A clean rug has brighter, clearer colors and the wool is glossier. If this is not reason enough, washing a rug protects it. When a soiled rug is used, soil particles cut the fibers and accelerate wear. If a rug is to be stored, then washing it helps protect it from carpet beetles, moths, and mildew. Another motivate is to discover the rug’s true condition. The first washing of a newly acquired rug may disclose virtue and faults. One may discover brilliant color and attractive design details or painted areas and permanent stains. Ultimately, the truth is best.

When a rug is washed, what is removed from it? According to a research survey of American households, soil on surfaces in the home typically consist of:

45% sand and clays

12% animal protein fibers

12% cellulose fibers

10% alcohol-soluble particles (resins, gums, fatty acids)

6% ether-soluble particles (fats, oils, rubber, asphalt)

5% gypsum

5% limestone

3% moisture

2% miscellaneous

Usually, the combination of the solvent action of the detergent and the mechanical action of the washing process are sufficient to remove this collection of substances.

Sometimes washing a fabric is a necessity, even though conservators regard it as an irreversible process. A rug can be permanently, and perhaps adversely, affected by washing. Generally, the risk is worthwhile. But it is best to understand and evaluate the risk before the rug goes into the bath.


Household detergents are unsuitable for washing rugs. It is too difficult to rinse out the suds and detergent. Use a mild industrial detergent with a Ph of less than 7.5. A good detergent is Orvus WA Paste. This is sodium lauryl sulfate. The product is biodegradable and manufactured by Procter & Gamble. It is sold by commercial laundry and cleaning supply companies. Orvus is used by veterinarians to wash pets. If it is gentle enough for Old Shep, it’s gentle enough for your rug.

Mix about one cup (250 milliliters) of Orvus with about 15 to 20 gallons (60-80 liters) of water for the washing solution. I there is a high mineral content in your water supply, a water softener helps the cleaning action. Only cold or room-temperature water should be used for washing and rinsing. 

The rug is completely immersed and soaked in the washing solution for about one hour. Agitate the rug every 15 minutes. After half an hour of soaking, a considerable amount of soil is usually visible in the wash water. 

A large rug can be accordion folded into the washing solution. In this case, washing time should be increased to two hours, with a rinse and new washing solution after one hour. In agitating a folded rug, lift the folds one at a time on either side to allow wash water to circulate between the folds.

After soaking, the rug is scrubbed vigorously on both sides with a fiber brush. The rug is then rinsed until the rinse water runs clear.  A large rug should be spread out, with the back facing up, and rinsed by hosing it down. Then it is reversed, and the front of the rug is hosed down. Ringing must be very thorough. Inadequate rinsing leaves mud in the rug. The result is a “concrete” effect which will break fibers when the rug is flexed.

A wet rug is very heavy and must be handled with care. It will take two strong people to handle a wet 9 x 12-foot (3 x 4 meter) rug. Support it also essential. The weight of a waterlogged rug can cause the rug to tear if it is supported at only one edge. Do not stress damaged areas in handling the rug when it is wet. 

When rinsing is complete, the rug is spread out, pile upwards, and water is forced from the rug with a squeegee. This is the same type of squeegee used to was windows- a thick rubber strip fixed in a bracket with a handle. The squeegee is moved in the direction of the pile, starting at the top of the rug, and working towards the bottom. This should be done three times. The more water forced from the rug, the sooner the rug will dry. 

If possible, the rug should be allowed to dry flat. Drying time depends on the rug’s condition, size, and ambient temperature and humidity. Typically, a 9 x 12-foot rug in full pile will require between two and three days to dry completely. 

Washing Rugs and Stain Removal!


There is an exceptionally large range of dyes used in rugs. This range includes vegetable dyes, aniline dyes, azo dyes, and chrome dyes. Usually, the specific rug dye is not identified in stain removal. As a result, the effect of the stain-removal process on the dyes in the rug is not entirely predictable. There is a definite risk of damaging the rug through stain-removal techniques, which could cause colors to fade or bleed, or possibly dull of weaken fibers in the rug.

The risk of damage is minimized by testing. Always test the stain-removal procedure on a small area on the back of the rug. Only by testing can you be sure that you are not making a bad condition worse. 

An excellent reference for stain removal is “Removing Stains from Fabrics”, Home and Garden Bulletin, No. 62, United States Department of Agriculture. Most of the following stain-removal procedures are from this source. First, stain-removal, supplies are described, then the basic manual techniques for removing stains, then the specific procedures for removing eight groups of staining substances. 


Most of these items are ordinary household supplies. Substitutes are suggested for a few materials that may be difficult to obtain. Carefully follow all precautions for the storage and use of hazardous chemicals. 

Absorbent materials You will need an ample supply of clean absorbent materials, such as cotton, white paper towels. White facial tissues, and soft white cotton cloths. Sponges are also useful but test them with stain removers to be sure they can withstand the chemicals. 

Alcohol Use rubbing alcohol or denatures alcohol (70 or 90 percent concentration). Do not use alcohol with added color or fragrances. Alcohol fades some dyes, so test the rug for color fastness before using alcohol on a stain. CAUTION Alcohol is poisonous and flammable. Observe all precautions on the label.

Ammonia Use household ammonia diluted with an equal amount of water. Do not use ammonia with added color or fragrances. Ammonia changes the color of some dyes. To restore the color, rinse the color-changed area thoroughly with water and apply a few drops of white vinegar. Rinse well with water again. CAUTION Ammonia is poisonous, so avoid inhaling fumes. Ammonia will cause burns or irritation if it comes in contact with the skin or eyes. Observe all precautions on the label. 

Amyl acetate Amyl acetate (banana oil) is sold I drug stores. Ask for “chemically pure amyl acetate”. If you cannot obtain amyl acetate, you may substitute it with nail polish remover. Do not use the oily type of polish remover. CAUTION Amy acetate is poisonous and flammable. Do not breathe the vapors. Amyl acetate is strong solvent for plastics. Do not allow it to co me into contact with plastics or furniture finishes. 

Coconut oil Coconut oil is sold in drug stores and health food stores. It is used in combination with a solvent. If you cannot obtain coconut oil, you may substitute it with mineral oil, which is almost as effective. 

Dry cleaning solvent Dry cleaning solvent is sold in variety stores, hardware stores, and grocery stores. It may contain any or all these ingredients: petroleum solvent, petroleum hydrocarbon, petroleum distillate, trichloroethane, perchloroethylene, or Varsol. CAUTION Do not use dry cleaning solvent near a flame or where sparking may occur. Use where there is an ample fresh air circulating. Do not inhale fumes and avoid contact with the skin. Observe precautions on the label. 

Dry spotter to prepare dry spotter, mix one part coconut oil and eight parts dry cleaning solvent. This solution is used to remove many kinds of stains. Dry spotter keeps well if the container is tightly capped to prevent evaporation of the dry- cleaning solvent. If you cannot obtain coconut oil, use mineral oil in the same amount as coconut oil. CAUTION Dry spotter is poisonous and may be flammable. Follow all precautions given for dry-cleaning solvent.

Enzyme product Use an enzyme presoak. This product may be stored as purchased but becomes inactive in stored after it is made into a solution. 

Glycerin Glycerin is sold in drug stores. It used to prepare “wet spotter” which removes many kinds of stains, including ballpoint ink stains. 

Hydrogen peroxide Use a 3 percent solution sold as a mild antiseptic. Don’t use the stronger solution sol in cosmetic departments for bleaching hair.

Hydrogen peroxide should be stored in a cool, dark place. It loses strength when stores for extended periods of time. Bleach that contains sodium perborate or “oxygen-type” bleach may be substituted for hydrogen peroxide, although it is slower acting. Very thorough rinsing is needed to remove this type of bleach.

Do not store hydrogen peroxide or oxygen-type bleach in metal containers or use it with metal objects. Metal may speed up the action of the bleach enough to cause fiber damage. Also, metal in contact with hydrogen peroxide or bleach may tarnish and cause additional stains on fabrics. 

Sodium thiosulfate Use pure sodium thiosulfate or “fixer” sold in pharmacies, drug stores, and photo supply stores. Do not use photo fixer solution that contains other chemicals in addition to sodium thiosulfate. Sodium thiosulfate is used to remove iodine stains. 

Vinegar Use white vinegar as colored vinegar can leave a stain. If a dye changes color after vinegar has been used, rinse the color-changed area thoroughly with water and add a few drops of ammonia. Then rinse well with water again. 

Wet spotter Prepare wet spotter by mixing one part glycerin, one-part Orvus or mild liquid detergent, and eight parts waters. Shake well before each use. This mixture is used remove many kinds of stains.