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How to Clean a Rug: the Ultimate Guide

Finding the perfect rug can be exciting. When you’ve found the rug that checks all your boxes, you need to know how to properly care for it. If you make a spill or your precious pup has an accident, there’s no need to pay exorbitant fees to have your rugs professionally cleaned or even replaced. There are steps you can take to not only clean your rugs, but also prevent staining from happening in the first place. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about how to clean a rug at home.

Regular maintenance and upkeep

Of course, the best way to deal with stains is to keep them from happening in the first place. Regular maintenance of your carpets and rugs goes a long way toward keeping them looking great and your home feeling cozy.

Vacuum rugs often

At a minimum, rugs and carpets should be vacuumed once a week or every two weeks. For high traffic areas, consider vacuuming more frequently, up to twice a day. To keep your rug smelling fresh, try sprinkling a bit of baking soda on the surface before vacuuming to neutralize odors. Finally, make sure not to use the beater bar (this is especially important when cleaning shag rugs!) and lower the airflow setting to avoid damaging the fibers of the rug and prolong its life.

Rotate rugs to even out wear

Rugs don’t always wear evenly. It’s likely that there are parts of your rug that get more traffic than others, especially if it partially extends under furniture. It could also be that your window layout means sunlight beats down on one section more than another, leading to unsightly faded spots. To avoid these potential problems, simply get in the habit of rotating your rug 180 degrees about every 6 months or so to even wear.

Have a rug cleaner on hand

Since most stains are easiest to clean when you act quickly, having a good rug cleaner on hand pays off in a big way. While some people will want to have a whole collection of different formulas for every type of spill imaginable, most people will only need a reliable all-purpose cleaner. We recommend keeping a bottle of Uni-Cleaner on hand to deal with the majority of common spills and stains.

Cleaning different kinds of rug stains

For most small spills, you can save a lot of money by acting quickly and having the right tools on hand. Your first step should be to consult the care label on your rug, but if it isn’t detailed enough, these tips can help.

How to clean basic rug stains

With most basic stains, the key is to act quickly. The first step is to remove any physical debris from the area. Avoid using a paper towel or a rag at this point so you don’t push the debris further into the pile. It’s best to use a tool like a fork or a spoon to gently lift the dirt up and away. Next, dab the area gently with a damp paper towel and treat with a stain-removal solution. Finally, rinse the area with cool water and dab dry. Never use warm water. Repeat this process as necessary for stubborn spills.

How to clean pet stains

Pet stains are among the most common and most dreaded stains people will have to deal with. Left untreated, urine stains will start to smell. That means these stains not only look bad but can pose potential health risks too. The most important thing to know with pet stains is to never use a steam cleaner. The high heat involved will only amplify the smell and help set the stain. Instead, treat them like any other stain, but use a cleaner designed to deal with pet stains. These are specially formulated to counteract the foul-smelling and potentially dangerous chemicals found in urine. Act quickly, avoid heat, and remember to lightly dab rather than scrub, and pet stains will be no problem.

Cleaning different types of rugs

The above information will get you far with most rugs, but there are some additional considerations you should take depending on the style and material of your rug. Read on to learn how to clean a rug made of any material or construction.

How to clean wool and cotton rugs

Wool is a wonder material. It’s soft, durable, largely waterproof, and holds color better than most other materials. Unfortunately, the shape of the fibers also makes them very good at holding dirt. As a natural fiber, cotton shares most of these pros and cons.

Luckily, these rugs do not require too much additional maintenance beyond what you would expect. Be extra vigilant about vacuuming, especially during the first few months. Wool rugs tend to shed when they are brand new. Don’t be alarmed! Your rug will not end up bare—once all the loose fibers have shaken out, your rug should look great for years to come!

How to clean jute rugs

Jute is an extremely tough material with hard fibers that are very hard for dirt to cling to. This makes them generally easy to clean—occasional vacuuming should be all you need.

Water and jute don’t mix. Jute absorbs moisture easily and tends to hold on to it for a long time which can lead to mold, mildew or harmful bacteria forming. Make sure to dry any spills quickly with paper towels and a hair dryer, limit yourself to spot cleanings, and test any cleaners on an inconspicuous spot first.

How to clean synthetic fiber rugs

Most rugs on the market today are made from synthetic materials like polypropylene, polyester and acrylic. These rugs do a good job of mimicking wool and cotton rugs for a fraction of their price and require no special care considerations. However, it is important to manage expectations with synthetic rugs. Unlike wool, cotton, and other porous natural fibers, synthetic fibers are very smooth. This means they will show dirt more readily, will not hold dye as well, and will tend to fade over time. Luckily, with regular maintenance, these issues can be mitigated.

You should also know that many synthetic rugs have a jute backing and share all the challenges that come with an entirely jute rug. If this is the case for your rug, avoid using water to clean your rug and dry any spills as quickly as possible.

How to clean shag rugs

Regardless of the material, shag rugs will require some special care to keep them clean. The long fibers of shag rugs are great at attracting dirt and keeping it buried deep in the pile. That high pile also creates challenges for vacuuming. Powerful suction can damage the fibers and the beater bar can even rip them out. If you must vacuum a shag rug, NEVER use the beater bar. If the rug is small enough, flip it upside down and vacuum the back of the rug instead. This will loosen any dirt buried underneath. You can then easily sweep up the floor below the rug, cleaning up anything that was shaken loose.

How to deep clean a rug

For set-in stains, the best thing to do is give the whole rug a thorough deep cleaning. Keep reading before you run out to rent a machine or call an expensive professional service, though. While these options certainly can make things easier or more convenient, it’s surprisingly easy to deep clean a rug yourself with household cleaners.

Check the label

If your rug has a care label, consult it before attempting any deep cleaning and follow any instructions it offers. This label will let you know if there are any special considerations you should take or even if you should avoid cleaning entirely. If your rug has a jute backing, for example, you should not attempt this kind of deep cleaning, as it will be very hard to dry the rug. It may end up developing foul-smelling mold or mildew.

Prepare your workstation and tools

Before you start, set up a space to work outside. Ideally, this will be somewhere sunny where you can let the rug dry for a while when you’re done. This also means the best time to do a deep cleaning is in the spring or summer when you can take advantage of the sunlight. Good candidates are a sloped driveway or a deck with a railing you can drape the rug over. Avoid setting up on your lawn, as you don’t want cleaners soaking into the grass. You’ll also need the following materials:

  • Rug shampoo or mild dish detergent
  • Bucket
  • Soft-bristle brush or sponge
  • Water

Vacuum the rug

Your first step should be to give the rug a thorough vacuuming on both sides of the rug to loosen debris. If it still appears to be dusty, don’t be afraid to whack it with a broom a few times to knock out any additional trapped debris.

Clean with rug shampoo or mild detergent

When using a rug shampoo, follow the mixing instructions provided. If you use dish detergent instead, a few capfuls in a bucket of warm water should be enough. Test on a small, inconspicuous area first to check for colorfastness. If all goes well, rinse the whole rug with a garden hose, then gently start working your cleaning solution into the rug with the soft brush. You shouldn’t need to work too hard, just let the cleaner do its work. Let the rug sit for a few minutes or as directed by your shampoo, then rinse it again with the hose.

Dry fully

This might be the most important step: make sure your rug is completely dry before you bring it inside. Depending on the material and construction of your rug, this can take time—don’t rush it! Failure to completely dry your rug before bringing it inside can lead to mold, mildew, bacteria, bad smells, and permanent damage to the rug or floor it ends up covering. You can help this process along by having the rug laid out on a sloped driveway or draped over a deck railing or clothesline. If you have access to one, you might consider setting up a box fan to speed things up. Flip the rug periodically to help it dry evenly on both sides.

Vacuum again

Finally, give the rug one more vacuum to remove any dirt loosened up by the deep cleaning that was not already rinsed away. You rug should be looking good as new!

Got any rug cleaning tips?

There’s a lot to consider when cleaning a rug, and more than one way to do the job. If you have any secret techniques, tips, or tricks, share them with us! We would love to be able to share great advice from experienced rug owners as we update this page to include even more information about the care and keeping of every type of rug imaginable.

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