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The Do It Your Self-er Guide to Oriental Rug Cleaning

Updated: Apr 2, 2022

Area rugs, especially wool oriental rugs, have long been the subject of much fear and expense over the years, but are they really the delicate enigma they are made out to be or are they something the home owner can handle?

In my early days of carpet cleaning I would talk to customers on the phone or in person who needed oriental rugs cleaned, and I would automatically refer them to a specialist in Northern Baltimore County whose advertisements I had heard on the radio. This company had a good reputation and was close to golf courses and expensive high schools, so I felt confident sending people to them.

I pictured hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, stainless steel as far as the eye could see, highly trained people in lab coats hustling purposefully to and fro, and intelligent-looking people looking at LED screens and confidently moving controls. I thought, I must see this modern marvel one day!

So one day when I was in Northern Baltimore County I went there. If memory serves me, there may have been an old Volkswagen bug on the parking lot and the front door was open. No one was in the reception area or the break room, so I continued on to the work area. You can imagine my disappointment when I opened the door to see four pony-tailed gentlemen lying on their back taking a post lunch siesta! Also to further my shock, there weren't hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment, but two portable carpet cleaning machines plugged into the wall taking the same post lunch siesta as their pony-tailed owners.

So I went scrambling for the trade publications; surely these guys were doing something wrong. Yes, the trade publications did have the equipment that I had imagined; huge automated machines with stainless steel rollers that washed and rinsed and left your oriental rugs minty fresh. But they also had information that caused me further shock: most oriental rugs are cleaned with no machine at all. So the following is a modified version of what is done with most oriental rugs in a commercial facility..

To put things in perspective, colored, woven wool rugs go back to 400 B.C. in Siberia, so what I am about to relate is going to be gentle compared to what was available then.

The ideal work area would be an inclined concrete area. If you have to use asphalt, be sure it is early in the day before it heats up and you thoroughly rinse the area before you begin. Get a new pump sprayer and fill it with a detergent diluted with water according to the direction for "pre-spraying". As far as products available to the public, I like the Odorite 3-1 Carpet Cleaning or Simple Green; you can get these at the Home Depot. You will also need a scrub brush on a stick with soft bristles; you can get this at an auto supply store. Do the following method on a small, inconspicuous portion of the rug to test for color fastness, though it is super rare some artisans use bogus dyes.

First, determine the direction of the carpet nap (if you brush against the nap, the carpet will appear darker). After the scrubbing, you will want to push the nap to the direction it was before you started. Face the carpet so the nap is bending towards the downhill direction of the incline, then wet the carpet down: with the pump sprayer apply about 1/4 of a gallon of the pre-spray if carpet is about an 8' x 10'. Use the soft scrub brush on the stick to agitate the entire carpet.

To rinse, spray down the incline beginning at the highest point. You can begin with high pressure water for agitation, then switch to low so you don't continue to make suds that impede the rinse. Once you have thoroughly rinsed the rug, rinse your scrub brush, then lightly brush any portions of the carpet that need the nap to be pushed in the right direction. Drying is where you may need to get creative: you want your rug as close to vertical as possible with the ability for air to reach the top and the backing of the carpet. A fence, for example, would be good to put the carpet on, back side down; just check periodically to make sure it is not leaving a crease in the backing.

Congratulations, you just saved a lot of money!

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