Wool rugs come in all shapes and sizes, but most have something in common: they are designed to last. While we often think of a rug's decorative potential first, wool rugs have been made for centuries worldwide with function in mind. Wool is naturally resilient and can stand up to years of use—it's why we see so many antique and vintage rugs on the market.
But, even the most well-made rug requires care. While a wool rug can stand up to years of use, the wrong cleaning solution can cause permanent damage in seconds. The good news is you don't need special equipment to keep your rug looking good.
Meet the Expert
- Tracey Love is a textile expert and the owner of Holdingforth, a rug and textile shop in Charlottesville, VA.
- Liz Mead, also known as The Rug Merchant's Daughter on Instagram, has worked for 15 years repairing antique carpets at her father's shop Mead Oriental Rugs, also in Charlottesville.
How Often Should You Clean a Wool Rug?
While there are ways to deep-clean a wool rug, prevention is the best medicine as with many things. Regular cleaning will help keep dirt from building up and dulling colors. "Ideally without using the roller brush on the vacuum to preserve the integrity of the rug," Tracey Love, owner of Holdingforth, a rug and textile shop in Charlottesville, VA, says.
For antique rugs, "less is more," Liz Mead, also known as The Rug Merchant's Daughter on Instagram, says. She has worked for 15 years repairing antique carpets at her father's shop Mead Oriental Rugs, also in Charlottesville. "Don't vacuum more than once every two weeks if possible," she explains. It is also important to avoid edges while vacuuming antique or delicate rugs since that is where the fabric is the most fragile.
Rugs should also be rotated seasonally to help keep wear and discoloration from the sun even. Mead recommends taking that time to also vacuum the backside of the rug as well — you'll be surprised how much dust can gather there and on your floor.
Additionally, "airing it out every so often is always a good idea," Love says. You can drape a rug over a railing or even a dining room table.
Things You'll Need:
- Clean cloth or towel
- Baking soda
- Horse shampoo
- Scrub brush
Step 1: Spot Clean With Gentle Solution
Put down the harsh chemicals—for wool rugs, many cleaning solutions can simply wreak more havoc. Love's first line of defense is often catching a stain while it is still wet: use a clean cloth or towel on both sides of the rug to absorb as much liquid as possible, and add some extra water to help rinse out the stain.
"Typically, some water and a light vinegar or baking soda solution work to clean up most stains," Love says. You can make a mix of equal parts vinegar and water and spray it onto the rug, then dab it off with a paper towel or clean cloth.
Step 2: Bring in the Baking Soda
Alternatively, you can pour some vinegar on the rug and sprinkle baking soda, as the reaction and bubbling can help lift the stain.
Soap and cleaning products can often mat a rug, causing irreversible damage, so be careful and be sure to test a corner before applying anything harsher than vinegar.
Step 3: Rotate Your Rug
Some stains, like ink or grease, prove hard to get out. A specialist or local dry cleaners may be able to help, but so can rotating a rug to cleverly hide a stain. As a last resort, Mead notes that a stain can sometimes be cut out and rewoven, though that would prove costly and time-consuming.
Step 4: Decide It's Time for a Deep Cleaning
Mead also recommends washing a rug about once a year to keep colors vibrant. All you'll need is soap, water, and vinegar, though not just any soap.
"Our favorite thing is Orvus Paste Shampoo," Mead explains. "That is mainly because it is fairly organic and is designed for animal hair, which of course is what wool is."
Step 5: Clean with Gentle Shampoo
Using an animal shampoo or something similar—Mead also says something gentle like Dr. Bronner's will also work in a pinch—fill a bucket with soapy water. Test a corner to make sure the colors don't run. If they do, add some white vinegar to set the color. If the rug is particularly smelly, Mead says it's also fine to add a little Tide to deodorize.
Step 6: Use Your Scrub Brush
Then, using a scrub brush, clean the rug somewhere where you can get wet, like on a porch or driveway. After you have washed the rug, rinse the soap out with a hose if possible. To dry, leave it out flat—hanging it up while wet can cause the warp and weft threads to dry funny, Mead says.
Step 7: Enlist an Expert
For truly filthy rugs, you can also consider calling an expert to clean them with chemicals that would be safe on wool. Your local rug store will either be able to do it for you or may know a good carpet cleaner who can also work with rugs.
Mead also offers a particularly charming, if not unrealistic piece of traditional cleaning advice for rugs: "If you have access to a creek, then sometimes it can be good to submerge the carpet for a few days and weigh it down with rocks." The current can gently remove dirt and smells.