When it comes to chores, there are some we know far too well: Laundry, dishes, and taking out the trash are probably among the routine to-dos on the list. And yet, as always seems to be the case, there are likely a bunch of other chores that you rarely have time to accomplish—ahem, like cleaning out the attic—and some that might never cross your mind.
Cleaning a rug should fall into either the former or the latter categories: Maybe you’ve noticed one that’s dirty and you have yet to get around to it, or perhaps you’ve never considered that one would need a proper scrub. Either way, it’s something that should be on your chore list, given that rugs can see a lot of traffic in a home.
Thankfully, this task doesn’t have to come with headaches—or too many questions—because we’ve asked Jessica Di Girolamo Campbell, the merchant of area rugs at The Home Depot, to share her tips on how to get this item 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.”
Below, Di Girolamo Campbell shares what you need to know in order to finish this chore as effortlessly as possible, from how to tackle stains and pre-cleaning, to how to preserve colors and fibers. With her help, this is one chore you won’t mind crossing off your list.
What to Know Before Getting Started
Clean according to the weather. “Pick a time to clean your rugs when there will be a few consecutive sunny and hot days. Don’t clean your rug during rainy season,” she says. “It may be easier to clean your rugs outdoors, and the sunshine and warm air will help them dry quickly and thoroughly.”
Different materials need different care. “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.”
Get rid of loose dirt and dust first. “You can take smaller rugs and medium-sized rugs outdoors and give them a good shake to release loose dirt and dust,” she continues. “For larger rugs, simply vacuum.”
If available, use the "rug" setting on your vacuum cleaner. “The lower airflow will keep the rug from being sucked into the vacuum and is less harsh on the rug fibers,” Di Girolamo Campbell adds.
Stains require special treatment. “Look for spot removers that treat food stains, or deodorizers that remove odors caused by smoke, mildew, food, or animal waste,” she says.
Experiment with spot removers and cleaners. “They come in various forms, including foams, ready-to-use sprays, or concentrates,” Di Girolamo Campbell continues. “Experiment until you find the one that works best for you, and remember to test for ‘colorfastness’ by spraying a spot cleaner in an obscure corner.”
You don’t need a lot of water. “Using too much water to clean rugs can run the risk of mildews and molds,” she adds.
How to Clean a Rug
Determine if your rug needs to be cleaned. “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 the rug 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, be sure to check for signs of deeply-embedded dirt by looking at the rug backing. Deep-down dirt will settle along the warp.”
Do some pre-cleaning. “As I mentioned previously, take smaller rugs and medium-sized rugs outdoors and shake them to release loose dirt and dust. For larger rugs, start with vacuuming,” she says. “Then, turn the rug over and vacuum the back of the rug. Clean the floor of any released dirt, and then lay the rug face up and vacuum the front of the rug. Do not vacuum the front face of a shag rug, as this can potentially damage its long fibers.”
“Next, test the rug for colorfastness,” Di Girolamo Campbell continues. “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 then 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.”
Apply a cleaning treatment. “Now, apply the soap solution to the rug with a soft-bristle brush, brushing the rug firmly but with a light pressure. For deeper cleaning, use more solution,” she notes. “Wool, antique, and jute rugs should never be soaked with water. Instead of applying soap solution 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.”
“Shag rugs should only be spot cleaned on stained areas with soap solution,” Di Girolamo Campbell continues. “Use same method as with antique rugs. For general cleaning, use a dry carpet shampoo. Never soak or submerge a shag rug. And lastly, cotton rugs can be machine-washed in cold water on the gentle cycle. Be sure not to overload your washer—if the rug is too large for your home machine, take it to a commercial laundry.”
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. Wool, jute, and antique rugs must be hand-rinsed using a blotting method. Use fresh water and apply it lightly using clean microfiber towels. Cotton rugs can be machine-rinsed in cold water on the gentle cycle.”
Dry the rug. “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 continues. “Let the rug dry thoroughly before bringing it back inside, rotating it periodically to promote even drying. Once inside, turn on fans to promote more air circulation and help the rug dry more completely.”
Adjust the rug fibers. “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.
Maintain the Rug. “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.”