How to Clean Area Rugs

Rug Washing

Messes are unavoidable. They appear when you least expect them. Whether a pet has an accident, kids (or adults) mess foods, or someone tracks in mud, the area rugs in your home are designed to handle the messy aspects of life. Some stains will be more difficult to remove than others, but the sooner you address them, the higher your chances of success. We spoke with Lisa Wagner, a second-generation rug cleaner and blogger at Rug Chick, in addition to our own experience cleaning up spills while testing dozens of rugs.

What you’ll require

  • A vacuum cleaner: Before wetting your rug, it’s critical to remove as much dust and debris as possible.
  • Blotting stains with white cotton towels is a good idea. To avoid color transfer, make sure to use white towels.
  • Any soft-bristled brush, such as an old toothbrush, a carpet brush, or any other soft-bristled brush: To push soap or stain remover into difficult spots, you’ll need a brush.
  • Dish soap (preferably dye-free) diluted with water: Dish soap will gently remove stains without hurting rug fibers. When it comes to wool, avoid using too much soap.
  • Stain remover (like Zout or Resolve): For those persistent stains, a stain remover will come in handy.
  • Water: For soap dilution, washing, and rinsing, use water.
  • A garden hose can be used to wash and rinse huge rugs (if you don’t have one, buckets of water will suffice).


  • A machine for cleaning upholstery and carpets on the go: This is a strong alternative for removing old or difficult stains.

What is the purpose of this?

Depending on the type of rug you have, rug maintenance might be rather different. Because there are so many various weaves and materials, no single instruction can readily — or quickly — explain how to clean them all. However, there are certain common standards to follow. We concentrated on a few of the most popular rug styles (which are also covered in our area rug guide):

  • 100% cotton, cotton/polyester, or wool/cotton flatweaves
  • Polyester, polypropylene, or wool with a low pile
  • Polypropylene or wool, high pile

You should visit a professional in your area if you have extra-large or delicate vintage wool rugs. Rug Chick is an excellent resource for locating local rug experts.

Is it possible that washing my rugs at home can destroy them?

The risk of washing an entire rug at home is always present. Always read the care instructions, which can be found on a still-attached tag or on the manufacturer’s website. Local experts can also be contacted. In general, it’s cost-effective to clean thin, low-priced rugs at home because professional cleaning can cost more than the rug itself. Thicker or more precious rugs, on the other hand, are riskier to DIY, so proceed with caution or hire a professional.

Not all rugs, especially those that are extra-large, thick, ancient, or heirloom, can be washed at home. Wagner underlined the importance of gathering as much information as possible about your rug’s material and the type of maintenance it requires so that mildew troubles aren’t introduced accidently.

Low-pile wool rugs, especially multicolor ones, will most likely bleed their colors when washed at home. Most rug owners, including me, are unconcerned by little bleeding, but this is a matter of personal preference.

Always start with a tiny region to test. “I would rather have clients with clean and bled rugs than rugs encrusted in soil,” Wagner added. Synthetic rugs do not contain bleedable dyes, but natural fibers used in other portions of the rug can cause them to buckle or mildew (like the outer edges or interior fibers). It’s critical to dry rugs immediately to prevent bleeding and fungal growth.

How long will cleaning take?

Active cleaning time for spot-cleaning issues might range from 15 minutes to an hour. The majority of your time will be spent doing nothing but waiting for your rug to dry and soaking up the stain remover. A fan or cool blow dryer can assist speed up the drying process, which can take anything from a few hours to a full day.

If you decide that a rug is safe to wash at home, deep-cleaning the entire thing can take a full day. However, the active cleaning duration should not exceed a couple of hours. One of the most crucial tasks is to dry the rug, which might take several days depending on your environment and the thickness of the rug. The method is significantly easier if you have some smaller flatweave rugs that you can drop in the washer. However, you’ll have to air-dry the majority of them.

What is the best way to clean an area rug?

For messes that need to be cleaned up on the spot

When in doubt, test a small area in a hidden location to ensure that the colors don’t run or the soap doesn’t stain your rug. To learn how to deal with specific stains on synthetic rugs, Wagner suggests using the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Spot Solver.

Remove any solids (such as food, vomit, and the like) from the mess first. Then dab the stain with a clean white cloth to remove as much liquid as possible.

Apply a little dish soap or laundry detergent solution diluted in warm water on a clean white towel. Only use a small amount of the mixture to completely soak the discoloration. However, don’t overwet the area because this may spread the stain and make it take longer to cure, potentially resulting in mold or mildew.

Rinse the soap out with warm water and gently dab the stain until it disappears. Be patient as this may take several passes. Prevent the temptation to scrub—the best approach to avoid destroying fibers is to blot while applying pressure.

Try an enzymatic stain remover like Zout or Resolve for stubborn stains. Just make sure it’s safe for your rug’s material, or test a tiny area on your rug first, then follow the bottle’s directions. This procedure normally entails soaking the substance for a few minutes before scrubbing the stain with a damp rag or a gentle brush.

Consider investing in a portable carpet upholstery cleaner like the Bissell Little Green if everything else fails—or if you’re dealing with an old, set-in stain. These are fantastic tools for families who have a lot of rugs. They’re also fantastic at cleaning stains from carpets, couches, and other types of upholstery (like in your car).

To prevent mildew from growing once the stain has faded, ensure sure the area is thoroughly dry. Use a fan or a hair dryer on “cold” if necessary. Mold can grow on natural fabrics like wool and cotton if they aren’t dried properly. If the rug remains damp for an extended period of time, it may cause harm to the floor beneath it. It’s critical to completely dry the area!

For a thorough cleaning Rugs that are small to medium in size

For tiny synthetic or natural-fiber rugs with a flatweave weave

Remove as much dust as possible with a vacuum or a beater. You can probably throw a small rug in your washer if it fits. However, double-check the care label to be sure, and always use a cold, moderate wash cycle. After that, air-dry the rug by laying it flat. Use fans to speed up the drying process on wool and cotton rugs to prevent color bleeding.

For synthetic rugs with a medium flatweave, low pile, and high pile (or flatweave natural-fiber rugs)

Remove as much dust as possible before wetting your rug. Dust can be removed by vacuuming both sides, but if feasible, take a rug outside and beat it against a balcony or rail. Rug Chick also has a nice vacuuming how-to video on their site.

Test a small section of the rug with mild dish soap to check whether the colors bleed too much or if the cleaner leaves a stain. If the colors run, you’ll probably need to get the rug cleaned by a professional. If your cleaned test area looks good, go ahead and scrub the cleaner into the rug’s surface with a soft bristle brush, addressing any spots and stains as directed above.

If the idea of cleaning an entire rug by hand appeals to you, senior staff writer Tim Heffernan shared a considerably more enjoyable and gentle method he learned from a family member who traded antique Persian and Central Asian rugs:

“You lay the rugs out on a smooth, clean outdoor area, soak them with a hose, rub in some basic mild soap (not modern enzymatic detergent, which might ruin the otherwise immortal vegetable dyes and injure the wool) with your feet, rinse completely, and lay flat to dry. This is something I’ve done with our vintage rugs on our Queens balcony, and it looks great.”

After you’ve rubbed the cleaner into the entire rug, wash it away with a garden hose fitted with a spray nozzle. You can also use buckets of water if you don’t have a hose. To remove as much excess water as possible after rinsing, use clean, dry towels or a squeegee. You might also use a wet-dry vac to absorb additional water if you have one.

Allow the rug to air dry entirely, which could take a few days depending on your environment. After a few hours, flip the rug over to allow both sides to dry. On wool rugs, placing fans around the rug can assist speed up the process and prevent bleeding. “One idea is to roll them in huge cotton towels and stand on the roll to push out as much extra water as possible before laying them out,” Wagner suggested.

Is it necessary for me to clean my rugs on a regular basis?

It’s critical to vacuum your rug on a regular basis and clean up spills as soon as possible to extend its life. Vacuuming a rug once a week is ideal, but this will vary depending on your lifestyle, pets, children, and other factors. Rug Lady Seminars, a superb source of rug-cleaning instruction, gives excellent rug-maintenance recommendations. Flatweave rugs that fit in the washer should be washed two to three times per year, depending on how dirty they get and where they’re located. Wagner suggests rotating rugs and flipping flatwoven rugs to use the opposite side to increase the duration between washings and eliminate worn patches.

We understand that removing furniture from rugs and transporting it is a difficult task. So, if you have a large rug that is difficult to move, simply keep up with your vacuuming and consider investing in a portable upholstery cleaner (which also comes in handy for cleaning couches). He’s a giant.

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