proprietary blends of ingredients which liberate more dirt and neutralize odors.

How often should an area rug be cleaned?

It’s important to vacuum at least once a week in order to prevent dust, dirt, pet hair and other grime from settling deep into your rug. Deeply set dirt can resist even the most powerful vacuums.

Another benefit of regular cleaning is that it prevents the accumulation of dust mites. Dust mites eat dust and thus keeping your rugs clean is a great way to keep their numbers in check. As a common source of indoor allergens, it is important to do what you can to limit dust mites’ ability to grow and reproduce.

To keep your area rug at its best, it is recommended that you deep clean it every 12 to 18 months. The precise timing will vary depending on how much foot traffic the rug receives and whether or not your household has children or pets.

Clean is Beautiful

Area rugs can really tie a living room together, adding a pop of color and a lush softness underfoot. For the most part, weekly vacuuming and spot cleaning stains will be sufficient, although you should take your rug to get professionally cleaned every year to year and half in order to maximize its longevity and keep it looking its best.