How to clean a rug: Cleaning area rugs and shag rugs

Experts reveal their top tips and tricks for cleaning every type of rug.
How to clean a rug
Learning how to clean a rug has everything to do with the type of fiber and the type of stain.Getty Images stock

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/ Source: TODAY
By Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Chores like doing the laundry and taking out the garbage are never fun, but some domestic tasks can also be downright confusing and stressful. Cleaning a rug definitely falls in that category. The high-traffic area soaks up dirt, spills, pet stains and more, making it a necessity to clean. But what's the right way to do it?

TODAY Home tapped two rug experts to find out exactly how to do it correctly.

How to clean an area rug

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to the best way to clean a rug because it depends on what type of rug you have and what type of cleaning it needs.

"In broad terms, natural fibers (wool, cotton, silk) require washing and synthetic fibers (polypropylene, acrylic, polyester) can be steam cleaned with carpet-cleaning machines," Lisa Wagner, certified rug specialist and creator of RugChick.com, told TODAY.

She added, "Washing natural fiber rugs often requires professionals due to fiber qualities, dye qualities and differences in construction. Most synthetic fiber area rugs are machine made, so they are extremely affordable, and being plastic fibers, they can take steam cleaning safely for surface cleaning and spot clean up."

Wagner does warn against cleaning artificial silk (viscose, bamboo silk, banana silk, Tencel). The wood-pulp-based fiber is the most problematic rug fiber in the market today because even a plain water spill can ruin them.

How to clean a rug at home

How often you should clean a rug also depends on certain factors: the level of activity in the room, how well you vacuum and the quality level of the fibers. But Jan David Winitz, president and founder of Claremont Rug Company in California, provided a little trick.

"Turn over the corners of the rug and cup your hand so that when you turn over the corner, your hand is underneath it," he said. "Then, with your fingers, flick the back of the rug a dozen times. Any dirt that's in the pile will actually fall out in your hand. That's a way you could see if the rug is dirty or clean."

The reason for doing the test is that wool rugs have an amazing ability to hide soil. Even after years of use, a high-quality wool rug doesn't look filthy; it just gets a little dull. That's why Wagner recommended that wool rugs should be regularly vacuumed, and washed every 2-3 years.

Rugs made from synthetic and viscose fibers, on the other hand, cannot hide soil. "Most owners of synthetic rugs clean them not because they are extremely dirty, but usually because they look dirty," said Wagner. "So, visually, synthetic rugs require cleaning a few times a year, not because it is a dirty household but because the rugs look bad."

The products you should use to clean a rug

For thorough cleaning, both experts recommend seeing a professional. But when it comes to spot cleaning a rug, there are a couple of products to keep handy.

"Synthetic rugs are relatively stain resistant, and most products will not harm plastic fibers, so seek out solutions that are verified as natural and safe," said Wagner. "One good spot remover for pet accidents is Biokleen Bac-Out Stain Remover."

If you rent a machine to clean synthetic rugs yourself, be careful about moisture. Do the work in an area that will not cause any moisture to damage your floor and use fans to dry the rug as well as you can. "Rental machines do not remove as much moisture back out as large professional machines do," said Wagner. "So drying the rugs completely is important to avoid any mildew."

Winitz noted that a good trick is to use a damp towel and shampoo on any rug. "Think of the fibers of your rug like your hair," he said. "You wouldn't put harsh chemicals in your hair. So, use your shampoo with a damp towel to dab and gently scrub out any stain or spot."

For wool rugs, in particular, any cleaning products or spot removers must be tested. The WoolSafe Organization website lists both professional and consumer products approved for using on wool.

How to clean shag rugs

All rugs are not created equal and the various types and lengths of fibers means the cleaning process differs. So, what should you do if you own a shag rug?

A traditional vacuum won't work on a shag rugGetty Images stock

"The biggest problem with shag rugs is that most cannot be vacuumed without damaging the rugs," said Wagner. "They require a crevice tool by hand, getting in row by row to try to remove everything caught in between those long strands. Because of the huge project, shag rugs often require professional rug washing where they can soak and thoroughly rinse the rugs in a way that is not possible to be done at home."

But there are some at-home steps you can take, according to Wagner. If your shag rug is small, you can take it outside and shake it out to dust it. Or you can hit it with your leaf blower to dust outside.

How to clean wool rugs

There's no way around it: Wool requires washing. But there are different qualities of wool, dyes and construction that make a wool rug relatively easy or extremely difficult to clean.

"The best way to care for your wool rugs, following a professional washing, is regular vacuuming to remove the surface dust before it reaching the foundation of the rug," said Wagner. "As often as you need to sweep your floors, you should be vacuuming your wool rugs."

Just be sure to use a light stick vacuum since most upright vacuums are too heavy and aggressive to use on soft wool rugs.

Regularly vacuum your wool rug to get rid of dirt before it reaches the foundation.Getty Images stock

How to clean jute rugs

Jute is extremely difficult to clean and they often require replacement after significant stains. Typically, they only have a life of three to five years, so,they’re not an excellent investment. But if you have one, Wagner recommended cleaning up spills immediately.

Getty Images stock

“Use cornstarch to soak it up so the crevices can have that powder reach it and grab the moisture before the jute browns or stains,” she said. “It is messy, but it's the only fast answer. Otherwise, you have to flip the rug over and use the other side.”

The problem is if you’re wetting down jute at home to rinse out spills, it can lead to mildew if you don't dry it quickly. The fix? “There are some dry compound spill products from Host and Capture that are good to use as well,” said Wagner.

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