Stain Lab: Which Rugs Passed the Test?

published Nov 9, 2012
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I love the look of natural fiber rugs, with their warm colors and nubby textures. I want to buy one for my dining room but am scarred from previous experiences with sisal rugs, which stained so easily. So, I decided to compare a bunch of rugs with various natural fibers, including jute, seagrass, sisal, wool and various synthetic blends (indoor/outdoor rugs made to look like natural fiber rugs).

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

I ordered a bunch of samples from two different stores and purposefully stained them with common agents. Then I attempted to clean them using basic methods. Here are the results of my (very) unscientific tests!

Catrin’s Rug Staining Experiment

Staining Agents:
• Ketchup
• Crayola marker
• Vegetable oil
• water

Cleaning agents (I only proceeded to the next step if the stain remained. In some cases dry dabbing was enough.)
• gentle dabbing with dry cloth
• cloth wet with water
• cloth wet with dish soap diluted in water
• Resolve carpet cleaner (I only used this after the other options had been exhausted, and only after the rug was totally dry.)

1) Not all rugs are created equal, even those within a same class of fiber or material. Jute is known to be super absorbent and easily stained (I can attest to this from rugs I have owned in the past, which were permanently marred by even the slightest drips of water). But in my experiment, the rugs made of a blend of jute and other fibers did very well. Some wool rugs are easier to keep clean than others.

2) The staining agents I used were those that I thought would most likely be spilled by my children in the dining room. Other people may be more concerned with cat pee or dog poop or red wine or whatever. But for us, oily things (salad dressings and food) and ketchup are often culprits, as is water and magic marker.

3) I did not use a full arsenal of cleaning products. I used the approach I tend to use when dealing with common household spills: that is, I did a dry dabbing first, then a wet one. And finished up with a solution of pure mild dish soap and water. I used Resolve carpet cleaner only after all those other approaches failed. I am sure there are people out there who are big believers in vinegar or Oxy Clean or organic enzymatic cleaners. I promise to do a follow up test on a few rugs using multiple cleaning agents to compare them!

Here are my rankings for the different kinds of rugs:

None of the stains remained after cleaning!!

RUG 5: Nylon
Point of View tiles in “Eggnog”. 100% recycled Nylon face fibers. From Flor.

RUG 8: Seagrass
Seagrass rug in “Seabass” color from Sisal Rugs Direct.

RUG 6 Group: 100% Polypropylene
Al Fresco indoor outdoor rug in “Sakura Dune” from Sisal Rugs Direct.
All-weather rug in “Canas/Straw” from Sisal Rugs Direct.
All-weather rug in “Canas/Sisal” from Sisal Rugs Direct.

Very Good:
The stains were a bit tougher to remove, especially the ketchup and marker. But except for the slightest hint of discoloration, these rugs did great!

RUG 1: Jute/Polyester/Sisal blend
Island Grid rug in Cream from Crate & Barrel. There was hardly a difference between this Crate & Barrel rug and the other one I tested (RUG 2). If I had to choose, I would say this very light cream colored rug actually did slightly better at disguising stains. Only caveat is that the rug did get bleached out a bit when I experimented with Resolve cleaner.

RUG 2: Jute/Polyester/Sisal blend
Island Chevron rug in Honey from Crate & Barrel.

RUG 4: Wool
Lamb Cord in “Wharfedale White”. 100% pure British wool face fibers. From Flor. The wool Flor tile needed a lot of rubbing to get one stain out but I was not careful enough and I caused the fibers to get a bit frizzy and frayed. More sensitive fingers could probably have gotten the stain out fine without leaving any evidence. So, this rug was pretty great overall, as are most wool rugs. Still, with a chocolate or red wine stain this very pale rug would probably have stained, though that’s another test!

RUG 7: Sisal / Wool Blend
Chanelle Sisal Wool in “Pewter” from Sisal Rugs Direct. A blend of 75% sisal and 25% wool.


RUG 3: Sisal
Sisal almond rug from Crate & Barrel. 100% sisal boucle. The sisal rug was a BIG loser in my tests. I tried blotting up the stain without water because I know that sisal stains even with water! Then I used a tiny bit of soapy water.

(Images: Catrin Morris)