Rug Cleaning 101: Handmade vs. Machine Made

Written by Eric Bollmann, owner of Haines & Cross
Updated December 16, 2015
Rug cleaning methods vary depending on whether your rug was made by hand or machine. (Photo by Frank Espich)

From Oriental or Persian rugs to machine-made rugs, a carpet cleaning expert explains how to clean your rug without causing damage.

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When it comes to area rugs, there are a lot of options: Hand knotted, handmade, tufted, machine made. What does it all mean, and why should I care?

From new or antique Persian or Oriental rugs to machine-woven rugs, here's a look at the differences and how to clean a rug the right way.

Hand-knotted rugs vs. tufted

A lot of time goes into making hand-knotted rugs, including Persian or Oriental rugs.

Picture a loom with threaded warp yarns from top to bottom. Tufts of wool are then tied around these warp yarns from side to side to create the knot. Once a row has been completed, a weft yarn will be threaded through the warp yarn to tighten the knots and start to build the foundation of the rug. As more and more rows are completed, the rug slowly but surely is becoming the handmade work of art that it truly is.

Small rugs (two to four feet wide) usually can be made by one person in two to three months’ time. However, some of the larger area rugs (12 to 14 feet wide) can take a team of three weavers sitting side-by-side anywhere from six months to a year to complete.

The oldest surviving rug is called the "Pazyryk carpet," and it dates back about 2,500 years. However, there is evidence that the art of rug making might be much older than that. China, India, Iran (formerly Persia) and Pakistan are currently the biggest producers of hand-knotted rugs.

Rugs knotted by hand tend to be extremely durable — so much so that they can last for generations. And when something is on the floor for that long, it can get really dirty.

In fact, a recent study reports that a 9-by-12-foot Oriental rug can hold up to 87 pounds of dry soil without even looking dirty. This is why proper care and cleaning is critical to the longevity of such area rugs.

Hand-tufted rugs, on the other hand, are created by pushing wool into a primary fabric, either by hand or with the use of a tufting gun.

Once the pushing of the wool is completed, the back of the rug is glued in order to secure the tufts in place.

To give the rug a more finished look, the back is then covered up with a jute or cotton cloth.

The result can be very hard to tell apart from a hand-knotted rug unless you know what to look for. The telltale sign is the back of the rug.

The biggest producers of tufted rugs are China and India.

Both type of rugs (hand knotted and hand tufted) are technically handmade. However, there is a big difference in how these rugs perform over the long term.

A hand-knotted rug with its solid foundation can stand up to years and years of use, but a hand- (or gun-) tufted rug won’t. Under high-traffic conditions, the glue that holds this type of rug together will start breaking down.

Machine-made rugs

Machine-made rugs, as the name implies, are made with the use of machines.

However, there is a vast difference between a machine woven wool rug, and a manufactured olefin rug.

Machine-woven rugs, such as American-made Karastan rugs, are of high quality and hard to distinguish from a hand-knotted rug.

In lower quality machine-made rugs, threads are glued or looped onto a synthetic backing that cools as it hardens. Most often, these machine-made rugs are created with acrylics and other chemically-processed materials.

Rug cleaning tips

The proper method of cleaning for a rug differs from carpet cleaning methods and is largely dictated by how a rug is made.

Hand-knotted rugs can be thoroughly dusted and washed to restore them back to “like-new” condition. Even pet accidents and odor issues can almost always successfully be dealt with.

However, tufted rugs, because of their construction, provide some unique cleaning challenges.

Because of the vast differences in materials used, construction, after-market treatments, pre-existing conditions and the effects of cleaning on the texture of the face yarns, it’s important to work with a carpet cleaning professional experienced in rug identification in order to avoid costly mistakes.

A seasoned carpet cleaning professional will be able to identify a hand-knotted from a machine-made rug, wool from cotton and the myriad of potential cleaning problems each presents and advise you on best practices for the cleaning and repair of fine textiles.

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article that was originally posted on Oct. 31, 2011.

About this Angi Expert: Eric Bollmann was the owner of Haines & Cross based in Laguna Niguel, California. Haines & Cross specialized in professionally cleaning, repairing and restoring all styles of area rugs.

As of Nov. 4, 2011, this service provider was highly rated. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angi for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angi.

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