Clean Your Area Rugs Like a Pro in 4 Easy Steps

Audrey Bruno
Written by Audrey Bruno
Updated November 23, 2021
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A great area rug has a unique ability to make a space feel cozy and comforting in a tailored way. But knowing how to clean an area rug isn’t as straightforward as enjoying its presence in your home. Though some small rugs may be able to handle a spin in the washing machine, others will require a lot of time and care that’s sometimes better left to the pros.  

Fortunately, determined DIYers will be happy to know it’s definitely not impossible to complete this project without a professional. Anyone with the right tools and a little know-how can rejuvenate their area rugs all on their own. Use the tips in this guide to get your rugs clean and pristine in no time.

Difficulty: 3/5 Perfect for handy homeowners

Time: Plan to devote a couple of hours, not including drying time

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Vacuum cleaner with upholstery attachment or round dust brush

  • Rug detergent or homemade cleaning solution

  • Cleaning cloth or paper towels

  • Hose or pressure cleaner

1. Determine the Material of Your Rug

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Both natural and synthetic materials can make up rugs. Some are delicate, some are sturdy, and all of them need unique treatment. A glimpse at the rug's tag will show you what material you're dealing with and will offer the manufacturer's cleaning instructions.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the most common rug materials.

Natural Fibers

  • Wool pile: This classic rug style is naturally moisture resistant and doesn’t absorb liquid as quickly as other rug materials. With a wool rug, you’ll have a bit more time to clean up a spill before a stain starts to form.

  • Silk: Rugs made from this material are highly delicate and need to be handled with extreme care. Silk is often a feature of Persian and Oriental rugs and is best maintained with professional cleanings. Even at-home steam cleanings aren’t recommended because just a small amount of moisture can be enough to damage silk.

  • Cotton: In addition to being soft and cozy, cotton rugs are also durable and surprisingly easy to clean. In many cases, you can just throw them straight into the washing machine along with a rug detergent.

  • Jute: This material is a plant fiber that’s often used to make woven indoor and outdoor rugs. However, it’s extremely absorbent and not easy to spot clean. You’ll need to use a specialized dry shampoo or hire a pro to get the job done.

Synthetic Fibers

  • Nylon: Nylon has a lot going for it, including being among the best carpet materials for heavy traffic areas. However, it’s prone to fading, so its looks will diminish over time whether or not it’s cared for.

  • Olefin: Unlike nylon, olefin holds its colors well along with being soft and stain-resistant. On the other hand, it’s not as durable and more likely to develop rips and tears from heavy traffic.

  • Polyester: This material is resistant to stains, wear and tear, and fading, in addition to being affordable and easy to care for. Contact with oil is the only thing that may cause staining, so make sure to keep oil-based substances far from any polyester rugs in your home.

2. Remove As Much Dust and Debris As You Can

  • New wool, cotton, and synthetic rugs are typically strong enough to handle a full-powered vacuum. Vacuum sideways across the width of the rug or use an upholstery attachment to vacuum in the pile direction.

  • Antique or vintage area rugs with silk elements may need a delicate touch. Even the upholstery attachment may be too strong for some older rugs to handle. Instead, opt for a round dust brush vacuum attachment or a can of compressed air to gently remove as much dust and debris as possible.

  • Use a rug brush to remove pet fur. Sometimes a vacuum isn’t agile enough to reach all those delicate strands of pet hair that have woven their way into your rug. Use a specialized rug brush to be sure you’ve removed all stubborn bits of fur.

  • Remove dirt from hard-to-reach crevices in the rug fibers. Many rugs feature intricate weaving that, while beautiful, is unfortunately great at trapping dirt. Whether it’s a Persian or polyester rug, flipping your rug and vacuuming both sides is the trick to reaching these tight spots.

3. Use a Homemade Solution or Specialized Shampoo to Spot Clean Your Rugs

A homemade solution of one part vinegar to two parts water is easy to make and works well on stains. But you can also turn to specialized rug detergents. If you go the store-bought route, be sure that what you're purchasing is for rugs, not carpets. The rug and carpet cleaning processes are quite different, and using the wrong product won’t give you the results you want.

  • Clean up spills as soon as they happen. Use a white cloth or paper towel to soak up as much liquid as possible, and a vacuum nozzle to clean up dirt spills.

  • Apply a small amount of cleaner to the spot and use a fresh rag to blot out the cleaner. Don’t let the detergent sit for an extended period. It will trap even more dirt if it has time to dry. You may have to repeat this process several times for darker stains from, say, red wine.

  • No matter how tempting it is, don’t rub the stain. Though it may seem like doing this would help, it’ll actually damage your rug even further. Take time to gently apply and remove rug shampoo for the best results.

4. Schedule Deep Cleanings for Sunny Days

If your rug has too many spots to clean one by one, take it outside for a deep clean. This is better reserved for newer, sturdy rugs because they don’t suffer from water damage like older, more delicate rugs might. Some rugs are simply too fragile to be cleaned by non-professionals. When in doubt, refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations on the tag to find out what’s best for your particular rug. And if there is no tag, stick with spot treating or reach out to a rug cleaner near you to avoid any damage. 

Here’s a quick general deep cleaning guide for most heavy cotton and synthetic fiber rugs.

  • Use a hose to wet your rug thoroughly. Use just enough to take care of any remaining dry spots so that you don’t accidentally oversoak the rug.

  • Lightly scrub the entire rug with shampoo or a homemade solution. But first, start by testing your rug shampoo on a small patch of your rug. That way, if it’s not the best fit, the damage isn’t irreversible.

  • Rinse off all soap, shake out, and let hang to dry. The warmer it is outside, the faster your rug will dry. Hang it from a clothes wire or rack and let it sit out on a hot day until it’s completely dry. This can take up to 24 hours depending on the size of your rug.

You can also deep clean some smaller rugs by soaking them in a cool bath with specialized rug shampoo.

Cost to Hire a Pro to Clean an Area Rug

Sometimes it’s best to leave this job to local area rug cleaners because of how delicate some vintage and antique rugs can be. The cost to hire a pro is about $1.25 to $8 per square foot of cleaning and about $50 to $300 for full projects. Some smaller rugs can cost as little as $10 to have professionally cleaned.

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