A Home Depot Expert on How to Clean a Rug, Because You Probably Need to ASAP

how to clean rugs - woven rug in modern dining area

Ashley Montgomery Design

Rugs can create a beautiful finishing touch in many rooms, but they can also present unique challenges when it's time for chores. Deep cleaning your rugs is just as important as your other regular cleanings to keep your home free of dirt, dust, and allergens that build up over time. Luckily, this task doesn’t have to come with headaches.

We asked expert Jessica Di Girolamo Campbell to share her tips on how to get rugs sparkling clean. “For most modern rugs, cleaning can be a once-a-year DIY project that saves you the expense of professional care,” she says. “Cleaning carpets and rugs will help extend their fabrics and keep them looking good for years.”

Meet the Expert

Jessica Di Girolamo Campbell is the merchant of area rugs at The Home Depot.

Below, Di Girolamo Campbell shares what you need to know in order to finish this common chore as effortlessly as possible, from tackling stains and pre-cleaning to preserving colors and fibers. With her help, this is one chore you won’t mind crossing off your list.

Keep scrolling to learn how to clean a rug and keep your floor décor looking its best.

How Often Should You Clean Rugs?

how to clean rugs - traditional rug layered over jute woven rug

Ashley Montgomery Designs

As a general rule of thumb, you should deep clean your rugs about once per year or as needed when stains and spills occur. In households with children or pets, you might benefit from cleaning your rugs every six months to prevent unpleasant smells, pet dander, and allergen-causing dust from building up.

It's also helpful to know when to clean your rugs: “Pick a time to clean your rugs when there will be a few consecutive sunny and hot days. Don’t clean your rugs during the rainy season,” Di Girolamo Campbell says. “It may be easier to clean your rugs outdoors, and the sunshine and warm air will help them dry quickly and thoroughly.”

Things You'll Need

  • Vacuum
  • Dish soap or rug shampoo of your choice
  • Clean washcloth or microfiber towel
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Squeegee (optional)
  • Vinegar (optional)
  • Baking soda (optional)
how to clean rugs - traditional rug in clean white sitting area

Calimia Home

Step 1: Determine if Your Rug Needs a Cleaning

“There are a few ways to determine if it is time for a rug to be cleaned,” Di Girolamo Campbell says. “Lift a corner of the rug and lightly kick the back. If it releases a cloud of dust, it definitely needs some attention. You can also run your hand against the face of the rug in a circular motion for 10 seconds, then look at your palm—if your hand is dirty, then so is the rug. Lastly, check for signs of deeply embedded dirt by looking at the rug backing. Deep-down dirt will settle along the warp.”

Some rugs require special attention, so it's also important to read the manufacturer's instructions before getting started. “You shouldn’t clean a wool rug in the same way that you clean a cotton one,” Di Girolamo Campbell notes. “Persian Rugs, for instance, must be cleaned by professionals only.” 

Step 2: Start With Pre-Cleaning

Before applying any cleaners, start by removing excess dust and dirt. “You can take smaller rugs and medium-sized rugs outdoors and give them a good shake to release loose dirt and dust,” Di Girolamo Campbell says. “For larger rugs, simply vacuum.” Be sure to turn the rug over and vacuum the back as well.

If available, use the "rug" setting on your vacuum cleaner. “The lower airflow will keep the rug from being sucked into the vacuum, and it's less harsh on the rug fibers,” she adds. "Do not vacuum the front face of a shag rug, as this can potentially damage its long fibers."

Step 3: Do a Color Test

Experiment with spot removers and cleaners. “They come in various forms, including foams, ready-to-use sprays, or concentrates,” Di Girolamo Campbell says.

“Make a cleaning solution as directed by your chosen rug shampoo, or mix two to three teaspoons of mild dish soap into a bucket of cool water. Dab the cleaning solution on a small corner of the rug with a white towel, and check to see if any color transfers to the towel. Finally, let the test spot dry completely, then check again to make sure colors have not bled or faded.”

Step 4: Apply a Cleaning Treatment

“Apply the soap solution to the rug with a soft-bristled brush, brushing the rug firmly but with light pressure. For deeper cleaning, use more solution,” Di Girolamo Campbell says. Spot-treat delicate rugs with your cleaner, she notes, and use a dry carpet shampoo for regular cleanings.

“Wool, antique, jute, and [shag] rugs should never be soaked with water. Instead of applying soap with a brush, dampen a microfiber cloth with your soap solution and lightly dab the surface of the rug. Remoisten your cloth as needed, but never saturate the rug.”

Too much water during cleanings can risk the buildup of mildew and mold, Di Girolamo Campbell advises, so take care to dampen the surface without soaking it.

Step 5: Rinse Thoroughly

“For a synthetic-fiber rug, hang the rug or lay it on a sloping driveway and run water from an outdoor hose over the surface until the water runs clear,” she adds. “Then, push out as much excess water as you can using a squeegee and moving in the direction of the rug’s fibers."

The expert notes to hand-rinse wool, jute, and antique rugs by blotting them lightly with a clean microfiber towel. For cotton rugs, a simple rinse cycle in the washer in cold water is effective.

Step 6: Dry and Vacuum

“Hang up the rug to dry, or lay the rug flat, face-up, and prop the underside with risers to allow for air circulation,” Di Girolamo Campbell says. “Let the rug dry thoroughly before bringing it back inside, rotating it periodically to promote even drying."

Use ceiling or floor fans to help the rug dry faster—just be sure to clean your fans and floors first to prevent them from blowing dust onto your freshly cleaned rug. “Once the rug has dried completely, go over the rug lightly with a vacuum or a soft-bristle brush to refresh the fibers,” she notes.

How to Get Rid of and Prevent Smells in Rugs

how to clean rugs - large white area rug in modern bedroom

Photo: Tessa Neustadt; Design: Emily Henderson Design

"Look for spot removers that treat food stains or deodorizers that remove odors caused by smoke, mildew, food, or animal waste,” the expert says. Experiment with cleaners specifically designed to target odors, or mix equal parts distilled white vinegar and water for a natural cleaning solution.

Tips to Keep Your Rugs Clean Longer

“In order to protect your rugs between cleanings, spot clean spills right away to keep them from staining, avoid wearing shoes on rugs to keep dirt from being tracked in, and vacuum rugs once a week,” Di Girolamo Campbell says. “To absorb odors, lightly sprinkle a little baking soda over the rug and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes before vacuuming.”

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