How to Clean a Rug: At-Home and Professional Rug Cleaning Options

By Sarah Sheppard

Cleaning your rugs is more important than you may realize, especially if you have kids, pets, allergies, high foot traffic, or noticeable odors. Dirty rugs contain pollen, dust, dirt, debris, and a variety of other allergens that can lead to rug discoloration, dirty air quality, and a bacteria-filled environment.

Vacuuming is great—and highly recommended—but it’s not enough. Whether you want to know how to clean a rug yourself or which professionals to call, we’ve put together a list of rug cleaning considerations.

Cleaning dirty old carpet with a vacuum cleaner universal nozzle

Hiring a professional rug cleaning service

Some rugs are small and can be washed in a clothes washer, but others require a more in-depth cleaning, especially oriental rugs, such as Kashan rugs or Heriz rugs.

For professional rug cleaning services, look for a carpet cleaning company in your area. They will offer one of the following options:

  • Bring their cleaning services to your home to clean the rugs on site.
  • Pick up your rugs, professionally clean them at their facilities, and then drop the rugs off at your home.

If the company prefers to pick up the rugs and then drop them off, they do not expect a tip, but it’s never a bad idea, especially if they have to move furniture or a large floor rug.

Why we recommend professional cleanings: Hiring a professional ensures that your rugs get a deep clean. Most professional companies use the steam cleaning method on area rugs, which involves a hot water extraction to pull on deeply rooted particles.

What should you look for in a rug cleaning service?

A rug cleaner isn’t the same as a dry cleaner. If you drop off your rugs at a local dry cleaning business, they may outsource the service, but they do not actually clean the rugs themselves. Carpet cleaners, however, will clean rugs of all shapes and sizes.

When you’re looking for the best rug cleaners, see if they offer the following:

  • Eco-friendly options.
  • Products that are kid or pet friendly.
  • Highly trained professionals. If you want your rug to last forever, you’ll want someone with the right expertise.
  • Dry cleaning, steam cleaning, or both.
  • If they clean the type of rug you have. It’s likely they do, but some rugs can actually be damaged by professional steam cleaning, so you’ll want to make sure you talk with an expert about your rug before sending it off for cleaning.
  • Rug cleaning drop off service. If you have a large area rug, you don’t want to be the one who’s rolling it up and delivering it. Find a professional service that can pick up the rug and drop it off—or clean it at your house. But because of the dry cleaning process, you’ll likely prefer the pick up/drop off service.
  • How long their rug cleaning process takes. Depending on the size and material of the rug and what services you need, you might end up waiting days or weeks.

The most important thing is to make you’re working with a company that has experience cleaning everything from common area rugs to Oriental and Persian rugs. Though most rrug cleaning professionals use the steam cleaning method, Oriental rug cleaning requires a different method. If you use steam cleaning on an Oriental or Persian rug, you could destroy the natural fibers, so Oriental rugs should be washed, not cleaned. We highly recommend hiring a professional for this type of rug.

Professional rug cleaning service

Professional rug repair and restoration

Finally, ask the professional carpet cleaning company if they offer rug repair and restoration services, which could include:

  • Patchwork for any holes or tears
  • Rug resizing
  • Spot dying or dye removal
  • Cloth binding
  • Repairing damage caused by insects or weather
  • Replacing the fringe

Consider repair or replacement if your rug is worn down, there is significant damage, the edges are worn, or the colors have faded or muted. Rug repair is usually more affordable than rug replacement.

Unfortunately, not all rugs can be restored. Some rugs, such as Sisal rugs, are made of natural plant fibers, which will break down from professional cleaning services. Also, rugs damaged by floods or fires may not be repairable.

Average rug cleaning costs

The carpet cleaning industry is a billion dollar industry—and for good reason. Spot cleaning only works to remove stains, but a deep clean is required to maintain a rug for years and years. A professional cleaning service helps maintain the life of your rug and ensures that it maintains its natural colors and beauty.

Area rugs are typically charged by size. If you have a small area rug, it can cost as little as $25 to $50 to clean. Larger area rugs will cost more. You can also rent or buy your own carpet cleaning supplies, which may work for small rugs. Larger rug costs include supplies, equipment, and effort.

If you have an Oriental, Persian, or any other delicate or detailed rug, you’ll want to find an annual professional cleaning option. A Persian rug costs an average of $40–$90 per square foot, but these cleaning costs are worth it to maintain a rug that costs thousands.

DIY area rug cleaning

According to the American Lung Association (ALA), carpets and rugs can trap pollutants, releasing toxic gases into the air, which can be harmful to your overall health. Keeping rugs or mats free of moisture is key. After your annual deep clean (which the ALA highly recommends), you’ll want to ensure the rugs have been properly dried so mildew doesn’t form.

For a deep clean, we recommend using a professional. However, you can do area rug cleaning throughout the year yourself. Take the rugs outside at least twice a year and follow these steps:

  • Shake them out.
  • Vacuum both sides, if possible.
  • Use a carpet shampoo that’s best suited for your rug’s material.
  • Rinse the shampoo out with your water hose.
  • Ring the rug out, then let it dry thoroughly. This could take a while, so make sure you ring out as much moisture as possible.

Hand washing can help keep the rug clean, but keep in mind: a professional knows exactly what type of cleaning solution is best for your specific rug material and will ensure the quality of the rug is maintained. For area rugs, we recommend getting a professional cleaning every 12 to 18 months, no matter what. This extends the life of the rug.

hand washing rug

How to spot clean a stain

Whether it’s a coffee spill or pet urine, accidents happen, and you want to be prepared with a quick at-home solution. You can buy a stain-specific spot cleaner, or you can create your own, but make sure whatever product you use works with the type of fabric. Here’s how to clean stains on rugs:

  • Give it immediate attention. Clean the spot as soon as you find it.
  • Remove any noticeable particles before cleaning. This is so dirt or whatever was spilled doesn’t get pushed into the fibers.
  • Dab or blot the stain. You can use a paper towel or a rag. Rubbing will cause the stain to spread.
  • Apply a rug cleaning solution. You can use a liquid or dry solution, depending on the stain. If you use liquid, dab it. Make sure whatever cleaning solution you use works with the stain (wine, coffee) and the fabric (silk, cotton). A white vinegar mixture, for instance, can be used on red wine, but only on certain fabrics. Your best bet is to use a dry solution, which could include baking soda or baby powder.

Pro tip: If you don’t have white vinegar or a spot staining solution, laundry detergent or dish soap with a little water is a good option.

After you’ve applied the solution, it’s extremely important to absorb the moisture. Moisture can damage any rug or carpet, so use a dry towel or a pile of dry paper towels to remove any wetness. Press the towel against the wet area, and repeat until dry. Many times, you won’t know if you did a good job removing the stain until the area is dry.

Spot cleaning rug

How to vacuum your rugs

Some vacuums are too harsh for delicate rugs, including thin pile rugs or shag rugs, so check the label before vacuuming. Our tips for vacuuming include:

  • Vacuum both sides, starting with the back. This pushes some of the dirt, dust, and particles out of the front.
  • Vacuum in the direction of the pile to avoid damaging the fibers.
  • Avoiding vacuuming the fringe or edges, which can get tangled or caught in the vacuum.
  • Use the lightest settings on rugs that are thick or delicate.
  • Do not vacuum sheepskin rugs.
  • Use a rug pad to keep your floors (especially hardwood floors) from getting scratched or damaged by the rug.
  • Dust out your rug. If it’s small enough, take it outside and shake it out.

Just like with carpet, rugs require frequent vacuuming. Vacuum twice a week, if not more, on top of regular deep cleanings. Though vacuuming removes the noticeable particles, deep cleaning will actually remove any particles that are lodged deep into the rug’s surface.

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