How to Clean a Rug

published Jul 18, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Vacuuming only goes so far on an area rug. Likely the focal point of whatever room it’s in, your area rug withstands regular traffic, which means it’s also privy to debris and stains. Regular maintenance vacuuming (as needed, or once a week or so) is a great way to keep your rug free of visible dust, dirt, crumbs, and other debris.

But there comes a time, as with every surface or space in your home, for a more thorough clean that gets beneath the surface of what you can see or smell. Unlike, say, your shower or the inside of your fridge, you probably only need to deep clean it once or twice a year—unless your rug is subject to excessively high traffic or it has noticeable spots or stains, in which case you’d want to deep clean sooner. 

One way to tell if it’s time for your rug to get a deep cleaning: Rub your fingers on the surface of the rug in a circular motion for 10 to 15 seconds. If your hand has dirt on it, your rug needs some love.

Is your area rug ready for its annual deep clean? Here’s exactly what you need to know to make it happen.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How to Clean a Rug

While the rug-cleaning process can be a bit time-intensive (and require some torque, depending on how dirty it is), it’s not super complicated. You’ll only need a few tools to achieve a deep clean, most of which you probably already have in your home. To get started, grab your vacuum, a broom, your cleaner of choice, a scrub brush, and a towel or squeegee.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Vacuum the rug.

Before you clean the rug, remove any and all debris with a vacuum. Don’t forget the back of the rug, which may also have accumulated dust or dirt particles. You can also take the rug outside and prop it up on a fence or porch railing after vacuuming, then beat the back with a broom. It’s free of dust and ready to clean when you no longer see clouds of dirt when you whack it.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. Test your cleaner.

On an inconspicuous corner of the rug, test a few drops of whatever cleaner you plan to use for colorfastness, waiting for it to dry completely. If the color of the rug didn’t run, it’s likely safe to use. If the color did run, your rug might need special treatment at the dry cleaner.

For cleaner, you can go one of two routes: a store-bought product like Bissell’s CrossWave Area Rug Cleaning Formula or a DIY solution of 2 to 3 capfuls of liquid dish soap mixed in a bucket of warm, but not hot, water. If you have little kids or pets and want an extra-deep clean, you can also use an enzyme rug cleaner on affected areas.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Clean the rug with a scrub brush.

With a clean, soft-bristled scrub brush, work the cleaner into the rug’s surface until you see suds. Then, allow the cleaner to sit on the rug for 10 to 15 minutes to do its work. Stains or particularly high-traffic areas might need more scrubbing, more soap, or more time.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

4. Rinse the rug with a hose.

Either take your clean rug outside and spray it with a garden hose or, alternately, in your bathtub. The goal is to ensure there’s no soap left in the rug’s fibers.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

5. Dry the rug.

This part requires some patience. Use a clean towel or a squeegee (yes, the kind you use in your shower) to absorb the excess water in the rug, then let the rug air dry outside in the garden or on a drying rack inside. This process could take a day or two. When the rug is completely dry, it’s ready to go back on the floor!

Can you clean an area rug with a carpet cleaner? 

A carpet cleaner can be used on some area rugs, according to Rosa Nogales-Hernandez, Head Home Cleaning Valet for Valet Living; however, it’s better not to roll the dice. Some carpet cleaners might be too harsh for rugs, which are typically made with a denser pile construction. And since most carpeting is one color, carpet cleaning products may not be colorfast on multi-color rugs.  Instead, use a product meant specifically for area rugs, not carpet.

 How do you clean a high-pile rug?

The first step for cleaning a high-pile rug, according to Nogales-Hernandez, is shaking out debris, which can more easily get stuck in the longer fibers. To make this step easier, take the rug outside and hit the back with a broom until you don’t see dirt or dust clouds. Then, run your vacuum over the back of the rug and spot treat as needed with the same cleaning solution you’d use on an area rug.

Can you wash a rug in the washing machine?

As a rule of thumb, check the rug’s label: If it’s dry clean only, the colors might run if you launder it. Typically, throw rugs made of cotton or synthetic material can go in the wash, assuming they’re small enough to fit. Launder alone or with bath towels on a gentle cycle with the coldest water possible, then air dry.