How to Clean a Rug Without Calling the Pros

rug in living room

Design: Emily Henderson Design, Photo: Sara Ligorria-Tramp

While an area rug can be a great addition to nearly any room (yes, even kitchens), every rug needs to be regularly vacuumed and spot cleaned to ensure it looks its best. While most rugs come with a care tag or instructions for proper cleaning, the good news is that most area rugs can be cleaned without calling in the professionals. Smaller rugs are simple thanks to their ability to fit in the washing machine—but your favorite area rug needs more specific care and spot cleaning to keep looking its best.

If your rug is badly stained, have no fear. We've got all the best tips to restore it back to brand-new; just be sure to dedicate a few hours to get the job done right for a deep cleaning.

Below, read on to learn how to clean your rug, no matter its size.

How Often Should You Clean Your Rugs?

While it's a smart idea to vacuum your rugs every time you clean your house (add this to your weekly chore schedule!), plan on deep cleaning them about once per year. For households that see less wear and tear—a.k.a. if you don't have kids, pets, or family members with muddy shoes—every 18 months should be plenty to keep your favorite rug looking fresh.

Things You'll Need

  • Vacuum
  • Soft bristle brush
  • Carpet shampoo (depending on your rug)
  • Bucket
  • Water
  • Hose (depending on your rug)

How to Clean a Rug

how to clean a rug

Design: Emily Henderson; Photo: Sara Liggoria-Tramp

Step 1: Remove All Excess Dirt

The first step to cleaning stains on your rug is to vacuum. A thorough vacuum will help loosen up dirt and debris that can get in the way when you're scrubbing. If you have pets, opt for a pet fur attachment to really get into the fibers and remove all excess hair. If you're planning on taking the rug outside to clean, flip it over and vacuum the underside as well.

Step 2: Mix the Right Carpet Cleaner Cocktail

The right carpet cleaner depends on the materials your rug is made of. Delicate rugs may not be resistant to harsh cleaners, so gentler options like dish soap, Woolite, and baking soda are great options to preserve the quality of your rug. A mild dish detergent mixed with warm water is a safe cleaner for most, but if you're hunting for something a little stronger, check your rug's label to ensure the solution is safe. To get started, here are a few effective cleaners for common types of rugs:

  • Wool or Antique Rugs: Opt for a gentle cleaner like dish soap or Woolite. For dish soap, mix a few small drops into a gallon of warm water. If you're using Woolite, a tablespoon per gallon of water is plenty.
  • Jute Rugs: A light sprinkling of baking soda can help get into the fibers of a jute rug.
  • Clean-Woven Rugs: Many clean-woven carpets can hold up to a commercial cleaner for deep cleans.

Step 3: Do a Spot Test

Before you scrub, find an inconspicuous spot on your rug to test out your carpet cleaner, especially if you're using a store-bought version. A small corner is a good place to spray to ensure that your rug's colors won't run, and that the cleaner won't leave behind any discoloration.

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.

Step 5: Rinse the Rug

When cleaning the entire rug, it's important to thoroughly rinse it outdoors. Using a garden hose or a large bucket of water, hose down the entire rug until all of the runoff is entirely clear. This not only gets rid of excess chemicals on your rug, but it also has the added benefit of cleaning the rest of the piece at the same time.

For simple indoor spot cleaning jobs, blot the carpet cleaner up with a rag and warm water once you've removed the stain. This will prevent crusting or discoloration from a carpet cleaner that's been left on too long.

Step 6: Allow the Rug to Dry

If your rug was rinsed outdoors, find a banister or a drying rack to raise the rug off the ground for drying. Once one side is dry, flip it over to allow the underside to fully dry. Never bring a wet rug back into your home.

If you spot cleaned indoors, leave the rug untouched until it's entirely dry.

A squeegee or a wet vac can help eliminate excess water if your rug is fully soaked; just be sure to only work in the direction of your rug's nap.

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.

How to Keep Rugs Clean Longer

how to clean a rug

Design: Emily Henderson Design, Photo: Sara Ligorria-Tramp

The best method to keep your rugs looking fresh is to clean spots, spills, and stains as they happen. On top of vacuuming your rug weekly to monthly (depending on usage), dab away stains quickly and spot clean any spills when necessary. This will keep your rug in its best condition year-round to make your annual deep cleaning job stay simple, fast, and effective.

How to Get Rid of and Prevent Smells on Rugs

how to clean a rug

Design: Emily Henderson; Photo: Sara Liggoria-Tramp

The baking soda cleaning method is best to remove unpleasant odors from your rug, but if you're dealing with stubborn smells, vinegar is a powerful cleaner. Small spots can be treated alone, but this method also works for refreshing entire rugs (thrift store lovers, rejoice): Spritz the rug with distilled white vinegar, then allow it to sit until dry. Once the vinegar is done working its magic, repeat the baking soda method over 24 hours and vacuum thoroughly.

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