Whether an oriental rug is a family memoir that has been passed on from generation to generation or a valuable decorative piece, an oriental rug is decidedly a must-have item in every home. It has the power to transform and upgrade a place with its old-world charm, and help infuse elegance and sophistication in any given space/area. To be able to hold on to its glory throughout the years, though, it is important to follow proper cleaning and maintenance instructions.
What Exactly is an Oriental Rug?
The term itself refers to a broad array of floor coverings, mainly rugs that are made in Asian countries, with India, China, Iran, Turkey, and China being among the most prolific rug-making ones. There are also Oriental rugs made in the Caucasus Mountains, between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, as well as other countries that have recently joined the rug-creation-for-export dance.
Each Oriental rug tells a story. You may notice that there are many different patterns, each symbolising a region’s history or an important life event. Authentic, quality ones are made of cotton, wool or silk and are hand-knotted (there are between 16-550 knots/inch). The more knots per inch, the better the rug.
Hand-knotting a rug is a time-consuming process and can take up to 12 different people/artists to finish one rug. However, in recent years, there are many machine-made rugs that are also called Oriental rugs due to an Asian motif they feature.
Oriental Rug Care & Cleaning Tips
1. Act Proactively
Without a doubt, the best way to keep an Oriental rug clean is to avoid getting it dirty in the first place. So, precaution measurements, such as taking your shoes off before you enter the home is a good way to start, as long as this accords with your lifestyle. It will be much easier to clean and handle sock-foot and bare-foot traffic than the kind of dirt you will get from spike heels and full-of-germs-and-allergens outdoor shoe soles.
2. Clean your Oriental ONLY When it Needs it
Depending on the type of rug you have in your home and the foot traffic it receives, you may have to clean it once or twice a year. Other rugs can go several years without needing professional cleaning. Do not overdo it with cleaning your Oriental rug, though. This will help preserve its beautiful shine and appeal for much longer.
To determine whether your Oriental rug needs cleaning, there are 3 main methods to use:
Pick up a corner of the rug. Kick the back of the rug (while holding it up) sharply. If you notice a lot of dirt flying out of the pile (some wool fibers and dust particles are normal), then it probably needs cleaning.
Rub the pile with your hand. Don’t be too easy on it. Give it a vigorous rub for about 10 seconds and then take a look at your hand. If it is dirty, you need to clean the rug.
Open the pile along a line of knots by folding part of the rug back upon itself (pile facing up). If the foundation of the rug (the base of the pile – weft and warp) looks filthy, then the dirt has set in deep in the pile of the rug. No matter how often you vacuum your rug, you won’t be able to reach that part so you will need to clean it using one the methods mentioned below.
3. Clean it Yourself or Have a Professional Take on the Dirty Work
If you have a small Oriental rug, you can clean it yourself pretty easily. Make sure you have an appropriate space, such as a garage, utility room, clean basement/floor/driveway or paved walk. Here are the steps involved:
Vacuum both sides of the Oriental rug well.
Test the rug for colour run. Select a small inconspicuous area and apply the detergent/cleaner you will be using on it. Leave overnight. If, in the morning, you see no colour bleed, you are good to go.
Shampoo the rug with mild liquid soap and cool water. You may also use rug shampoo or any other detergent that is not too strong. Avoid ammonia water and sudsy ammonia water.
With a soft brush (long-haired), brush the pile of the rug firmly. Use linear motions and follow the direction of the nap. Avoid putting a lot of force when scrubbing to prevent damage to the pile.
Wet the nap with soapy water. Be very meticulous.
With the same solution, wash the fringes and brush the solution away from the pile with a laundry brush.
Force excess water out. You may want to use a rubber window squeegee to make things easier for you.
Once no more water comes out of the rug, lay it flat to dry. You could use a fan to speed this part of the process or just wait for it (do NOT place it under direct sunlight – the dyes will fade).
When the nap feels dry, turn it over to have its (probably still damp) back dry.
Make sure it is completely dry before you re-use it to prevent mold and mildew growth and the issues that come along with it.
Why/When to Seek Professional Help
Large Oriental rugs, particularly woolen ones, can be very heavy to handle (they can weigh more than 100 pounds). Imagine having to clean and cope with all that weight, especially after they have been wetted!
Hire a professional rug cleaner if you:
Want to extend the beauty and life of your Oriental rug. Preserving the value of such rugs calls for professional care.
Find having your Oriental rug(s) picked up, cleaned, and reinstalled much more stress-free an experience than cleaning the rug by yourself.
Want the most specialised equipment and cleaning products that will give your rug a more thorough cleaning and drying. Professional rug cleaners that specialise in Oriental rug cleaning have access to elite products specifically designed to clean Oriental rugs, unlike most cleaning products and carpet shampoos you can find in retail stores that are mainly designed to address the cleaning requirements of synthetic wall-to-wall carpeting. On delicate natural fibres, such as in Oriental rugs, they can do more damage than good.
4. Working on a Spill
The main idea when trying to remove spills from Oriental rugs is to try not to increase the area of the spill. Two of the most common and severe spills are food spills and pet urine. As always, the earlier you catch the spill, the better your chances to have it removed effectively.
Pet urine can cause major damage to the rug (colour run) and its structure (the foundation is made less supple); not to mention the nasty odour that will take forever to either disguise or remove, and the moths that are particularly attracted to the presence of urine in a rug. That aside, pet urine is very difficult to remove. If your pet is not properly trained and it repeatedly wets your Oriental rug, you can expect the rug to start cracking and breaking when you fold or roll it due to loss of mechanical strength at some point forward.
I) Cleaning Food Spills & Pet Urine
Use a clean, white cloth or paper towels to blot up as much liquid as possible and then rinse it out. With smaller rugs, you can use a hose to rinse out the spill(s) outside. Just try not to saturate the entire Oriental rug because it will prolong the drying process significantly.
Larger rugs will need a different course of action. Saturate the edge or corner of the rug with cool water (lay it in a plastic container, such as a dishpan). Alternatively, you could place a bucket under the wet area and pour some cool water through the rug. In this case, make sure you do not put more water than the capacity of the bucket. Also, better make a hollow in the rug (the affected area) over the bucket before you pour the water.
Tip: If you add one cup of white vinegar per gallon of water, you will help prevent colours from running. Plus, you will see significant improvements in neutralising the urine odour.
Blot dry and sponge with a rug shampoo or a spot-cleaning solution that comprises of:
¼ cup of white vinegar
2 cups of tepid water
½ tablespoons of liquid dishwashing detergent
Let the wet area dry thoroughly. At this point, you may want to put a bench or bricks under the affected area of the rug (or anything else you can come up with) to allow air to circulate both top and bottom.
Clean the area immediately. Use a clean, white cloth or paper towels to pick up as much material as you can. You may even need to scrape up materials with a tablespoon.
Blot the area dry and sponge with a rug shampoo or the solution we have mentioned above. Try to avoid overly vigorous scrubbing as it may spread the stain.
Sponge the area in the direction of the nap and re-sponge with cool, clean water. Avoid using a stiff brush (it will pull the fibres from the pile).
Dry thoroughly with towels placed under the spot to keep the floor dry until both the nap and the back of the rug feel dry.
If, after you have cleaned your Oriental rug, the pile feels a bit stiff, lightly vacuum it or brush it gently.
To avoid too much wear, rotate the rug every 2-6 months.
Vacuum your rug regularly to help remove debris and dirt and keep the fibers from getting mated. Just make sure the fringe is not caught in the sweeper.
A little club soda can help loosen a stain or spill.
There are many professional businesses in operation, and you may want to shop around before choosing one. In Toronto alone, area rug cleaning businesses (see Area rug cleaning Newmarket and rug cleaning Richmond Hill) that are aggressively marketing their services to help the oriental area rug owner redeem and restore their heirlooms.