How To Clean An Area Rug: The Ultimate Guide For Every Rug Type

Rugs can make a room feel cozier or pop with color and personality, but out of all our interior design investments, they also get the most wear (not to mention stains) and often need special attention to keep them looking beautiful. The best way to clean your area rug will change based on the materials that were used to make it—which makes sense, given that different fibers require specific kinds of care. If you spill some coffee on your outfit, you wouldn't clean your jeans the same way you would a cashmere sweater, after all. 


While you may want to have your rug cleaned by a professional every few years, we have a ton of tips on how to clean a rug at home for those times in-between. To get you the best advice possible, we reached out to rug care expert and instructor at RugChick.com, Lisa Wagner, as well as the rug cleaning specialists at Manorly Concierge Home Management and Pro-Tection to share the top takeaways from their years of experience on every rug cleaning-related matter, from how to clean a silk rug to tips for getting pet stains out of carpets (a problem that somehow never feels cute, despite the source). 

 

To start, let’s break down rugs by the most common materials, while also addressing some common mistakes:

Natural Fiber Rugs

How To Clean An Oriental Rug

The terms "oriental rugs" and "Persian rugs" are often used interchangeably, but they're actually pretty different. Before getting into their specific care, it’s worth clarifying what defines each type of rug: "Oriental" broadly refers to rugs made in countries that include China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, and other countries in the region with strong rug-making traditions. Similarly, Persian rugs refer to the rug’s origin, rather than a specific material. But rather than a broad region, these only refer to rugs that hail specifically from Iran. 

 

Many Eastern rug-making traditions use silk in their weaving, and you’ll often find silk oriental and Persian rugs, but this is not the only type of fiber used to make these rugs, so to find out how to clean an oriental rug, you’ll need to be sure whether it’s made from silk, wool, or a combination of the two. 

How To Clean A Persian Rug 

Since Persian rugs are classified by their place of origin, their care will differ based on the materials used to make them. Traditionally, Persian rugs are made using silk or wool, while some are crafted from a combination. As with other Oriental rugs, you need to know the materials used in the weaving to know how to clean a persian rug best. Let's start with silk.

How To Clean A Silk Rug

Natural silk rugs are breathtakingly beautiful. Made from the thin—but strong—protein fibers of a silkworm’s cocoon, silk rugs are too delicate to treat with most standard cleaning methods. For starters, getting silk rugs wet at home is a no-no, and can lead to the fibers losing their strength, making them prone to wear and tear in the process. Heat (including steam cleaning) can also damage natural silk and cause it to shrink. Think about a silk dress—it's the kind of garment you don't just toss in the washing machine.  


Here's why you should still consider a silk rug a good investment: aside from being absolutely gorgeous, silk fibers don’t trap dirt and dust the way other types of rugs do, so for everyday upkeep, using a quality vacuum cleaner with a smooth head should be enough. However, when you have a delicate silk rug, you should avoid vacuums with rotating brush attachments or an internal beater bar—go for a gentler kind, like a canister vacuum. It's also a good idea to avoid catching any loose strands or fringe (especially with an antique rug) in the suction. Here's how you can still get to those edges: vacuum from the middle of the rug, moving out, and stop just before the end. 


If spills happen, make sure to blot as much of the liquid as possible, applying gentle pressure and being careful not to rub the stain in. Silk rugs are usually full of colorful patterns and medallions, and one of the most common problems with these types of rugs is that the natural dyes can bleed. You might hear from other sources that a combination of vinegar and water is a great way to clean silk rugs, but we don't recommend it for this exact reason—the colors may end up bleeding, which is definitely not the point. When cleaning your silk rug, you should also avoid using enzymatic cleaners, which break down protein-based stains. Here's why these aren't a great idea: since silk consists largely of protein, cleaners may break down the fibers. 


Basically, if your silk rug gets stained, the best bet is to blot it dry, then take it to a professional cleaner ASAP. and when it’s time to take your rug for a professional clean, whether because of a stain or just because it's been too long, make sure the expert you entrust knows how to clean a rug made from silk fibers. They should also have a roller wringer on-site that will squeeze out every last bit of moisture from your rug after a proper clean, so make sure to ask for that. 

How To Clean A Wool Rug 

Here's why we love wool: it is a fiber that does not show dirt. “Wool has an amazing ability to hide soil. Even with years of use, a great quality wool rug never looks filthy, it just gets a little dull,” says Wagner. God bless.


For general upkeep of a wool rug, vacuuming regularly should be enough. Because wool hides dirt and dust so well, it might seem that your rug doesn’t need frequent vacuuming, but here's the deal: if you let those particles sit, they’ll dig deeper into the fibers, which can lead to wear and tear. Wagner’s rule of thumb: you should vacuum your wool rugs as frequently as you sweep hardwood floors, so about once a week.  


The best vacuum for wool rugs is one that you’ll use, so choose one that’s easy to handle and has several attachments so you can use it to clean other surfaces, like hardwoods and your curtains, too. The most important thing to remember about how to clean an area wool rug is to always go with the grain of the pile: rather than moving your vacuum back and forth (which is how most of us were taught to use a rug) use long, one-directional strokes. 


Though wool can take a wet clean, that type of deep-cleaning is best left to the professionals who know how to wash a rug properly. This is especially true for rugs with dyed filaments that can bleed. “The biggest dangers with at-home cleaning of wool rugs is bleeding the dyes, damaging the wool with the wrong solution choices, and slow dry times that lead to mildew and other odors,” Wagner cautions.


If, however, you want to spot treat an area—say, one you just dropped a little canapé on—make sure to use products that are wool-safe.  Wagner recommends looking these up by searching through the products listed on woolsafe.org


How To Clean A Shag Rug 

You’ll find a lot of recommendations for how to vacuum a shag rug, but Wagner’s advice is to actually skip the traditional vacuum method. "Most shag rugs cannot be vacuumed without damaging them,” she says, noting that you can use a crevice tool attachment on your shag, but it’s an incredibly slow, painstaking process—one you'd really rather avoid. “You’ll be getting in row by row trying to remove everything caught in between those long strands." Yup, that sounds… incredibly tedious.


If it’s small enough, the easiest way to clean a wool shag area rug is to take it outside and just shake the heck out of it. If you are working with a synthetic shag rug, you can blast it with a leaf-blower, if you have one handy. Washing most shag rugs should be left to the professionals who have the technology to thoroughly clean and dry your rug, however—you don't want them to get moldy on you, after all.

Plant Fiber Rugs

How To Clean A Jute Rug 

Made from yarn spun from the dried stalk fibers of the corchorus plant, these woven rugs are  full of texture and lend a natural warmth to any environment. They’re also great at trapping (and hiding) dust and dirt, and might need a clean more frequently than you think!


Jute rugs can handle vacuuming, but stick to low settings to avoid shedding and wearing down the rug. Unlike with wool, when working with a jute rug, you'll want to make sure you vacuum in different directions to remove any particles trapped in the weave. If you have a small area rug, you can also shake it out to remove any trapped dirt.


When you're considering how to clean a jute rug, remember that jute’s Achilles' heel is water. The dry plant fibers are very absorbent, and can start to mold a mildew as they take on water. This is why jute area rugs are never a good idea for bathrooms, cute as they would look in there. And of course, you should never take a jute rug for a spin in the washing machine.

How To Clean A Sisal Rug

Like its jute cousin, a sisal rug is made from dried plant fibers, in this case derived from the agave plant (yep, it's a cousin of the plant that gives us both agave syrup and tequila). But unlike jute, which comes from the plant's stalk, sisal fibers are derived from the plant's leaves, and are therefore more durable, although they also have a rougher texture.  


To clean a sisal rug, follow the same steps as for how to clean a rug with a jute weave: gentle vacuuming is best, and avoid water as much as possible. For spills, blot up as much liquid as you can with a paper towel. 

Fur Rugs

There are a wealth of different types of animal rugs out there, and they're all just so soft to the touch, and bring warmth to any room. We’ll go further in depth into how to clean a sheepskin rug and a cowhide rug, but the basic care for most fur rugs will remain the same. If the rug is small enough, shaking it out is the easiest and gentlest way to get rid of dust in a fur rug. However, you should avoid getting your fur rug wet, so spot-treat with caution.

How To Clean A Sheepskin Rug 

The long, shaggy fibers of a sheepskin rug make it one of the coziest kinds of area rugs. Because the threads are essentially wool, it might seem that this type of rug should be easy to clean, but keep in mind that the wool fibers are attached to a hide, which needs a different touch.


The fibers themselves are easy to keep dust- and dirt-free with a gentle shakeout. Sheepskin rugs can also hold up to regular vacuuming—just make sure to use an attachment that doesn’t have a spinning brush, and always vacuum with the fur's grain, not against it. Another way to keep your sheepskin rug looking fluffy and shiny is to give it a regular comb through with a wire wool comb.


If you’ve ended up with a stain on your sheepskin rug, you can treat it by hand. Always try to sop up as much of a wet stain as possible first, then use sheepskin-safe detergent that’s free of enzymes and bleach—these ingredients can crack and damage the hide. Following the detergent’s instructions, mix with water, then blot the stain until it’s gone. 


If your undyed rug really needs a clean, you can wash it, but there are some best practices to keep in mind when we talk about how to wash a sheepskin rug. No matter what you do, you can expect some shrinkage if you submerge your sheepskin rug in water. Though some sheepskin rugs are labeled as machine-washable, it’s always going to be a better idea to hand-wash your rug in the tub, using cool water. Like any other natural fabric, it'll just last longer if you hand-wash it. 


Fill up your tub with a mix of your sheepskin detergent and water, then let the rug soak for about ten minutes while gently scrubbing away any dirty spots. To rinse out any detergent, drain and refill the tub until the soap bubbles are all but gone. 


Squeeze out as much water as you can from the rug without wringing or bending the vulnerable hide. You can use towels to absorb even more water, then hang up your rug to dry. Avoid brushing it while it’s still moist (the hair will be fragile when wet) but once it's dried, you can give it a thorough combing.

How To Clean A Cowhide Rug 

Cowhide rugs are not as high-maintenance as they might seem, given how luxurious they are—and how cool they can make a space feel. For everyday care, taking the rug outside and shaking loose any dust or debris should be enough. You can also vacuum your cowhide rug, so long as you don’t use a brush attachment or go against the grain of the short hairs.


Washing your cowhide rug is a no-go. Any moisture accumulation could lead to mildew and mold. If you’ve ended up with a stain on your cowhide rug, treat it as quickly as possible by blotting out any liquid and brushing off any dried solids. If need be, you can blot the stain with a damp cloth and a spot of gentle soap, free from enzymes and harsh detergents. 


If your cowhide rug gets wet, you can help it dry quickly by hanging it up in the sun, with the hide side facing the light, to prevent sun bleaching and discoloration.

Synthetic Fibers

How to Clean A Viscose Rug

Although viscose rugs incorporate natural fibers, they undergo a chemical treatment that puts them in the synthetic category. It’s important to know that natural fibers are still at the base of these types of rugs because, as with jute and sisal rugs, water damage is a big concern.


For general upkeep, use a suction-only vacuum cleaner without a brush attachment to prevent pulling up any fibers from your rug. 


If you spill plain water on your rug, Wagner recommends taking a big cotton towel and placing it over the damaged area, then placing a heavy object on top, like a hand weight or a gallon of water (this doubles as a good excuse to not use your hand weight for a day). Leave everything as is for 24 hours to let the towel absorb as much of the water stain as possible. “Don’t peek or you will halt the absorbent process. The idea is to have all moisture in those fibers move up into the dry cotton. If you have it pressed down, then this capillary action works best, but peeking stops it,” Wagner warns.


For other stains, use a thoroughly wrung-out sponge that’s been soaked in a solution that’s one part vinegar to two parts water, and blot the stain. The idea here is that we're getting the vinegar into the rug without adding too much more moisture to the stain—that's why you don’t want to spray the vinegar solution directly onto the rug. Dry by pressing down with a cotton towel, and then use the weighted method above. 

How To Clean A Polypropylene Rug

There is both good and bad news when it comes to taking care of a polypropylene rug: cleaning these types of rugs should be easy, as they are virtually stain-proof and won’t be damaged by most rug cleaning solutions. The drawback with polypropylene rugs is that they don’t hide dirt and dust the way wool rugs do. They also trap these particles really well, and you’ll need to invest in a vacuum cleaner with a very powerful motor to try and get it well and truly clean.


Unlike most of the rugs we’ve talked about so far, these synthetic rugs can handle some industrial-strength cleaning. You can always rent one yourself if you're up for the adventure, but the truth is, professional cleaners know how to clean an area rug with a steam cleaner much more efficiently than a novice, so it’s often better if you leave the heavy-duty clean for them. Although if you want to take up steam cleaning your rugs as a hobby, go for it—your friends will love you.

How To Clean A Faux Fur Rug  

As with natural sheepskin rugs, the easiest way to maintain a faux fur rug is to shake it out and use a wire wool comb to keep the long strands tangle-free. You can also use a brush-free vacuum, always going with the grain of the fur.


Since these rugs can be made from any number of synthetic fibers, to determine how to clean a rug that's made of faux fur, you’ll want to check your rug’s label, but most can be hand-washed with mild detergent and air-dried. Do not throw them in the dryer—the heat can melt some of those furry strands.

How To Clean Outdoor Rugs

Outdoor rugs are made to withstand the elements, which is why they are almost exclusively made from synthetic fibers like nylon, acrylic, and polypropylene. Although they’re typically water-repellant, you should still avoid letting them get soaking wet, either after a rainfall or a hose-down. “Many outdoor rugs that state they are mildew-resistant are referring to the outer polypropylene plastic fibers. However, the interior often incorporates jute and/or cotton, which will mildew when damp too long," Wagner explains. Check the underside of the rug for any dark spots, and if you do find some mold, you can spray the affected area with vinegar, letting the mixture sit for an hour before rinsing off. 


Most synthetic rugs are stain-resistant, but even so, it's almost inevitable that you’ll end up needing to clean your rug more thoroughly every now and again. Almost any cleaner will work on synthetic outdoor rugs without damaging their fibers, but the chemicals inside some cleaners can be harmful to you and your pets. Wagner recommends seeking out cleaning products that are verified as natural and safe.  

How To Get Stains Out Of Rugs 

Accidental spills and messes are bound to happen, and are just part and parcel of a happy home—and this is especially true if you’ve got curious little ones or pets. If you’ve knocked over a cup of coffee or found a sticky blob of gum on your beloved rug, the trick is to take care of it as soon as possible.  


We’ve covered how to clean a rug based on its fibers, but some stains require a different approach. Though they’re common, these stains are hard to get out once they’ve set, which can send rug owners into a panic and have them reaching for the wrong solution. If you’ve just spilled red wine and want to know how to clean a white rug, please do not reach for bleach or pour white wine on the stain!


To help you make the right choice, the expert rug cleaners at Manorly have offered up their best practices for how to get stains out of rugs quickly. It’s worth noting that some of these stains might need a professional clean after the initial damage control, but if you spot-treat them right away you’ll significantly minimize any long-term damage.

How To Get Nail Polish Out Of A Rug

If you’ve spilled your polish on a favorite rug, do not try to rub the polish off! Instead, blot the area carefully with a terry cloth or paper towel and let dry. Though it may seem counterintuitive,  don’t reach for the nail polish remover if you have a silk, nylon, or wool rug—using nail polish remover to remove polish can potentially ruin your rug, so it’s best to have a professional take a look.


How To Get Dog Pee Out Of A Rug

Whether you’ve got an elderly pet or are house-training your new puppy, you know how hard it is to get the stain (and the stink) out of a rug. Fortunately, the same product you use to get out the urine stain is also how to get dog pee smell out of a rug, although it probably won't take care of the problem completely. You’ll still need to take your rug in to a professional cleaner. 


First, blot the area with a cloth or a paper towel to soak up any lingering urine. Then make a 50/50 solution of water and vinegar, spray the stain and let dry. Check the underside of your rug, too, as urine might have soaked down through the fibers. 

What you don’t want to do is use products like Nature’s Miracle because it can damage or remove the color of certain surfaces, including silk and wool. You should also resist the temptation to clean pet stains with club soda, as that could leave a hazy ring around the stain and possibly lead to color loss in your rug. For synthetic rugs, Wagner recommends using Biokleen natural, enzyme cleane, which should do the trick nicely.

How To Get Red Wine Out Of A Rug

Let’s start here by debunking a common myth: white wine does not get red wine stains out. In fact, according to the experts at Manorly, once you’ve added white wine to the mix, you’ve also added a layer of sugars from the white wine to clean up. Instead, blot the area carefully with a terry cloth or paper towel and reach for your trusty 50/50 water and vinegar solution and spray and blot until the stain vanishes.

How To Get Blood Out Of A Rug

Blood is a tricky stain to get out on certain carpet fibers, but no matter what your rug is made of, the first thing you’ll want to do is blot the area carefully with a terry cloth or paper towel.  Enzyme cleaners can be used to get blood out of certain rugs, but as we’ve mentioned, should not be used on silk, and should only be applied with caution on nylon and wool rugs. If you can, do a spot check in a hidden area on your rug first, then use as directed.


In a pinch, you can use lukewarm water and a small amount of soap to blot the stain with a paper towel. Do not rub with the warm soap solution, as this will cause spreading. Blood stain removal is especially tricky on high sheen silk, and spot cleaning should never be attempted.

How To Get Candle Wax Out Of A Rug 

You might be tempted to try and wipe off liquid wax that’s dripped on your rug right away, but that can actually make the situation worse, since hot wax can smear and get trapped in your carpet’s fibers. Unlike most rug stains, which need to be treated right away, it’s best to let the candle wax dry and cool before attempting to lift it, with caution and a blunt edge of a knife or a spoon.

How To Get Paint Out Of A Rug 

If you get paint spills on your rug, your first course of action should be to gently blot as much of the paint as you can with a paper towel. Whatever you do, don’t rub the stain as that will smear the paint and drive it further into the rug, making it that much harder to clean. Once you've addressed the initial spot-treatment, it's time to take it to a pro—paint stains really need to be addressed by a professional who has access to powerful, industrial cleaners and the skillset to use them safely. 

How To Get Coffee Stains Out Of A Rug

Like wine and urine, coffee is an acidic liquid that’s best attacked with a 50/50 spray of water and vinegar. First, make sure to sop up any remaining liquid with a clean towel, then spray the stain down with the vinegar, blot, and let dry. 

How To Get Gum Out Of A Rug 

Sticky messes like gum are incredibly hard to get out of rugs, as they get trapped between the fibers. Pick up as much as possible without rubbing the gum further into the rug. Though a professional clean is still the safest course of action, you can use  an ice cube to harden the gum and very carefully scrape the hardened gum with the blunt edge of a knife.

How To Get Slime Out Of A Rug

Slime is another difficult stain. Just as you would with gum, you should try to get as much of the slime off the rug with a paper towel, without rubbing or applying any pressure. Like with gum, you can ice the affected area and scrape away the remaining slime, but—and this cannot be stressed enough—this is risky business, and taking your rug to a professional cleaner is much safer. 

Professional Cleaning 

Depending on whether they’re in high-traffic areas and how well they’re cared for, all rugs should have a professional clean every 2-5 years. Professional rug cleaners have access to industrial cleaners and know how to shampoo a rug or how to clean a rug with a steam cleaner, and equally importantly, how to dry your rugs fully, without molding them. Whether your rugs are antique silks or cozy shags, the best way to make sure they keep bringing you joy and looking their best is with regular maintenance at home and a visit from a pro every few years.


One exception to the rule are small, shaggy bathroom mats: if you want to know how to wash bathroom rugs, check their labels, but most can be cleaned in the washing machine. Bathroom rugs are usually made from synthetic microfiber that are meant to get wet and to dry quickly and some can even go into the dryer.

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5 billion pounds of rugs go into landfills every year. 

That’s 2% of total U.S. landfill.

Loomy is on a mission to make that number 0% by manufacturing a better sustainable product.