How to Clean an Area Rug: Basic Maintenance

  • A two-speed vacuum with an upholstery attachment
  • Baking soda
  1. First, take smaller rugs outdoors and shake them off as much as you can.
  2. Check the settings on your vacuum cleaner. Many have a reduced speed of airflow setting for use on area rugs. This can prolong your rug’s life and can keep it from getting stuck in the vacuum.
  3. Sprinkle baking soda on your rug before vacuuming. This will help neutralize any odors.
  4. Vacuum the rug.
  5. Roll up each side of your rug to clean under the edges. Vacuum any dirt or debris that has gotten caught beneath the sides of the rug. If you have a mat under your rug, make sure you don’t suck it up in the vacuum as you work.
  6. Vacuum around the edges of the rug’s surface to remove any dust or dirt that may have been dislodged as you rolled it.

How to deep clean a rug

For set-in stains, the best thing to do is give the whole rug a thorough deep cleaning. Keep reading before you run out to rent a machine or call an expensive professional service, though. While these options certainly can make things easier or more convenient, it’s surprisingly easy to deep clean a rug yourself with household cleaners.

Check the label

If your rug has a care label, consult it before attempting any deep cleaning and follow any instructions it offers. This label will let you know if there are any special considerations you should take or even if you should avoid cleaning entirely. If your rug has a jute backing, for example, you should not attempt this kind of deep cleaning, as it will be very hard to dry the rug. It may end up developing foul-smelling mold or mildew.

Prepare your workstation and tools

Before you start, set up a space to work outside. Ideally, this will be somewhere sunny where you can let the rug dry for a while when you’re done. This also means the best time to do a deep cleaning is in the spring or summer when you can take advantage of the sunlight. Good candidates are a sloped driveway or a deck with a railing you can drape the rug over. Avoid setting up on your lawn, as you don’t want cleaners soaking into the grass. You’ll also need the following materials:

  • Rug shampoo or mild dish detergent
  • Bucket
  • Soft-bristle brush or sponge
  • Water

Vacuum the rug

Your first step should be to give the rug a thorough vacuuming on both sides of the rug to loosen debris. If it still appears to be dusty, don’t be afraid to whack it with a broom a few times to knock out any additional trapped debris.

Clean with rug shampoo or mild detergent

When using a rug shampoo, follow the mixing instructions provided. If you use dish detergent instead, a few capfuls in a bucket of warm water should be enough. Test on a small, inconspicuous area first to check for colorfastness. If all goes well, rinse the whole rug with a garden hose, then gently start working your cleaning solution into the rug with the soft brush. You shouldn’t need to work too hard, just let the cleaner do its work. Let the rug sit for a few minutes or as directed by your shampoo, then rinse it again with the hose.

Dry fully

This might be the most important step: make sure your rug is completely dry before you bring it inside. Depending on the material and construction of your rug, this can take time—don’t rush it! Failure to completely dry your rug before bringing it inside can lead to mold, mildew, bacteria, bad smells, and permanent damage to the rug or floor it ends up covering. You can help this process along by having the rug laid out on a sloped driveway or draped over a deck railing or clothesline. If you have access to one, you might consider setting up a box fan to speed things up. Flip the rug periodically to help it dry evenly on both sides.

Vacuum again

Finally, give the rug one more vacuum to remove any dirt loosened up by the deep cleaning that was not already rinsed away. You rug should be looking good as new!

Video

What type of vacuum cleaner is best to use on area rugs?

In general, handheld, . But no matter which type of vacuum you use, you will need to adjust the settings, based on the type of rug you’re vacuuming. For instance, a rug with a thick pile (such as an Oriental rug) should be vacuumed at the highest setting. A rug with a thin pile (such as an indoor-outdoor rug) will need the height lowered. Setting the vacuum to the correct height will optimize its performance.

How to Use a Carpet Cleaner

Cleaning an area rug isn’t a five-minute job; it can take a while, so make sure you free some time. However, you can make the job a little easier by using a carpet cleaner.

These come in various sizes, and most resemble and work similarly to vacuums. One machine favored by many homeowners is the Hoover PowerDash.

You start by filling the tank with either warm or cold water (see the instructions). Add a cleaner, such as a carpet shampoo — make sure it’s safe for the machine you’re using. Most brands like Bissell, Hoover and the Rug Doctor have specialized products available for the device.

Some carpet cleaners will have multiple settings to suit the task you’re facing, so choose the appropriate setting.

Plug the device into an outlet and turn it on. Place the machine on the rug and push the handle trigger. Move the carpet cleaner back and forth while pushing the trigger to apply water and solution.

When the area is wet, make a dry pass by letting go of the trigger. Glide the floorhead back and forth until there’s no more water left on the rug (4).

A carpet cleaner is a quick and easy way to deep clean your area rug. However, it’s not the cheapest option. Most machines start at around $100 and can reach close to $500, depending on settings and attachments.

Vacuum Thoroughly On Both Sides

  • Vacuum the fibers, then flip the rug over and vacuum the other side to remove any lingering dust.
  • When it’s clean, it’s time to roll it up carefully and take the rug outside to your cleaning station.
  • Prop it up at the station with the right side facing you.
  • If your rug is still dusty at this stage, you can beat it with a broom handle or similar tool to knock even more dust out.
    • Pro tip: Don’t whack too hard, but give the rug a few firm knocks to see if clouds of dust come out. If they do, keep whacking.

Help the Rug Dry

  • Try to wring the rug as much as possible to get rid of all the excess water.
    • Pro tip: A squeegee can help with this step.
  • After that, your rug will still be very wet and you’ll need to wait for it to dry completely before moving it back inside your house.
    • Note: Drying may take longer than a day—or even the weekend.
  • For more protected drying, consider moving the rug to the laundry room or garage.
  • When the rug is fully dry, you won’t be able to feel any water even when you squeeze hard, and it will probably be a bit stiff.

5. Rinse the rug, and blot

Rug shampoo, just like hair shampoo, needs rinsing out of the fibers if the rug is to be truly clean. Fail to rinse the soap out thoroughly and the rug can become sticky, attracting more dirt in the long run. 

Our tried and tested approach is to first blot as much of the shampoo out of the rug as possible with kitchen towels – press down firmly with the heels of your hands or lay them out and walk over them with clean shoes or bare feet.

That done, you can use clean, warm water, applied with a clean, soap-free sponge. You will need to change the water regularly to ensure it lifts the shampoo and dirt properly, and if the rug starts to become too wet, blot it between rinses. 

How to clean polyester rugs

‘Polyester rugs are often machine washable so check the label. Rugs labelled “washable” can be popped in a machine at 100ºF/40ºC and are quick drying, so they retain their shape after washing,’ says Prendergast. ‘If not, mix water with non-bio washing detergent and follow the same steps as you would for a wool rug.’

8. Let the Rug Dry

The next-to-last step to clean an area rug is simply letting it dry. Lay the rug flat and allow the top of the rug to dry completely. Then, flip it over to let the bottom side dry. Fans can help speed up the process. Make sure the rug is fully dry before you return it to the room.

Are there risks in cleaning an area rug yourself, rather than have a professional do it?

Yes, if you’re not careful, you can end up damaging your rug. You might accidentally rub, brush or scrub too hard on a stain or spill, which can lead to permanent deformities like fiber distortion or “blooming” of the face fiber. Using highly alkaline cleaning products can cause color loss, color bleeding from one color to the next, or delaminating of the rug’s backing material. Some spot cleaners leave a residue that not only attract dirt, but can also weaken the fabric’s dyes and lead to future color loss. These are just some of the risks. Of course, if you’re washing an inexpensive throw rug, it may not be any big deal to take some risks in cleaning it. But if you’ve got a designer silk rug, it’s best to not take any chances. Let a professional clean it.

Step 7: Vacuum the Rug Once More

Once your rug is fully dry, it’s time for a final vacuum. This can help get up soft fibers or hairs that may have loosened during the cleaning and drying process and bring your rug back to its original shape.

Step 4: Scrub Visible Spots

With either a soft sponge or bristled brush, loosen up any caked-on stains on the dry rug. If you’re using dish soap and water on an antique or wool rug, begin to create a lather with your cleaner—let it sit for 10-15 minutes once you start to see suds. You may need to scrub a few times for old or deep stains.

For jute rugs, sprinkle a light coating of baking soda over the rug and allow it to sit overnight before vacuuming the area. Use a small amount of lukewarm water to gently dab any stained spots in the morning if residue remains—just be sure not to scrub the stain deeper into the fabric.

Clean-woven rugs are safe to scrub with a commercial enzyme-based cleaner (like Nature’s Miracle or Arm & Hammer rug cleaner). If you’re attacking a pet stain, you may want to keep your enzyme-based cleaner on for up to 30 minutes to eliminate any stubborn smells.

For grease stains on delicate rugs, sprinkle the area with baking soda and allow it to sit up to 24 hours before dabbing the spot with lukewarm water.

How to Deep-Clean Rugs

Consult care labels for small rugs to determine whether they should be dry-cleaned, spot-cleaned, or laundered. A dry-cleaning-only label might indicate that a rug is not colorfast. Test before spot-cleaning. When you determine that a rug is washable, machine-wash it on the delicate cycle. To reduce the risk of tangling long fringe, divide the fringe into several hanks and wrap each one with white string. Place the rug in a mesh laundry bag or zippered pillowcase to protect it from the agitator, and wash in cold water on the gentle cycle.

Hang wet rugs over a clothes-drying rack, a slatted picnic table, or several bricks stacked on a porch, patio, or breezeway. Hanging a wet rug over a single clothesline will distort the shape of the rug as it dries. Small rugs made from synthetic fibers similar to carpeting can be laid to dry on a small worktable or counter that is protected by a drop cloth, old sheets, or towels.

Area rugs will benefit from a deep cleaning every 12-18 months. When using commercial cleaning products for the first time, test a small area of the rug to ensure that it is colorfast and not otherwise damaged by the product. To thoroughly clean a large rug, place it on a vinyl or concrete surface and apply carpet-cleaning foam and rub in according to directions. Finish by rinsing or vacuuming. Make sure the rug is dry before replacing it.

Dry-cleaning might also be an option for small- to mid-size rugs—check the labels for care instructions.

white living room with traditional chartreuse armchairs Credit: Kim Cornelison

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