Caring for Your Oriental Rug....
A genuine handknotted Oriental rug will last a very long time if you
take a few precautions to protect it from premature wear and the most common
kinds of damage. Common problems include water damage, moth damage,
dog chews and cat scratching, pet stains, vacuum cleaner damage, chemical
damage, sun damage, and uneven wear.
This page tries to answer the most frequently-asked questions about caring for
Oriental rugs. See also our recommendations for cleaning
Most varieties of Oriental rugs have wool pile, but many have cotton
warp and weft (the warp is the foundation upon which knots are tied to create
the pile; the weft runs over and under warp strings between rows of knots
to strengthen the rug from side to side). This cotton foundation can be
weakened, and sometimes actually rotted, if the rug is wetted repeatedly
and not properly dried.
A common cause of such damage occurs when potted plants are placed directly
on a rug. The plant is watered regularly, the pot leaks, and the rug under
the pot stays permanently damp. Within two or three weeks the foundation
of the rug can become so weak that chunks can be torn from the affected
area by hand. If you use planters near a rug, try to place them on a slim legged
stool, or a caster-based support that lets you see under the pot and allows
for ventilation. After watering the plant check to be sure the rug under
it is completely dry.
Another form of water damage can affect rugs used in a basement or other
area below grade level. If the basement floods the potential for damage
is obvious. The rug must be removed quickly, properly cleaned, and allowed
to dry completely. A more insidious form of damage can be caused by using
a rug over a damp floor (as is often the case if the floor is cement). Even
though the floor is not noticeably wet to the touch, there can be enough
moisture to allow microorganisms to flourish in the material of the warp
and weft and to degrade the strength of the rug's foundation.
A rug damaged in this way will often feel peculiarly stiff when manipulated.
The rug will sometimes be so stiff it will be difficult to roll, and if
you listen carefully to the back of the carpet when it is creased or folded,
you can often hear the cracks and popping noises made by breaking warp and
Flying clothes moths do not eat your rugs, but the females do lay hundreds
of eggs each, and the eggs hatch into larvae that consume wool, fur, feather,
and silk fibers. Moths and their larvae thrive in dark, undisturbed
areas where a rug gets little traffic and is not often vacuumed. A bad infestation
sometimes leaves a cobweb-like veil in the area of the damage, along with
fine, sand-like debris. An infestation often involves more than one rug,
and can spread to (or from) woolens or furs hanging in a closet or sweaters
stored in a drawer. A rug damaged by moths is not difficult to repair, but
reweaving a large area of the rug can be expensive.
The life cycle of the clothes moth
(Not to scale)
To identify the presence of moths, look for one or more of these signs (see pictures here):
To prevent moth damage:
If a rug will be stored for a long period see the recommendations on
Carpet Beetle Damage
Similar in appearance to moth damage, but caused by the larvae of a small
(1/8" long), dark brown or brown-black insect. Beetle larvae damage
is usually not as severe, nor as messy as moth damage. Strategies to prevent
or treat moth damage will be effective against carpet
beetles as well.
Puppies tend to chew rugs because of tooth growth. The best way
to prevent chew damage is to control the puppy by keeping it away from the
rug. Sometimes sprinkling an ounce of moth flakes under the rug along the
edges will help the dog keep his distance from the rug.
Cats which are not declawed can do significant damage to a rug if they
habitually sharpen their claws on it. As with dog chews, the best prevention
is to control the cat's activities. Sometimes a squirt gun (squirt the cat
when it starts to scratch the rug) can be used to condition the cat to avoid
Vacuum Cleaner Damage
In almost all instances, regular vacuuming of an Oriental rug with an
electric vacuum cleaner is good for the rug--a dirty rug wears prematurely,
and regular vacuuming helps prevent dirt on the surface of the rug from
filtering down into the pile where it can accumulate and cause increased
wear. Still, be careful with a cleaner equipped with a power brush or "beater
bar"; these powered brushes in the vacuum head help the vacuum do a
good job on machine-made carpeting, but they cause a raking effect on the
top layer of an Oriental rug's pile if used too strenuously. If your
vacuum cleaner has a power brush, use it only occasionally and lightly on
your Oriental rug. For routine cleaning, use just the plain vacuum
nozzle. This is especially important for fringes; try not to run an
upright vacuum or a power brush attachment over fringes. The brush shreds
the fringes and causes rapid wear. Frequently fringes get caught and chewed
up by the rotating mechanism of the brush.
An old trick of some rug cleaners is to bleach the cotton fringe of a
rug snowy white before returning the rug to the customer (on the theory
that if the fringe looks nice and clean, the whole rug looks cleaner). Unfortunately,
chlorine based bleach weakens natural fiber over time. We have seen many
rugs with "dead fringe"--fringe so weakened by repeated bleachings
that a tug on the fringe will tear away small bits. If you must have snowy
white fringe, use a dilute bleach solution, and be sure to rinse the fringe
Most rug dyes are quite resistant to sun fading or bleaching. Still,
ultraviolet rays are a powerful force of Nature, and a rug will likely fade
over time if used for years in a very sunny area. Consider sheer drapes
to block some of the direct sunlight, and try to turn the rug end-for-end
once a year to even out possible color changes.
A rug should be turned end-for-end once every year or two to even out
wear and color change. Try not to use a rug on a very uneven floor. An area
of the floor that is raised (a loose floorboard, a transition strip from
one flooring material to another, etc.) causes the part of the rug that
covers it to wear much more rapidly than the rest of the rug.
To Move a Rug
When you move a big rug to adjust its position, there is a better way
than just to pull with brute force on the fringe or edge. A simple trick
is to rapidly wave the edge of the rug up and down a foot or two close to
the floor while pulling. This ripple effect sends a cushion of air under
the rug, making it very easy to move.
To Lay a Rug Flat
If a rug has been folded for shipping, there may be wrinkles or creases
when you lay it down. To flatten them out, first determine which way
the nap lays (rub your hand across the pile in the direction of the fringe:
the pile will feel smooth one way and will roughen up when rubbed in the
opposite direction). Stand at the end of the rug with the nap running toward
you. Roll the rug up from this end as tight as you can, then slowly unroll
and smooth it down along the way. Persistent wrinkles in the same spot
can be pressed from the face of the rug using a steam iron on "wool"
setting (be sure to iron the pile in its original direction). Persistent
wrinkles should be attended to, as premature wear along the ridges made
by the wrinkles can result. Some rugs have wrinkles "built in"
as the rug is woven--try not to buy one of these!
Pads under Oriental rugs can prevent sliding, prolong the life of the
rug by cushioning the impact between shoe sole and hard floor surfaces,
and provide comfort under foot. To determine if you need a pad, the
rule of thumb is: a heavy, thick rug does not necessarily need one,
whereas a thin, soft rug does, as does an older rug or a rug that has been
rewoven or patched or which has a weakened foundation. While a pad can extend
the life of any rug, whether or not to use a pad under a new rug is often
a personal decision based upon your preference for the feel of the carpet
underfoot. A pad should be about an inch smaller than the rug all the way
around (not counting the fringe) so that the pad will not show beneath the
Pads can be made of materials like rubber, felt, polyester, or one of
a number of synthetic foams. For a number of years we have preferred pads
for larger rugs made of a polyester felt about 3/8" thick. This material
is quite dense and is mechanically strong. We have seen rubber pads crack
and crumble around the edges with time, and occasionally rubber pads will
become gummy and stick to an older floor finish or even to the back of the
rug. Many of the synthetic urethane foam pads seem too soft and lightweight
to provide much support to the rug.
Curled Corners and Curled Edges
Because of the way it is woven, a rug may have corners and/or edges that
tend to curl under. Straighten them out when you lay the rug down. If
the edges curl badly, the rug may need the attention of a good rug repair
person. Using a rug with badly curled-under edges or corners causes
unnatural wear patterns that can damage the rug and be difficult to repair
properly. See a badly curled edge..
Sizing or Blocking a Rug
When a rug is out of square or has built-in wrinkles, sizing or blocking
may help. A rug is sized by turning it over, making it as square and flat
as possible, and fastening it down along the edges (we use a staple hammer).
A mixture of sizing and water is sprinkled over the back of the rug, and
the rug is allowed to dry. The moisture in the sizing helps equalize tension
in the foundation of the rug, and the sizing helps the rug hold its square,
flat shape. Note that even a good quality rug is rarely perfectly rectilinear.
When blocking a rug the choice is sometimes between getting it flat or making
it square--from the standpoint of what's good for the rug, it is almost
always better to make the rug flat than to make it perfectly rectilinear.
Used with care and when appropriate, sizing makes a rug more attractive
and usable. Used incorrectly, blocking can distort or even damage a rug.
Over-aggressive blocking will not remedy the problems of a badly crooked
or poorly woven rug. Don't try this at home! Sizing is definitely a process
best handled by an experienced dealer or rug repair person.
When a rug is to be stored for more than a few months it should be cleaned,
sprayed with insecticide, and wrapped in protective plastic or a tough synthetic
paper like "Tyvek"® building paper. Don't use newspaper or
common brown wrapping paper. These materials are not chemically stable (they
are usually quite acidic), and do not provide the protection from insects
or moisture the stored rug needs. Make sure the rug is completely dry.
Think twice about using moth balls or flakes--these materials have little
repellent effect, and the odor they impart to the rug can be difficult to
remove. Cedar scent is useless in moth control. Store the rug in a
clean, dry place out of the reach of squirrels or other rodents. Periodic
inspection of the rug is strongly recommended.
You should vacuum your rug often--both front and back sides, and turn
it end-for-end once in a while. Although many kinds of damage can be repaired,
prevention is much easier (and cheaper) than repair, so avoid placing potted
plants on the rug, and keep an eye on your pets. Inspect the entire rug
periodically for signs of wear or damage. Have your rug cleaned only when
it really is dirty. When you see something wrong with your rug that
is beyond your ability to rectify, don't hesitate to call a reputable Oriental
rug dealer for advice. With just a bit of care your Oriental rug will provide
many years of utility and pride of ownership.
© JACOBSEN Oriental Rugs, Inc.